Take Me Home Tonight directed by Michael Dowse is a comedy about the ‘80s but its futility is timeless: In just about any decade it would be considered generic and unfunny. Set in 1988 it stars the likable and witty Topher Grace as Matt a recent MIT grad with a crippling case of post-college career-indecision. Working as a lowly clerk at a video store he has a chance encounter with his high-school crush Tori (Teresa Palmer) who to his (and our) surprise actually displays faint interest in him. But Matt fails to pull the trigger and so he resolves to make up for his lack of cojones when he sees her later that evening at a party hosted by the preppy douchebag boyfriend (Chris Pratt) of his twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris).
This sets the stage for an eventual romantic union between Matt and Tori; until then there is insecurity to overcome and wacky adventures to be had. Many of the latter stem from the increasingly unhinged behavior of Matt’s best friend Barry (Dan Fogler). The film turns on a bag of cocaine Barry finds in the glove compartment of a Mercedes stolen from the dealership that fired him earlier in the day. Cocaine is renowned for its ability to induce euphoria in even the most mundane of settings but it has arguably the opposite effect on Take Me Home Tonight. I consider Fogler to be a legitimately funny guy but he has the irritating tendency to compensate for underwritten material by wildly overacting. Throw in a bag of blow and that tendency is amplified ten-fold.
A happy standout in the film is Palmer who brings a liveliness and dignity to the stereotypical rom-com role of the Otherworldly Hottie Who Inexplicably Falls for the Stammering Schlub. (It also helps that she's the only member of the main cast who is young enough to realistically portray a recent college graduate.) She is one of the more talented young Australian exports to arrive on our shores in quite some time and has the potential to become a saucier version of fellow Aussie Nicole Kidman. That is if she finds material better than Take Me Home Tonight.
Once respected NYPD detective Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is now pretty much on his last legs literally and figuratively. He drinks is relegated to a desk job and walks with a limp. One morning after a long shift he’s corralled into transporting a petty criminal Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) to the courthouse 16 blocks away so he can testify by 10:00 a.m. What Jack doesn’t know is that Eddie is one of the key witnesses in a case against crooked cops--that is until the two start getting shot at. Then it becomes crystal clear. The main bad guy Jack’s former partner Frank (David Morse) basically lets Jack know Eddie will never testify to just go ahead and hand him over but Frank underestimates Jack’s desire to finally do something good. So Jack and Eddie fight their way to the courthouse block by gut-wrenching block. Oh no there’s nothing formulaic about 16 Blocks not at all. In a film as predictable as this the only thing that’ll make it stand out is the performances. 16 Blocks nearly succeeds--but not quite. It would seem Willis is playing a character he’s played a hundred times before--the misunderstood and slightly unorthodox cop with a heart of gold. But as Jack the actor does a nice job trying out some new things namely playing fat bald and grizzled. You can almost smell how bad Jack’s breath has to be. Rapper/actor Mos Def who usually brightens any film he’s in also tries his hand at something different but his choices aren’t as smart. As the talkative and affable Eddie Mos comes up with one of the more annoying nasally accents ever recorded. After about five minutes of screen time you desperately want him to stop and say “Just kidding! I don’t really talk like this.” But he doesn’t. It’s too bad something like an accent can ruin an otherwise decent performance. Old-school director Richard Donner best known for his Lethal Weapons is a consummate professional when it comes to making these kind of movies. In other words he pretty much paints by numbers. We watch Jack and Eddie get out of one tight situation after another as the gaggle of bad cops try to gun them down. I mean 16 blocks doesn’t seem that far to go so they better throw in as many highly implausible obstacles as they can. Chinese laundries alleyways rooftops subways. And yes even a city bus which the pair--who have by now bonded big time--has to hijack. Donner also employs a popular but nonetheless annoying technique of zooming in when the action heats up so you can’t really see what’s going on. Even if you’re addicted to action movies--a Bruce Willis action movie no less--16 Blocks just doesn’t deliver the goods.
Ape descendant Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) gets yanked from the Earth by best friend and alien Ford Prefect (Mos Def) seconds before a Vogon constructor fleet destroys it to make way for a hyperspace expressway. Next thing he knows Arthur is aboard the Vogon ship reading the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (voiced by Stephen Fry) and wondering where he might get some tea. But he and Ford are not in the clear: the Vogons (some of whom look like the nightmarish drawings of Ralph Steadman come to life in S&M leather) want to throw them into the vacuum of space right after they read some of the third worst poetry in the known universe. Luckily the spaceship Heart of Gold picks up the stranded hitchhikers in the nick of time. Stolen by the dim but groovy President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) the ship has an Improbability Drive that causes certain mischief turning the stowaways into loveseats and later two missiles into a bowl of petunias and a sperm whale. Also onboard is doe-eyed Earth girl Tricia "Trillian" McMillan (Zooey Deschanel) who previously ditched Arthur at a costume party on Earth to satisfy her wanderlust with Zaphod. The crew then embarks on a quest to find the Ultimate Question to Life the Universe and Everything after supercomputer Deep Thought (voiced by Helen Mirren) found the answer: 42. On the run and without a home Arthur discovers that life's true meaning comes from the answers found within.
The slapstick antics and sharp dialogue evoke enough laughs to make one forget that the characters are rather one-note. Rockwell's Zaphod is a riot at first but the cheeky smile and devilish winks soon wear thin. Deschanel has little to work with playing Trillian though it's fun watching her wield a point-of-view gun on Zaphod. Mos Def mumbles some lines but does manage to act like someone from another planet. Freeman does an amiable job playing the fish-out-of-water Earthman but neglects to express the grief and bewilderment of someone who just lost his planet. Even John Malkovich as Humma Kavular--the spiritual leader of a cult awaiting the arrival of the Big Handkerchief--fails to make much of an impression in his brief appearance. Only Alan Rickman as the perpetually glum robot Marvin and Bill Nighy as the stammering planet designer Slartibartfast remain funny without becoming routine--though unfortunately Nighy only appears in the third act. A half-cocked romance between Arthur and Trillian is thrown in for good measure with the couple merely going through the motions.
Directed with considerable flair by first-timer Garth Jennings whose frantic visual style blends well with Adams' ironic wit the film looks as good as can be. CGI is used to display Adams' universe in ways never seen before: The massive concrete slabs of the Vogon fleet surrounding Earth the Heart of Gold tricked out in 1960's Formica kitsch the stark bureaucratic world of Vogosphere and the eye-popping factory floor on Magrathea are all vividly brought to life. Although the graphics of the Guide look more like Internet pop-up ads than stellar entries from the best-selling book in the galaxy the exposition from the Guide is clever and amusing though one should brush up on the material prior to viewing. Even with all the stunning visuals however the plot is still thin. Jennings and screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick (Chicken Run) have trimmed the story--and witty banter--to its barest essentials leaving out some of the funnier bits to quicken the pace. Memorable exchanges--like the opening battle of wits between Arthur and Mr. Prosser--are reduced to a few meaningless lines while the always hinted-at love affair between Arthur and Trillian gets the full Hollywood treatment. In the past Adams who died of a heart attack in 2001 has allowed the Guide to change and progress with each incarnation so new additions--like the point-of-view gun and the cult of the Big Handkerchief--are welcomed. But the patchwork of wacky vignettes and neutered banter particularly between Arthur and Ford leave one yearning for something more meaningful.
Mr. Deeds really went to town this weekend, inheriting $37.6 million at the box office.
Lilo & Stitch held on in second place with an animated $22.2 million. Minority Report slipped to third with $21.6 million.
While Minority beat Lilo by $417,000 last weekend, after a full week in theaters Lilo was leading by about $2 million in cumulative gross. Now after 10 days, Lilo is $4.3 million ahead of Minority.
Scooby-Doo took fourth place with $12.2 million, bringing its cume to nearly $124 million. The Bourne Identity was fifth with $10.8 million.
The weekend's other wide opening, Hey Arnold! The Movie, had nothing to shout about in sixth place with $6 million.
Ticket sales were up nearly 13 percent from this weekend last year. Key films -- those grossing $500,000 or more -- took in $138.1 million versus last year's $122.6 million.
THE TOP TEN
Columbia and New Line's PG-13 rated comedy Mr. Deeds kicked off in first place, laughing all the way to the bank with an ESTIMATED $37.6 million at 3,231 theaters ($11,637 per theater).
Directed by Steven Brill, it stars Adam Sandler and Winona Ryder. It was produced by Sid Ganis and Jack Giarraputo and executive produced by Sandler and Joseph M. Caracciolo.
Mr. Deeds' average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
"We're delighted," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning.
"This is the kind of high powered opening that Adam is known for, particularly in the summer. It's very close to what The Waterboy (the weekend of Nov. 6-8, 1998 opened to) $39.4 million. It went on to do $161 million (in domestic theaters). And it's not that far from Big Daddy, which (the weekend of June 25-27, 1999 opened to) $41.5 million and went on to do $163.5 million."
In addition to those comparisons, another interesting comparison that can be made from the record books is to Sandler's last film, New Line's Little Nicky. After opening to a quiet $16.1 million the weekend of Nov. 10-12, 2000, it wound up with a domestic theatrical cume of just $39.4 million -- not much more than Deeds took in for its first weekend. With Columbia's Deeds opening Sandler is clearly back on the box office fast track.
"Adam is really a franchise in and of himself," Blake said, noting that Deeds' production cost was a relatively modest -- at least by big summer movie standards -- $55 million.
"Obviously, that's a number you can feel really good about," Blake added. "What we feel even better about is that we've got his next three movies. His animated film, Adam Sandler's 8 Crazy Nights, which opens at Thanksgiving, had a teaser trailer attached to Mr. Deeds. Punch-Drunk Love, which is the Revolution film that got such good notices at Cannes, will be a year-end release. And next June for another big summer release there's Revolution's film Anger Management with Jack Nicholson (starring with Sandler). So not only is (Adam Sandler) a great business to be in, we're in it pretty heavily."
Reflecting on Sony's sizzling hot summer at the box office, Blake also pointed out that Spider-Man, which in its ninth week has just dropped out of the Top Ten, is now at about $395.7 million and on its way to "somewhere between $400-410 million" in domestic theaters.
Hollywood handicappers are talking about Spider-Man as a likely bet to be the year's biggest grossing film. "I don't think there's going to be any question (of that)," Blake observed. "With all due respect, as good as the rest of the market is, I don't see any $400 million (films out there)."
Sony's summer success should get its next major shot in the arm from Columbia's launch this Wednesday (July 3) of Men In Black II at about 3,300 theaters and 6,000 or more screens. The film's 88 minute running time (including about seven minutes of end credits) will enable theaters to run it five or six times a day, greatly enhancing its grossing potential.
The original Men In Black's first weekend in theaters was July 4-6, 1997 with $51.07 million at 3,020 theaters ($16,910 per theater). With July Fourth falling on a Friday that year, the film's opening gave it a six day cume of $84.1 million. It went on to gross $250.1 million in domestic theaters.
"We're certainly opening on very close to 6,000 screens -- probably over 6,000 by Monday," Blake said. "Well, 6,000 screens times five or six shows a day, that's pretty good! You've got to figure you've got (at least) 30,000 shows a day no matter how you place it. I think it's going to be fun. It should be a good weekend for us."
Beyond Men In Black II, Sony has another high profile sequel on deck in Stuart Little 2, opening July 19. The first Stuart Little opened to $15 million the weekend of Dec. 17-19, 1999 and went on to gross $140 million in domestic theaters.
Buena Vista/Disney's PG rated animated family appeal feature Lilo & Stitch showed strong legs in its second week, holding on to second place with an ESTIMATED $22.2 million (-37%) at 3,222 theaters (+31 theaters; $6,899 per theater). Its cume is approximately $77.8 million.
Written and directed by Chris Sanders, it was produced by Clark Spencer. Its original score is by Alan Silvestri.
20th Century Fox and DreamWorks' PG-13 rated sci-fi fantasy thriller Minority Report tumbled two rungs in its second week to third place with a less thrilling ESTIMATED $21.63 million (-39%) at 3,001 theaters (theater count unchanged; $7,208 per theater). Its cume is approximately $73.5 million.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, it stars Tom Cruise.
WARNER Bros.' PG rated family comedy Scooby-Doo slid one peg to fourth place in its third week with a calmer ESTIMATED $12.22 million (-50%) at 3,447 theaters (theater count unchanged; $3,545 per theater). Its cume is approximately $123.8 million.
Directed by Raja Gosnell, it stars Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard, Linda Cardellini and Rowan Atkinson.
Universal's PG-13 espionage thriller The Bourne Identity fell one rung to fifth place in its third week with an okay ESTIMATED $10.81 million (-28%)) at 2,663 theaters (+20 theaters; $4,060 per theater). Its cume is approximately $72.5 million, heading for $85 million.
Bourne had the lowest percentage drop of any film in the Top Ten this weekend.
Paramount and Nickelodeon's PG rated animated feature Hey Arnold! The Movie arrived in sixth place to a dull ESTIMATED $6.0 million at 2,527 theaters ($2,374 per theater).
Directed by Tuck Tucker, the film is based on the hit Nickelodeon cartoon series. With the movie having reportedly cost only about $4 million to make, neither Paramount nor Nickelodeon should be hurt by its not-so-lively launch.
"We're a little disappointed," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "It's below our expectations, but we didn't have a great deal invested in the film either. It's not like we're going to be hurt financially, but certainly we were expecting a great deal more and had anticipated making a lot of money versus sort of getting out of it even."
Paramount's PG-13 rated thriller The Sum Of All Fears dropped two slots to seventh place in its fifth week with an uneventful ESTIMATED $4.83 million (-38%) at 2,486 theaters (-551 theaters; $1,941 per theater). Its cume is approximately $105.3 million, heading for $120-125 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Phil Alden Robinson and produced by Mace Neufeld, it stars Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman.
Warner Bros. and Gaylord Films' PG-13 rated drama Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood slid one rung in its fourth week to eighth place with an unexciting ESTIMATED $4.01 million (-33%) at 2,187 theaters (-143 theaters; $1,851 per theater). Its cume is approximately $55.3 million.
Directed by Callie Khouri, it stars Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, Fionnula Flanagan, James Garner, Ashley Judd, Shirley Knight, Angus MacFadyen and Maggie Smith.
MGM's R rated World War II drama Windtalkers plunged three spots to ninth place in its third week with a slow ESTIMATED $3.6 million (-45%) at 2,529 theaters (-369 theaters; $1,473 per theatre). Its cume is approximately $33.3 million.
Directed by John Woo, it stars Nicolas Cage.
Rounding out the Top Ten (but virtually tied for ninth place) was 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm's PG rated franchise installment Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, down one orbit in its seventh week with a quiet ESTIMATED $3.56 million (-31%) at 1,801 theaters (-306 theaters; $1,977 per theater). Its cume is approximately $286.1 million, heading for $300 million in domestic theaters.
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace took in $431.1 million in domestic theaters. Its worldwide total (domestic plus international) was $923 million.
Directed by George Lucas, it stars Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Lions Gate Films' R rated comedy Lovely & Amazing to a hopeful ESTIMATED $96,000 at 8 theaters in New York and Los Angeles ($12,000 per theater).
Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, it stars Catherine Keener, Brenda Blethyn and Emily Mortimer.
"We expand July 19 to about 125 screens for the next wave," Lions Gate president Tom Ortenberg said Sunday morning.
United Artists' R rated satiric comedy Pumpkin opened via MGM Distribution to a not very funny ESTIMATED $30,000 at 8 theaters ($3,776 per theater).
Directed by Adam Larson Broder and Tony R. Abrams, it stars Christina Ricci, Hank Harris and Brenda Blethyn.
20th Century Fox's PG-13 rated comedy The First $20 Million Is Always The Hardest kicked off poorly, finding that for it the first $20,000 is the hardest. The film took in only an ESTIMATED $2,354 at 2 theaters in Los Angeles ($1,177 per theater).
Directed by Mick Jackson, it stars Adam Garcia, Rosario Dawson, Jake Busey and Enrico Colantoni.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front this weekend Gold Circle Films and HBO's PG rated romantic comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding widened again via IFC Films in its 11th week with a still sexy ESTIMATED $1.9 million (+9%) at 493 theaters (+49 theaters; $3,930 per theater). Its cume is approximately $19.3 million.
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
Miramax's PG rated comedy The Importance Of Being Earnest added theaters in its sixth week with an unimportant ESTIMATED $0.46 million (-14%) at 208 theaters (+7 theaters; $2,187 per theater). Its cume is approximately $4.9 million.
Directed by Oliver Parker, it stars Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O'Connor, Reese Witherspoon, Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson.
Think Film's R rated dark comedy The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys went wider in its third week with an unexceptional ESTIMATED $0.2 million at 125 theaters (+49 theaters; $1,810 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.6 million.
Directed by Peter Care, it stars Kieran Culkin.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $138.12 million, up 12.63 percent from last year when they totaled $122.65 million.
Key films were down about 12.43 percent from the previous weekend of this year when they grossed $157.73 million.
Last year, Warner Bros.' opening week of A.I. Artificial Intelligence was first with $29.35 million at 3,242 theaters ($9,054 per theater); and Universal's second week of The Fast and the Furious was second with $20.05 million at 2,723 theaters ($7,365 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $49.5 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $59.8 million.