Much like Christopher Guest comedies (Best in Show A Mighty Wind) The Grand’s loose style set up by writer/director Zak Penn allows the actors to have free rein onscreen. Jack Faro (Woody Harrelson) is our hero a ladies’ man with an eye patch and long drug history. Faro owns the aging downtown Las Vegas casino The Rabbit’s Foot and is struggling to keep it afloat hunted by a nefarious hotel developer Steve Lavisch (Michael McKean). He enters the Grand Championship of Poker as a way to raise money and become one of a cast of lively poker players. His competitors include a brother-and-sister team (David Cross and Cheryl Hines) from a dysfunctional family a Star Wars nerd/numbers expert (Chris Parnell) and an eccentric gangster known as The German (Werner Herzog). Each person is a pile of quirks and self-effacing irony. The final six-way poker showdown is an entertaining battle of comedy wits. Hammy performances prevail but all almost all are universally funny in different ways. Harrelson is at his coolest--a coltish youngster-turned-failure. Hines’ Lainie Schwartzman is a sharp-edged recreation of the poker pro Annie Duke bearing on her shoulders the weight of her father’s (Gabe Kaplan) uneven pressure. Both she and David Cross who plays her brother Larry have improv experience and are quick on their feet. The Grand’s most hilarious performance however is from iconic director Herzog (Rescue Dawn) who plays The German. His deadpan delivery and droopy eyes are spot-on to this caricature of a globe-trotting gamesman who boasts of winning water in a desert from a yak bone. Saturday Night Live’s Parnell plays the neurotic vitamin-drinking nerd Harold Melvin well. Ray Romano and Jason Alexander round out supporting roles to mixed results: Romano stands out a little more as a stay-at-home Mr. Mom to Lainie Schwartman’s high-earner status while Alexander plays it a little over the top as Dr. Yalov Achmed. The performances may be the film's weakest links but they are entertaining nonetheless. Zak Penn is mostly known as a screenwriter striking gold at age 23 with Last Action Hero. He set about making a niche as a major-studio flick specialist writing movies like Inspector Gadget Behind Enemy Lines and X-Men: The Last Stand. The Grand is Penn’s second directorial effort after the faux-documentary Incident at Loch Ness with his star Herzog. Both movies reflect a polar opposite in approach to Penn’s regimented paint-by-numbers day job writing big-budget movies. Penn brings a polished touch to independent film. The shiny graphics and poker-playing segments would make even the Farrelly Brothers envious. The Grand is shot like one of the many popular poker TV shows complete with graphics and play-by-play to help make the quick-moving poker action easier to understand. They are a little uneven in their execution sometimes--but then again this movie is supposed to be outrageous.
Fancy another shag, baby?
The horniest of all secret agents springs into action for the third time in Austin Powers in Goldmember, which should jolt the box office back to life after two less-than-shagadelic weekends.
This spoof of the James Bond classic Goldfinger pits Powers against nemesis Dr. Evil and his new partner-in-crime Goldmember, all played by Mike Myers. A perfectly cast Michael Caine joins the franchise as Powers' father, a master spy who's more Bond than Harry Palmer, the working-class secret agent Caine played in five theatrical and cable TV films in the 1960s and 1990s, including The Ipcress File. Destiny's Child singer Beyoncé Knowles, the newest Powers girl, pays homage to the Pam Grier blaxploitation flicks of the 1970s as the butt-kicking Foxxy Cleopatra.
The cast additions clearly are an attempt to keep things fresh and fun, but the franchise is very quickly losing its mojo. Goldmember never seems more funnier or inspired than its cameo-laden pre-opening credits sequence, and it regurgitates too many of the first two films' most hilarious moments, as one guest star splutters. There are only so many times you can laugh at Powers purring, "Yeah, baby!" incessantly, Dr. Evil coddling clone Mini-Me and Scott Evil desperately trying to win his father's approval. Knowles brings a little spunk to the proceedings, but the film lacks comic sparks during Caine's many long absences. Goldmember is a worthless creation who does nothing except roller boogie and munch on his own dead skin.
Added up, that could harm Goldmember's opportunity of duplicating the success of its predecessor. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me debuted with $57.4 million, blowing away the $53.8 million total earned by Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and recording the third-highest-grossing weekend haul at the time. The Spy Who Shagged Me danced its way to a smashing $206 million total.
Goldmember's cheekiness should charm audiences who have shown little or no interest in recent newcomers K-19: The Widowmaker, Reign of Fire and Eight Legged Freaks. This second sequel should debut with a whopping $50 million--about even with Men in Black II and Scooby-Doo--but will lose its groove at around $170 million when the prevailing sense of déjà vu surrounding Goldmember starts to set in.
Accordingly, Goldmember will fail to gross more than its immediate predecessor, a trend that has afflicted the majority of this summer's sequels. Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones remains the best example as it struggles to reach $300 million. Attack of the Clones has $295.6 million vs. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace's $431 million.
There go the Men in Black, as the sequel to the 1997 sci-fi spoof fell 40 percent in its third weekend, from $24.4 million to $14.5 million. MIBII has $163.4 million through Wednesday, with little chance of surpassing Men in Black's $250.1 million total.
The other Michael Myers--he who enjoys nothing more than slicing and dicing promiscuous teens--isn't scaring as many people as he did in Halloween: H20. Halloween: Resurrection, the eighth in the slasher franchise, dropped 55 percent in its second weekend, from $12.7 million to $5.5 million. Myers' H20 rampage, aided by the return of Jamie Lee Curtis, earned a bloody good $55 million. Resurrection, which reduces Curtis' presence to a pre-opening credits cameo, has $23.2 million through Tuesday.
The latest underachiever: the extremely expensive Stuart Little 2.
The sequel was expected to build upon the success of its 1999 predecessor, but the lovable animated rodent bit off more cheese than he could chew this time around. Stuart Little 2 debuted with $15.1 million vs. Stuart Little's $15 million. This lackluster debut allowed Road to Perdition to top the box office after opening last weekend in the second slot.
Stuart Little managed to climb to $140 million through sheer tenacity. With a mousy $22.1 million through Wednesday, Stuart Little 2 needs all the help it can get to scurry past $70 million. It doesn't help that Disney's Lilo & Stitch is still doing good business, having amassed $130.7 million through Wednesday, or that Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams opens in less than two weeks.
Only The Sum of All Fears looks set to surpass its predecessor, Clear and Present Danger, and would become the biggest earner in the Jack Ryan franchise in the process. The Sum of All Fears has $116.9 million through Sunday, while Clear and Present Danger ended with a $122 million total.
Remakes, conversely, seem like a sure thing. Adam Sandler's Mr. Deeds has $111 million through Wednesday. Insomnia, with Al Pacino and Robin Williams, has $66 million through Sunday.
Hollywood often seeks inspiration from comic books, classic and foreign films, TV shows and Internet-originated series.
But theme park attractions?
The Country Bears brings to life those singing grizzlies from the Disneyland and Disney World attractions. A young bear raised as a human sets out to finds its roots. Along the way, he recruits a band known as The Country Bears to help save a concert hall from being demolished by banker Christopher Walken. The Sixth Sense's Haley Joel Osment lends his voice to the young bear.
What's scarier? That such an attraction could inspire a film? Or that Disney has already commissioned a script for a sequel?
Not that a sequel--at least one headed for theaters--seems a possibility. If kids want to see a fairy tale about a talking animal adopted by a human family, they're more likely to be enticed by the familiarity of Stuart Little 2 than the country-rock shenanigans of The Country Bears. And parents would happily sit through Lilo & Stitch or Like Mike ($43.2 million through Wednesday) again before being dragged to see bear-costumed actors whoop it up Hee-Haw style.
With a likely opening of between $8 million and $10 million, The Country Bears will join The Powerpuff Girls Movie ($10.8 million through Sunday) and Hey Arnold! The Movie ($6.7 million through Sunday) as the summer's least family-friendly attractions.
Not that The Country Bears represents Disney's sole attraction-inspired film. Haunted Mansion will star Eddie Murphy. Johnny Depp, of all actors, will headline the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced Pirates of the Caribbean. Let's hope it's not quite as small a world that Disney wants us to believe it is.
Kids currently seem to have little interest in animals, talking or otherwise, real or mythical.
The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course plummeted by 51 percent in its second weekend, from $9.5 million to $4.5 million, and has $20.8 million through Wednesday. Perhaps wild man Steve Irwin should stick to wrestling crocodiles on his cable TV show.
Eight Legged Freaks crawled its way to a disappointing $6.4 million weekend and has $11.2 million through Wednesday. The comic tale of giant mutated spiders overrunning a small Arizona town didn't look funny or scary enough for most folks.
Man's battle against fire-breathing dragons proved somewhat more appealing, but by not much. Reign of Fire eroded by 53 percent in its second weekend, from $15.6 million to $7.3 million, as it waged war against Eight Legged Freaks. With $32.1 million through Wednesday, Reign of Fire won't blaze past Dragonheart's $51.3 million total.
Stuart Little 2's struggles allowed Road to Perdition to gun its way to the top of last weekend's box office. Tom Hanks' gangland epic expanded from 1,797 theaters to 2,159 theaters and eased by 30 percent in its second weekend, from $22 million to $15.4 million. Initial estimates put Stuart Little 2 ahead of Road to Perdition, but when the final numbers came in, the latter reigned supreme. Still, that's the lowest-grossing No. 1 film since Queen of the Damned debuted Feb. 22 with $14.7 million.
Road to Perdition continues to capitalize on a stellar cast that includes Paul Newman and reviews that labeled this Irish Godfather as the first Oscar-worthy offering of the year. It has $52.9 million through Wednesday, with $100 million a certainty.
Hanks might play a Mob enforcer who kills in cold blood, but that's not stopping audiences from sympathizing with his plight to save his oldest son from being murdered. The same cannot be said for K-19, starring Harrison Ford as the stern commander of a crippled Russian nuclear submarine.
Torpedoed by poor reviews, K-19 limped to a $12.7 million opening. That's Ford's worst opening since his dire 1995 remake of Sabrina.
Ford, sporting a distracting Russian accent, couldn't interest teens or adults in a fictional account of a Cold War-era incident told from the Soviet perspective. With $16.7 million through Wednesday, K-19 will find itself sinking somewhere between The Devil's Own's $42.8 million and Random Hearts' $31 million.
While teens crowd MIBII and Mr. Deeds, adults are finding their way to films that offer more than gunfights, car chases and explosions. Road to Perdition is a good example. So is My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which has amassed $30.8 million without cracking the Top 10.
August will see several intelligent art house offerings that could receive such mainstream acceptance, including Full Frontal, The Good Girl and One Hour Photo.
Tadpole got a jump on the similarly themed The Good Girl, which both praise the virtues of older women. In Tadpole, a 16-year-old boy lusts after stepmother Sigourney Weaver but ends up bedding her best friend, Bebe Neuwirth.
Miramax picked up Tadpole for a reported $5 million after director Gary Winick's digitally shot coming-of-age comedy won the Best Dramatic Director's award at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Miramax's been burned before when overpaying for pickups--remember Happy, Texas?--but Tadpole is a genuinely smart and funny tale featuring terrific performances by Weaver, Neuwirth, John Ritter and relative newcomer Aaron Stanford.
Tadpole, which opened last weekend at six theaters and earned a solid $80,682, expands this weekend in certain cities. Whether Miramax overpaid for Tadpole remains open for debate.
Want to know what those ubiquitous "sources" and "insiders" have to say about the Meg Ryan-Russell Crowe "affair"? How about Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera or Roseanne? Well, not to sound too much like a TV commercial for the National Enquirer or anything, we got all the so-called scoops and gossip courtesy of the world of tabloid news.
So without further ado, here’re the Top 10 tabloid stories that whetted our curiosity:
1. Whassup with Meg, Dennis and Russell Nothing new since last week at least. The major tabs (Star, the National Enquirer, the Globe) all report this week what was already reported last week. Yes, Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan have separated. And, yes, Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe have been spotted together in a more-than-just-friends manner more than once in England, where the two are currently shooting the flick "Proof of Love."
2. Porn Industry Discriminates Against Roseanne? The National Enquirer says that former domestic goddess Roseanne had offered herself up for a Playboy centerfold, only to get turned down by the magazine’s owner, Hugh Hefner. Peeved, the actress reportedly challenged Hefner to put a poll up on the Playboy Web site and let his readers decide. (We called the Playboy folks today, and they told us that the whole thing is just "a fun, little made-up story.")
3. Oprah Has Problems, Too! The Star says that the queen of all talk show hosts has been carrying on an affair with another man behind fiancé Stedman Graham’s back for 24 years. The tab reveals the identity of the man whom Oprah’s heart truly belongs to: one Lloyd Dramer, a reporter she met in 1976 at a TV station in Baltimore.
4. Britney Spears: Teen Superstar, Teen Bitch? An "insider" tells the Star that the 18-year-old pop princess insisted on traveling with a snow cone machine, an air hockey table and her own tanning bed on her tour. Moreover, Spears reportedly made some poor wage earner take out all the cereal from four boxes of Lucky Charms so that the she can wholeheartedly indulge in the pink hearts, yellow moons and green clover marshmallow crumbs.
5. Steve Allen Confesses: Christina Aguilera -- She’s Hot! Thus is the original "Tonight Show" host’s sentiments as summarized in the Enquirer. After catching a glimpse of the songstress’s video "What a Girl Wants," the veteran TV personality was quoted as saying: (a) "The young girl is beautiful" and (b) "As regards to dancing like this, my rating is 100 percent. I can give it all sorts of marks of A-plus."
6. Christina Aguilera Confesses: I See White Light, Dead People Per the National Enquirer, Aguilera possesses the rare ability to see otherworldly stuff like, y’know, ghosts and spirits. According to the tab’s unnamed source, the 19-year-old singer had her first spectral encounter was she was 3 or 4 and can still sense their presence 'til this day.
7. Six Degrees of Royal Highness According to genealogy researchers excavated by the Enquirer, the King of Rock 'n' Roll Elvis Presley carried the royal blood of King Edward III. It’s a bit confusing, but here’s what the "experts" are saying: The pompadour singer’s ancestors were the wealthy Mansels family in Wales. One of the Mansels later married a descendent of King Edward III, thus making Elvis of royal lineage. But the experts remained mute as to how they were able to establish the initial connection between Elvis and the Mansels.
8. FBI Agent Gary Busey? Actor/motorcycle helmet advocate Gary Busey reportedly told the Globe that he has been enlisted by the FBI on a project to help American Indians and that he has a special agent badge issued by the Feds to prove it. When approached by the tab on the matter, the FBI said Busey's account just wasn't so.
9. Handicapped Feline Learns to Walk Again A classic testament of triumph over adversity, the Enquirer this week brings us the true story of Claire the injured stray kitten, who, despite her paralyzed hind legs, has learned to walk with the help of rehab. A miracle indeed.
10. John Travolta Looking Funny on Magazine Cover A tip from the National Enquirer: If you want to laugh, go look at the cover of the July issue of Good Housekeeping. On it is a funny-looking John Travolta, whose new hairdo is being slammed by "industry insiders" as an odd mix of Eddie Munster and Dr. Zira from "The Planet of the Apes."