Forget Black Swan – Natalie Portman’s real crowning performance is to be found in the romantic comedy No Strings Attached in which director Ivan Reitman asks her to convey sincere unqualified affection for Ashton Kutcher. Portman much to her credit gamely complies and though she may not have the emaciated figure bloody nails and bandaged ankles to tell of her labors the psychic scars must no doubt be just as severe.
Exhibiting strong chick-flick leanings and a rambunctious soft-R comic tone (i.e. lots of F-bombs some menstrual humor and a few shots of Kutcher’s naked ass) No Strings Attached is built around a basic relationship role-reversal: The dude Adam (Kutcher) longs for a deeper lasting commitment; the chick Emma (Portman) insists on keeping matters purely physical. Emma’s motive is a practical one: As a doctor-to-be her busy residency schedule with its 80-hour work weeks and intensive exam preparations precludes a serious relationship. But alas a woman has certain needs (foreplay apparently not being among them) and who better to fulfill them than Kutcher’s non-threatening boy-toy?
Thus a “friends with benefits” arrangement is cemented whereupon the ripcord is to be pulled on the occasion that either of them develops stronger feelings. This does not last long for soon Adam is cloyingly lobbying for escalation. Emma demurs – not out of disinterest we are told but because she’s intimacy-averse and afraid of a broken heart. Why else would she resist a more permanent attachment to someone like Adam?
Perhaps it’s because Adam as played by Kutcher is about as interesting as cabbage. And yet No Strings Attached would have us believe he’s some kind of floppy-haired Albert Schweitzer. This despite the fact that his greatest aspiration in life is to join the writing staff of a High School Musical-esque television series the shallow inanity of which is one of the film’s recurring jokes. In vain support of his cause the filmmakers decorate Adam’s apartment with various props – vintage posters books about 1920s movies a guitar that is occasionally picked up but never actually played – that hint at a depth that Kutcher himself never manifests.
Still Portman sells us on Adam and Emma’s inevitable union with every ounce of her not inconsiderable talent. (And her comic chops are legit – as those who’ve glimpsed her appearances on SNL and Funny or Die can attest.) But she asks too much. And Elizabeth Meriweather’s script while witty and stocked with some keen observations on the evolving nature of relationships in the modern age becomes weighed down by sentiment unbecoming an R-rated comedy not directed by Judd Apatow. In the end Kutcher seals the increasingly contrived deal with the climactic line “I’m warning you: Come one step closer and I’m never letting you go ” (I’m paraphrasing but not loosely) by which time the film's already lost its grip.
When Graham is ditched by her husband (Luke Wilson) she rents a clunker and heads to El Paso Texas discovering that not only her marriage but also her faith and sanity are at stake in this clever original comedy. Through Graham's odyssey the film explores issues of honor and promise while never getting preachy or pretentious. The script is funny yet never slapsticky. And though touching the films never falls prey to drippy sentimentality.
Always a bride's maid and never a bride (with knockout supporting turns in
"Boogie Nights" and "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me") Graham finally takes command in her first lead role. Her face is as expressive as it is beautiful as she gently glides from strong to comical to vulnerable. This surely won't be her last starring role. Casey Affleck comfortably fits as Graham's dopey but loyal brother who half-wittedly forgets that Jolene is his sister. When he gives her a sensual kiss she responds by reminding him "I'm married and I'm your sister." He replies "Oh yeah." Wilson restrains from playing the stray husband as a cartoon villain and gives us a cad who's hard to hate.
This was obviously a labor of love for writer/director Lisa Krueger and every bit of her passion shows onscreen. She gives the actors a spotlight to shine in paints a beautiful picture of the Texas desert and trusts the audience with her vivid characters. Krueger's graceful touch turns Jolene's warm naiveté into something refreshingly strong and hopeful.
Jeepers Creepers did frightfully well at the box office, capturing first place with over $16 million and setting a new record for a Labor Day weekend opening.
The R rated horror film from United Artists, released by MGM, opened atop the chart with an ESTIMATED $16.13 million at 2,944 theaters ($5,477 per theater). (For three days it did an ESTIMATED $13.13 million).
Previously, the biggest Labor Day opening was The Crow: City of Angels, which arrived the weekend of Aug. 30 - Sept. 2, 1996 to $9.79 million at 2,423 theaters ($4,038 per theater).
(NOTE: All of today's estimates are for the four-day holiday weekend from Friday through Monday. Percentage comparisons are not indicated today since last weekend was a normal three-day weekend.)
Driven by Jeepers, Labor Day ticket sales for key films -- those grossing $500,000 or more for the four-day period -- reached a new high of about $110.3 million. The previous key films record gross for Labor Day was 1999's total of $109.98 million.
Jeepers' average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend. It is MGM's fourth No. 1 opening this year, following Hannibal, Heartbreakers and Legally Blonde.
Jeepers' strong launch surprised insiders who said the film had been flying low on Hollywood's advance radar screen. As a result, expectations were that Jeepers would at best come in fourth or fifth for the four-day period.
Written and directed by Victor Salva, it stars Gina Phillips, Justin Long, Jonathan Breck and Eileen Brennan.
"In my experience the tendency is for (horror genre films) to undertrack," MGM worldwide theatrical marketing and distribution president Bob Levin said Sunday morning, focusing on Jeepers' surprisingly big opening weekend.
"A lot of the interest and demand for these (type of films) happen very late in the game. This audience is not setting dates, so it picks up very late. And I think that many, many times these movies are driven by genre people -- people who just like horror movies. So you get this burst of people who are very peculiar. They aren't regular moviegoers. They really like these kind of movies and they wait around for them. And you're just not going to pick them up on tracking."
As things turned out, MGM picked exactly the right date to launch Jeepers. "We thought that a four-day holiday (made sense)," Levin explained. "You know, everyone talks about Labor Day weekend being a not very good weekend, but if you really look at all of the weekends that follow here into early September, they aren't that much better. It isn't like it's dramatically historically not as good a weekend as everything else. But (with) four days and this kind of movie, I've got to figure this crowd isn't just spending all of their time toasting marshmallows."
Should Hollywood treat Labor Day better than it does and open more films and better product then?
"It's the biggest (Labor Day weekend) ever and I guess it just reemphasizes what so many people have said all along," Levin replied. "You get this expansion of theaters that can put movies out and there really isn't a bad weekend any more. There's wrong movies and wrong weekends, but there isn't a weekend that can't do business if the right movie is there."
New Line Cinema's PG-13 rated action comedy blockbuster sequel Rush Hour 2 held on to second place in its fifth week, still showing strong legs with an ESTIMATED $11.7 million at 2,825 theaters (-176 theaters; $4,142 per theater). (For three days it did an ESTIMATED $10.0 million). Its cume is approximately $198.8 million, heading for $210-215 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Brett Ratner, it stars Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.
"To do (nearly) $200 million in August is an incredible thing," New Line distribution president David Tuckerman said Sunday morning. "I think it's wonderful!"
Universal's R rated youth appeal comedy hit sequel American Pie 2 slid two pegs to third place in its fourth week with a still sweet ESTIMATED $11.41 million at 3,114 theaters (-43 theaters; $3,665 per theater). (For three days it did an ESTIMATED $8.61 million). Pie 2, which cost about $30 million to make, has a cume of approximately $125.3 million, heading for $140 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by J B Rogers, it stars Jason Biggs, Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Natasha Lyonne, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tara Reid, Seann William Scott, Mena Suvari, Eddie Kaye Thomas and Eugene Levy.
"I would never have imagined that at this juncture we'd be doing that much business," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning.
Asked why Pie 2 continues to do so well, Rocco replied, "Teen-agers (17 and over) like it. Repeat (business). It became the college choice. At this time of the year, kids love that."
Looking back at the summer, Rocco noted, "We've had an incredible summer. We're celebrating our success. It's been incredible for Universal. We couldn't ask for anything more."
Dimension Films' PG-13 thriller The Others held on to fourth place, widening again in its fourth week and still looking good with an ESTIMATED $9.0 million at 2,716 theaters (+280 theaters; $3,313 per theater). (For three days it did an ESTIMATED $7.8 million). Others, which cost only $17 million to make, has a cume of approximately $58.8 million, heading for $70-75 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Alejandro Amenabar, it stars Nicole Kidman.
"This is terrific," David Kaminow, senior vice president, marketing for Dimension's parent company Miramax Films, said Sunday morning.
"Every summer seems to produce one or two sleeper hit surprises and I'd say The Others for this summer qualifies as one of those. With the minimal drops from week to week, it's obviously pleasing an audience. I think you can't play down the fact that it is a PG-13 rated movie that is appealing to a younger set because it's a thriller and it's a little scary and it's appealing to an older audience because it is a sophisticated story that is intelligent. And those were few and far between this summer. I think it really spanned the moviegoing audience demographically this summer."
Paramount's PG-13 comedy Rat Race, which was fifth last week, tied for fourth place in its third week with an okay ESTIMATED $9.0 million at 2,551 theaters (theater count unchanged; $3,528 per theater). (For three days it did an ESTIMATED $7.14 million). Its cume is approximately $37.7 million.
Directed by Jerry Zucker, it stars Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese, Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Seth Green, Jon Lovitz, Breckin Meyer and Amy Smart.
Buena Vista/Disney's G rated family comedy hit The Princess Diaries rose one notch to sixth place in its fifth week, still holding well with an ESTIMATED $7.5 million at 2,690 theaters (-59 theaters; $2,790 per theater).
Its cume is approximately $92.7 million, heading for $95-100 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Garry Marshall, it stars Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway.
Lions Gate Films' controversial R rated high school set violent drama "O" opened quietly in seventh place to an ESTIMATED $7.0 million at 1,434 theaters ($4,881 per theater).
"O", a teen version of Shakespeare's Othello, was to have been released several years ago by Miramax, which decided in the aftermath of several tragic high school killings to keep it on the shelf. Lions Gate took the film over, giving it an ambitious wide release.
Directed by Tim Blake Nelson, it stars Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett and Julia Stiles.
Dimension Films' R rated youth appeal comedy Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back plunged five slots to eighth place in its second week with a soft ESTIMATED $6.0 million at 2,765 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,169 per theater). (For three days it did an ESTIMATED $5.0 million). Its cume is approximately $21.5 million.
Written and directed by Kevin Smith, it stars Smith, Ben Affleck, Shannon Elizabeth, Will Ferrell, Jason Lee, Jason Mewes and Chris Rock.
Warner Bros.' PG-13 baseball theme romantic comedy Summer Catch slipped three pegs to ninth place in its second week with an unexciting ESTIMATED $4.9 million at 2,335 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,099 per theater). (For three days it did an ESTIMATED $3.9 million). Its cume is approximately $14.9 million.
Directed by Mike Tollin and produced by Tollin, Brian Robbins and Sam Weisman, it stars Freddie Prinze, Jr., Jessica Biel and Matthew Lillard.
Rounding out the Top 10 was Universal's Captain Corelli's Mandolin, down two rungs in its third week with a quiet ESTIMATED $4.08 million at 1,612 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,530 per theater). (For three days it did an ESTIMATED $3.14 million). Its cume is approximately $19.8 million.
Directed by John Madden, it stars Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz.
SUMMER TOP TEN FILMS
Based on ESTIMATED cumes through Labor Day weekend, the summer's top 10 films are:
(1) Shrek (DreamWorks)- $262.9 million.
(2) The Mummy Returns (Universal) - $201.7 million.
(3) Rush Hour 2 (New Line) - $198.8 million (but heading for $210-215 million).
(4) Pearl Harbor (BV/Touchstone) - $196.5 million.
(5) Jurassic Park III (Universal) - $175.7 million.
(6) Planet of the Apes (Fox) - $172.7 million.
(7) The Fast and the Furious (Universal) - $142.0
(8) Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (Paramount) - $130.5
(9) American Pie 2 (Universal) - $125.3 million (but
heading for 140 million).
(10)Dr. Dolittle 2 (Fox) - $111.4 million.
LABOR DAY GROSSES
Looking back at the last six years' Labor Day weekend grosses for key films -- those doing $500,000 or more for the four days -- shows a pattern of growth consistent with the steady expansion of the marketplace. It also confirms the fact that Labor Day really isn't one of Hollywood's prime holiday weekends.
Coming, as it does, at the end of summer Labor Day Weekend is a holiday when people across the country are eager to enjoy a last taste of summer. They really don't want to spend time indoors seeing movies unless their outdoor plans are ruined by rain. In view of that, Hollywood has made a point of not taking the risk of opening major high profile films for Labor Day. That, in turn, has helped to perpetuate the holiday's box office weakness.
In 1995 Labor Day weekend (Sept. 1-4) saw key films gross $75.53 million. New Line's Mortal Kombat topped the chart with $8.3 million at 2,630 theaters ($3,151 per theater).
In 1996 Labor Day weekend (Aug. 30 - Sept. 2) saw key films gross $85.60 million. Miramax's opening of The Crow: City of Angels was No. 1 with $9.8 million at 2,423 theaters ($4,038 per theater). (Crow's launch was the best ever for a Labor Day weekend until this year's ESTIMATED $16.13 million for Jeepers Creepers.)
In 1997 Labor Day weekend (Aug. 29 - Sept. 1) saw key films gross $90.35 million. Buena Vista's G.I. Jane came in first with $10.3 million at 1,973 theaters ($5,211 per theater).
In 1998 Labor Day weekend (Sept. 4-7) saw the gross for key films fall to $81.89 million. 20th Century Fox's There's Something About Mary was number one with $10.9 million at 2,545 theaters ($4,291 per theater).
In 1999 Labor Day weekend (Sept. 3-6) saw the key films gross soar 34.3 percent to $109.98 million. (This was the best showing for key films over Labor Day until this year's ESTIMATED total of $110.28 million.) Buena Vista's The Sixth Sense placed first with $29.3 million at 2,775 theaters ($10,548 per theater), the best showing to date for a Labor Day weekend.
In 2000 Labor Day weekend (Sept. 1-4) saw the gross for key films slide 9.4 percent to $99.66 million. Universal's Bring It On was the grossing film with $14.2 million at 2,410 theaters ($5,880 per theater).
There were no other major openings this weekend.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front, this weekend saw Fox Searchlight Pictures R rated hit thriller The Deep End go wider in its fourth week with a still encouraging ESTIMATED $1.75 million at 326 theaters (+118 theaters; $5,368 per theater). (For three days it did an ESTIMATED $1.39 million). Its cume is approximately $4.8 million.
Written produced and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, it stars Tilda Swinton, Goran Visnjic and Jonathan Tucker.
"We're in many small markets and suburban runs and while not all of them are great, our theater average for this number of runs (is very good)," Fox Searchlight distribution president Stephen Gilula said Sunday morning.
"It's holding extremely well in a number of our city runs. We have been able to expand. We will get a little bit further -- probably a little over 400 (playdates) next weekend and that will be the maximum expansion that we do. We expect the film to play through September and into the fall based on the strength of the holdovers. The film is getting quite enthusiastic word of mouth on the part of the audience, so it's very encouraging."
Revolution Studios and Columbia Pictures' PG-13 rated romantic comedy America's Sweethearts added theaters for the holiday weekend in its seventh week with a slow ESTIMATED $1.4 million at 1,565 theaters (+657 theaters; $885 per theater). Its cume is approximately $91.6 million.
Directed by Joe Roth, it stars Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones and John Cusack.
DreamWorks' PG rated computer animated blockbuster Shrek added theaters for the holiday weekend in its 16th week with an OK ESTIMATED $1.1 million at 1,111 theaters (+356 theaters; $995 per theater). Its cume is approximately $262.9 million on its way to $270 million.
Directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, its voice talents include Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow.
Buena Vista/Touchstone's PG-13 rated action romance Pearl Harbor from Jerry Bruckheimer Films returned to theaters for the holiday weekend in its 15th week with a dull ESTIMATED $1.0 million at 1,036 theaters (+1,036 theaters; $960 per theater). Its cume is approximately $196.5 million as it continues to struggle to get to $200 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Michael Bay, Pearl was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay. Its cast is led by Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding Jr., Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight and Alec Baldwin.
Buena Vista/Disney's PG rated animated feature Atlantis added theaters for the holiday weekend in its 13th week with a slow ESTIMATED $0.9 million at 780 theaters (+655 theaters; $1,160 per theater). Its cume is approximately $82.4 million.
Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, its voice talents include Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Cree Summer and Leonard Nimoy.
MGM's release of United Artists' R rated youth appeal comedy Ghost World continued to widen in its seventh week with a still encouraging ESTIMATED $0.55 million at 81 theaters (+17 theaters; $6,728 per theater). (For three days it did an ESTIMATED $0.44 million). Its cume is approximately $3.2 million.
Directed by Terry Swigoff, it stars Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Renfro, Illeana Douglas and Steve Buscemi.
Miramax's R rated Apocalypse Now Redux widened in its fifth week with a still promising ESTIMATED $0.5 million at 81 theaters (+15 theaters; $6,173 per theater). Its cume is approximately $2.7 million.
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, it stars Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Hopper and Harrison Ford.
Artisan's R rated comedy Made expanded in its eighth week with a weak ESTIMATED $0.32 million at 182 theaters (+15 theaters; $1,755 per theater). Its cume is approximately $4.6 million.
Written and directed by Jon Favreau, it stars Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Sean Combs, Famke Janssen, Faizon Love and Peter Falk.
On the international front, Universal reported that Jurassic Park III will crack $150 million this weekend, driven by strong launches in Italy and Australia.
In Italy, Jurassic Park III opened in first place to an ESTIMATED $1.9 million, a bigger opening than either The Mummy Returns or The Lost World: Jurassic Park
In Australia, Jurassic Park III kicked off in first place to an excellent ESTIMATED $2.0 million.
Jurassic Park III still has another 10 territories in which to open.
Universal also reported that its release of Bridget Jones's Diary hit $112 million this weekend.
Bridget's opening Saturday in Korea generated a very strong $220,000 with 55 playdates. In its second weekend in Germany, its Saturday gross of $1.0 million was up 75 percent from the prior Saturday. Its Thursday through Saturday gross of over $2 million was up 43 percent from opening weekend. Universal called it a "fantastic hold" in the face of Fox's Planet of the Apes opening in Germany in first place to over $4 million this weekend.
Bridget also held up well in Austria where its Friday - Saturday gross of $0.425 million was up 30 percent from last week's opening. For the two days, Universal said, Bridget was running neck and neck with Planet of the Apes and could edge it out for first place depending on Sunday's ticket sales.
In the U.K., Universal said, its release of Crocodile Dundee 3 held well in its second weekend with $0.256 million for Friday - Saturday, down only 20 percent from its opening last week.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $110.28 million for the four-day weekend, up about 10.66 per cent from the comparable holiday weekend last year when key films grossed $99.66 million.
This holiday weekend's key film gross for four days cannot be compared to last weekend of this year, which was a normal three-day weekend.
Last year, Universal's second week of Bring It On was first with $14.17 million at 2,410 theaters ($5,880 per theater); and New Line's third week of The Cell was second with $8.93 million at 2,444 theaters ($3,654 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $23.1 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $27.8 million.