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.
The American military has always been at the forefront of technological innovation often working on the fringes of scientific credibility in its constant search for new ways to locate and eliminate enemies. At times the military's eagerness to gain an edge over its adversaries has led it to some strange dark places many of which are chronicled in The Men Who Stare at Goats British author Jon Ronson’s real-life account of the U.S. government’s efforts to create an army of “psychic supersoldiers."
If you’re not familiar with the world of psychic warfare (and really why would you be?) the book’s title refers to an experiment conducted during the 1980s at Fort Bragg North Carolina in which specially trained soldiers using methods culled from the top-secret First Earth Battalion Operations Manual attempted to stop the heart of a goat using nothing but the power of the mind. The ultimate goal obviously was to develop the skill for eventual use on enemy combatants.
Chock full of similarly wild yet credible stories The Men Who Stare at Goats’ strange-but-true subject matter lends itself perfectly to film adaptation. Its structure — a disparate collection of loosely related vignettes covering over a 30-year timespan — does not. Nevertheless director Grant Heslov and screenwriter Peter Straughan gave it a shot refashioning the material to such an extent that the movie is no longer “based upon” Ronson’s book but instead merely “inspired by” it.
Thankfully Heslov kept intact two of the book’s greatest strengths: its lively irreverent tone and its fascinating array of colorful characters. The latter is no doubt what attracted the film’s star-studded cast led by George Clooney as Lyn Cassady a fidgety veteran of the “psychic spy” brigade whose chance meeting with journalist Bob Wilton Ronson’s onscreen counterpart (played as an American ironically by U.K. actor Ewan McGregor) provides the catalyst for the storyline.
As Cassady squires Wilton through the Iraqi desert en route he claims to a contracting gig he regales the awe-struck reporter with stories of the New Earth Army and its founder a Vietnam vet-turned-New Age acolyte named Bill Django (Jeff Bridges). In the early '80s Django now a ponytailed flower child managed to obtain Army approval to spearhead a pilot program that would to train a legion of “warrior monks” to read minds pass through walls and disable enemies through a wide variety of non-lethal methods.
Any program like the New Earth Army is bound to attract its share of bad apples amoral folk who aim to use its teachings to enrich themselves and cause harm to others. In The Men Who Stare at Goats the entire rotten orchard is represented by Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) a sleazy manipulative charlatan whose devious machinations ultimately serve to bring down the entire operation.
Goats is at its loopy best as Cassady cycles through various off-the-wall anecdotes of Django and his increasingly bizarre training methods. But it falls apart when Heslov attempts to weave it all into a coherent storyline complete with a climax centered on a hairbrained scheme to spike the water supply at an American fort with LSD. It's understandable that Heslov felt compelled to invent something that could bring some resolution to the story but getting everyone high on acid? It sounds like a gimmick stolen from one of the lesser Revenge of the Nerds sequels.
Needless to say that last part wasn’t in Ronson’s book.
In the late 19th century Dr. Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) a misunderstood monster hunter is summoned to Transylvania to ferret out Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) and kill him once and for all. When Van Helsing gets to the small village where the vampire was last spotted he discovers he also must contend with Dracula's three seriously twisted vampire brides Dracula's angry henchman/werewolf--and a lovely gypsy princess named Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) who is hell-bent on eradicating Dracula and his bloodsucking kind for slaughtering her entire family. Oh and let's not forget Frankenstein's Monster (Shuler Hensley) who holds the key to Dracula's evil master plan--something about releasing his minions of unborn bat-like children from their goo-filled cocoons so they can wreck havoc on the world. Yuck. Sounds like our resident monster stomper and his sword-swinging gal pal have their work cut out for them. If Van Helsing does manage to kill all his monster foes does that mean he's out of a job?
Jackman has the whole antihero thing down pat. He adequately embodies the younger more virile Van Helsing dishing out as much pain and torture as he can on the undead--but the Aussie actor isn't given nearly as much meat to chew on as he did say delving into the complicated Wolverine in X-Men. Instead the monster hunter is relegated to carrying big weapons wearing a big hat and muttering something about having bad dreams to a past he can't remember. Same goes for Beckinsale. The British actress was oh-so-cool on the other side of the fence playing the chic vampire Selene in Underworld cutting her way through a myriad of werewolves. As Van Helsing's heavily accented female counterpart Anna however she just runs around with her sword blurting out such pathetic dialogue such as "Dracula took everything away from me and now I'm alone in the world" while Roxburgh's Dracula--who can't hold a candle to other far more charismatic Draculas before him--wails about being so very alone as his luscious brides hang upside down in front of him. Give me a break. At least Australian actor David Wenham (The Lord of the Rings) provides much-needed comic relief as Van Helsing's sidekick Carl a Catholic friar who doesn't much like playing hero.
With the requisite dark mood and tone action sequences and snazzy CGI-creations including the winged vampire brides and formidable werewolves you can see exactly where writer/director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) spent Van Helsing's nearly $150 million budget. But even all the bells and whistles can't tie together the film's vacuous nonsensical mumbo jumbo as Sommers attempts to bring classic movie monsters together in the same movie. Maybe in a tongue-in-cheek Abbott and Costello movie it could work but as a serious action-packed thriller clearly Dracula Frankenstein and the Wolf Man do not need to meet. On top of that Sommers steals from other movies as well such as recent films Underworld (the whole vampire vs. werewolf conflict) and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman (Van Helsing defeats a rather familiar-looking Mr. Hyde at one point). Whatever originality there is in the film leaves you either scratching your head--Dracula has kids?--or rolling your eyes--Anna needs to kill Dracula so her nine-generations of family can reunite in Heaven? Please.
November 16, 2003 10:59am EST
An overgrown elf from the North Pole drew more moviegoers than any of this week's new wide releases as Elf took the No. 1 spot in its second week with a cheery $27.2 million* at the weekend box office.
Elf's impressive pre-holiday take was enough to beat out Russell Crowe's Napoleonic War epic, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, which followed in close second with $25.7 million.
Last week's box office champ, The Matrix Revolutions, lost more than 60 percent of its audience in its second week. The third and final chapter of The Matrix trilogy took in $16.3 million to place third.
Revolutions's take, however, was enough to push it past the $100 million mark, making it the 22nd film in 2003 to do so. Scary Movie 3, which came in seventh this week, became the 23rd film this year to cross $100 million. By comparison, a record 24 films beat that benchmark in 2002.
Animated fare rounded out the Top Five with Brother Bear taking in $12 million to take fourth place followed by Looney Tunes: Back in Action, which came in at No. 5 with $9.5 million.
THE TOP TEN
New Line Cinema's PG rated holiday comedy Elf captured the No. 1 title for the first time in its second week of release with a remarkable ESTIMATED $27.2 million (-12%) at 3,381 theaters (+44 theaters; $8,056 per theater). Its cume is approximately $71.2 million.
Directed by Jon Favreau, it stars Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, Zooey Deschanel and Mary Steenburgen.
Twentieth Century Fox's PG-13 rated naval epic Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World debuted in second place with an ESTIMATED $25.7 million at 3,101 theaters, with a brawny $8,296 per theater average--the highest of any film playing this week.
Set against the backdrop of Napoleonic Wars, the film revolves around Capt. Jack Aubrey and his ship's surgeon, who sail out to see the richness and strangeness of life on the far side of the world.
Directed by Peter Weir, it stars Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany.
Warner Bros. R rated sci-fi actioner The Matrix Revolutions dropped two notches to third place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $25.7 million (-66%) in 3,502 theaters (unchanged; $4,660 per theater). Its cume is approximately $114.1 million.
Directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski, it stars Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving.
Buena Vista's G rated animated film Brother Bear dropped one spot to fourth place in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $16.3 million (-35%) in 3,030 theaters (unchanged; $4,660 per theater). Its cume is approximately $63 million.
Directed by Aaron Blaise and Bob Walker, it features the voices of Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Suarez, D.B. Sweeney and Michael Clarke Duncan.
Warner Bros.' PG rated live action feature Looney Tunes: Back in Action opened in fifth place with an ESTIMATED $9.5 million in 2,903 theaters with a $3,276 per theater average.
In the film, Daffy Duck gets tired of playing second fiddle to Bugs Bunny and quits Hollywood, teams up with recently fired stuntman Bobby Delmont and embarks on an around-the-world adventure to find a missing blue diamond.
Directed by Joe Dante, it stars Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, Steve Martin, Timothy Dalton and Heather Locklear.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Universal Pictures' R rated romantic comedy Love Actually stayed in the sixth spot in its second week with an ESTIMATED $8.8 million (+29%) in 1,177 theaters (+601 theaters; $7,545 per theater). Its cume is approximately $19 million.
Directed and written by Richard Curtis, it stars Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Colin Firth, Keira Knightley and Bill Nighy.
Dimension Films' PG-13 rated spoof Scary Movie 3 fell three rungs to seventh place in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $6.1 million (-44%) in 2,960 theaters (-328 theaters; $2,063 per theater). Its cume is approximately $102.3 million.
Directed by David Zucker, it stars Anna Faris, Charlie Sheen, Simon Rex, Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, George Carlin and Leslie Nielsen.
Sony Pictures' PG-13 rated drama Radio dropped three notches to eight place in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $5 million (-31%) in 2,416 theaters (-395 theaters; $2,070 per theater). Its cume is approximately $43.7 million.
Directed by Michael Tollin, it stars Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Ed Harris.
Paramount Pictures' R rated documentary Tupac: Resurrection debuted in ninth place with an ESTIMATED $4.6 million at 801 theaters with a strong $5,818 per theater average.
The film is a documentary about iconic hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur, who was shot and killed in September 1996, narrated in his own words through a variety of interviews, journal readings, private home movies and never-before-seen concert footage.
Directed by Lauren Lazin and produced by Afeni Shakur, it features Tupac Shakur.
Warner Bros.' R rated drama Mystic River dropped two spots to tenth in its sixth week with an ESTIMATED $3.2 million (-31%) in 1,550 theaters (-31 theaters; $2,145 per theater). Its cume is approximately $45.6 million.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, it stars Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden.
The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $124.2 million, down 13.57 percent from last weekend's $143.7 million take. The Top 12 movies were also down 23 percent from this time last year when they took in $161.3 million.
Last year, Warner Bros.' PG rated Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets debuted in first place with $88.3 million in 3,682 theaters ($23,997 per theater); Universal's R rated 8 Mile came in second place in its second week with $19.3 million in 2,496 theaters ($7,750 per theater); and Buena Vista's G rated The Santa Clause 2 came in third in its third week with $15.1 million in 3,346 theaters ($4,513 per theater).