Robert Zemeckis is a blockbuster director at heart. Action has never been an issue for the man behind Back to the Future. When he puts aside the high concept adventures for emotional human stories — think Forrest Gump or Cast Away — he still goes big. His latest Flight continues the trend revolving the story of one man's fight with alcoholism around a terrifying plane crash. Zemeckis expertly crafts his roaring centerpiece and while he finds an agile performer in Denzel Washington the hour-and-a-half of Flight after the shocking moment can't sustain the power. The "big" works. The intimate drowns.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker a reckless airline pilot who balances his days flying jumbo jets with picking up women snorting lines of cocaine and drinking himself to sleep. Although drunk for the flight that will change his life forever that's not the reason the plane goes down — in fact it may be the reason he thinks up his savvy landing solution in the first place. Writer John Gatins follows Whitaker into the aftermath madness: an investigation of what really happened during the flight Whitaker's battle to cap his addictions and budding relationships that if nurtured could save his life.
Zemeckis tops his own plane crash in Cast Away with the heart-pounding tailspin sequence (if you've ever been scared of flying before Flight will push into phobia territory). In the few scenes after the literal destruction Washington is able to convey an equal amount of power in the moments of mental destruction. Whitaker is obviously crushed by the events the bottle silently calling for him in every down moment. Flight strives for that level of introspection throughout eventually pairing Washington with equally distraught junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Their relationship is barely fleshed out with the script time and time again resorting to obvious over-the-top depictions of substance abuse (a la Nic Cage's Leaving Las Vegas) and the bickering that follows. Washington's Whitaker hits is lowest point early sitting there until the climax of the film.
Sharing screentime with the intimate tale is the surprisingly comical attempt by the pilot's airline union buddy (Bruce Greenwood) and the company lawyer (Don Cheadle) to get Whitaker into shape. Prepping him for inquisitions looking into evidence from the wreckage and calling upon Whitaker's dealer Harling (John Goodman) to jump start their "hero" when the time is right the two men do everything they can to keep any blame being placed upon Whitaker by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The thread doesn't feel relevant to Whitaker's plight and in turn feels like unnecessary baggage that pads the runtime.
Everything in Fight shoots for the skies — and on purpose. The music is constantly swelling the photography glossy and unnatural and rarely do we breach Washington's wild exterior for a sense of what Whitaker's really grappling with. For Zemeckis Flight is still a spectacle film with Washington's ability to emote as the magical special effect. Instead of using it sparingly he once again goes big. Too big.
While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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This was no college like I ever attended! Take three typical high-school seniors--the nerd (Kevin Covais) the good-looking Regular Guy (Drake Bell) and the hell-for-leather go-for-broke Horny Fat Guy (Andy Caldwell)--and let them loose during freshman orientation at fictional Fieldmont University. Just add beer marijuana and wild sex and you’ve got what may well be a new Frat House Classic one that adheres studiously to the tenets of the teen-comedy genre which also includes defying authority and destruction of public property. When it comes to the so-called “guilty pleasures” of 2008 this makes the Dean’s List. Like any good college hangover you’ll hate yourself in the morning--but you’ll still be laughing. Credit an enthusiastic cast and a refreshing (but quite appropriate) disregard for the rules. Drake Bell (of Nickelodeon’s Drake and Josh fame) who looks far too old to be contemplating a college career is ostensibly the leading man here. Yet the principal selling point of the film is the onscreen camaraderie between he and co-stars Caldwell who plays it full-tilt a la John Belushi and Chris Farley (and that is meant as a compliment) but holds back enough when the ensemble demands require and Covais who all but steals the film with a smart shrewd take on the big-screen geek. A good deal of the film’s energy can be traced directly to them. The whole show is the three boys and they have a great easy rapport that transcends many of the worst trappings of a film like this. They feel like friends and that goes a very long way in a film that in some ways doesn’t deserve so rich an effort but benefits from it nonetheless. College marks the feature debut of director Deb Hagan who manages at times to give the film a fresh visual perspective while maintaining a relaxed but steady momentum. College is neither original nor good but it is enjoyable (far more so than would be expected) and it is fast-paced. It also delivers exactly what it promises. If it’s bang for the buck you want it’s bang for the buck you got when you enroll in College.
Beware, evildoers: Ar-nuld's back and he's ready to kick some terrorist butt.
Postponed from its Oct. 5 release in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Collateral Damage arrives in theaters Friday as more than just another attempt by one of the world's biggest action stars to revive his flagging fortunes at the box office.
Suddenly, Collateral Damage represents a vicarious experience for audiences eager to punish those who dare to create terror on American soil. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a firefighter-is there a nobly profession these days?-who hunts down the Colombian terrorist responsible for planting a bomb that killed Schwarzenegger's wife and son. Accordingly, what unfolds as a tired and cliched throwback to the days of Commando should give Arnold Schwarzenegger his first No. 1 film since 1997's disappointing Batman & Robin. Given that Schwarzenegger faces competition in the action-oriented Rollerball remake, and Friday's opening night 2002 Winter Olympics ceremony, Collateral Damage should mirror the $18.7 million opening that the equally simplistic Behind Enemy Lines enjoyed in late November.
The controversy swirling around Collateral Damage's depiction of Colombians as terrorists and drug manufacturers ironically should help the film at the box office. Newspapers are devoting the kind of coverage to Collateral Damage that not even Schwarzenegger, who is famous for being doggedly devoted to promoting his films, could hope to generate.
Yet no effort seems to have been made during Collateral Damage's four months on the shelf to reflect what happened at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Thus dialogue about today's America not experiencing the horrors of war could result in audience dismissing Collateral Damage as irrelevant despite its timeliness.
Schwarzenegger has fallen somewhat out of favor since his rare villainous turn as Mr. Freeze in the unintentionally campy Batman & Robin ($107.3 million total). The gloomy horror yarn End of Days made a lackluster $66.8 million in 1999 while The 6th Day's $34.5 million in 2000 represented Schwarzenegger's worst haul at the box office since 1982's Conan the Barbarian heralded his arrival as a major action hero.
Schwarzenegger faces a few challenges in his bid to teach such whippersnappers as Vin Diesel and Jet Li a lesson or two in saving the day. Collateral Damage is the first Schwarzenegger offering since 1985's Commando to open outside of the summer and winter holidays, times when a big-budget thriller such as this would thrive. Also, the last time Schwarzenegger took on terrorists, he had Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold and director James Cameron by his side to turn True Lies into a $146.2 million smash.
All things considered, Collateral Damage will likely end up with about $70 million. Not bad, but not great for a man once considered the most bankable star in the world. Schwarzenegger will have to wait until next year's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines celebrate his seventh $100 million smash.
Schwarzenegger's Collateral Damage debuts against Rollerball, from his Predator and Last Action Hero director, John McTiernan.
Without Schwarzenegger, McTiernan scored major hits in the 1980s and 1990s with Die Hard, Die Hard With a Vengeance and The Hunt for Red October.
Lately, though, McTiernan seems intent on remaking just about every film made by director Norman Jewison. McTiernan and MGM scored a steamy hit with their 1999 remake of Jewison's The Thomas Crown Affair. Now McTiernan and MGM reunite for Rollerball, a remake of Jewison's 1975 look at a world in which war has been replaced by a violent sport more popular than football.
Rollerball hardly rushes into theaters. MGM yanked the remake from its original Aug. 17 release date following terrible word of mouth. McTiernan is used to such delays. He directed The 13th Warrior before The Thomas Crown Affair. His adaptation of Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead remained on the shelf for so long that it ended up in theaters four weekends after the release of The Thomas Crown Affair.
The remake stars Chris Klein as Rollerball's very own Michael Jordan. His presence certainly will not lure too many spectators to Rollerball. Audiences do not display much interest in Klein unless he's wooing Mena Suvari in the American Pie series.
Also, the well-reviewed The Thomas Crown Affair tantalized audiences with the promise of Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo getting hot and heavy in some exotic locales. Rollerball offers no such draw, and consequently will fail to make even half of The Thomas Crown Affair's $69.3 million total. Rollerball might not even have enough steam to push past The 13th Warrior's less-than-noble $32.6 million gross.
And perhaps that's not such a bad thing for McTiernan. Rollerball flopping might convince McTiernan to leave Jewison's classics alone before he does damage to In the Heat of the Night or Fiddler on the Roof.
Not interested in a shot of testosterone? Then try Big Fat Liar, a family comedy that could provide a welcome alternative to parents worn out by Cuba Gooding Jr.'s Alaskan adventure Snow Dogs. Teen TV stars Frankie Muniz (Malcolm and the Middle) and Amanda Bynes (The Amanda Show) unite to put greedy Hollywood producer Paul Giamatti in his place.
Malcolm in the Middle debuted on Fox in early 2000 to great reviews and ratings, a factor that no doubt helped Muniz's My Dog Skip to become a modest hit a few weeks later. Big Fat Liar should benefit from Muniz's Malcolm in the Middle antics to the point where it equals My Dog Skip's $34 million total. Big Fat Liar also faces little competition for the pre-teen market in the weeks to come, with the upcoming Disney Peter Pan sequel Return to Neverland aimed at preschoolers.
The triple threat of Collateral Damage, Rollerball and Big Fat Liar, plus the art house expansion of Billy Bob Thornton's Monster's Ball ($1.4 million through Sunday), should drive audiences to theaters this weekend. Football fans, of course, stayed at home last Sunday to watch the New England Patriots' Super Bowl upset over presumed winners the St. Louis Rams. The 2002 Winter Olympics will keep some people glued to their TVs, but not on the same scale of the Super Bowl.
As expected, the Super Bowl resulted in disastrous debuts for two delayed offerings, Birthday Girl and Slackers.
Birthday Girl failed to capitalize on Nicole Kidman's likely Oscar nomination for either Moulin Rouge or The Others. The messy mix of comedy and drama, with Kidman as an Internet-ordered bride with a shady past, opened with a less-than-celebratory $2.3 million at 1,000 theaters. Birthday Girl won't make much more than $6 million, or just under half of the $13.7 million that Moulin Rouge earned in its first weekend in wide release.
Teens wanted nothing to do with Slackers Devon Sawa, Jason Schwartzman and James King. The R-rated college comedy opened with a fittingly lazy $2.7 million from 1,893 theaters, and has amassed a lowly $3.4 million through Wednesday. Seems no one assumed that Slackers is a sequel to Slacker, which Richard Linklater, the director of the philosophically meandering Gen X classic, initially feared. Slackers will likely end up with about $8 million, proving once again that raunchy teen comedies are currently out of vogue.
The Super Bowl did not hurt Black Hawk Down, The Count of Monte Cristo, A Walk to Remember, I Am Sam and Snow Dogs.
Black Hawk Down will surrender the No. 1 spot to Collateral Damage after serving as the champ for three weekends. Ridley Scott's bloody account of a showdown between U.S. troops and Somalian warlords has made $77.8 million through Wednesday, with $100 million a certainty.
The Count of Monte Cristo continues to surprise. Director Kevin Reynolds' remake of the Alexandre Dumas literary classic declined by just 23 percent in its second weekend, from $11.3 to $8.7 million. It again ranked behind A Walk to Remember in the Top 10, but has made more money thanks to strong weekday business. With $25.2 million through Wednesday, The Count of Monte Cristo will ride past the lackluster $27 million that The Musketeer made in September and should make do with a booty of about $40 million.
Mandy Moore's fans clearly aren't interested in football. The pop singer's A Walk to Remember dropped 27 percent in its second weekend, from $12.1 million to $8.8 million. With Valentine's Day approaching, A Walk to Remember will clearly benefit this week from boyfriends willing to do anything for their loved ones, including seeing an unabashedly soppy teen romance starring Mandy Moore. A Walk to Remember, however, is set to take a big hit next weekend with the arrival of Britney Spears' Crossroads. With $24.3 million through Wednesday, A Walk to Remember will likely singto the tune of $40 million.
I Am Sam, hear me warble The Beatles. The critics hated it, but the Sean Penn drama continues to make audiences cry for all the right reasons. I Am Sam, starring Penn as a mentally challenge father fighting for custody of his 7-year-old daughter, dropped 24 percent in its second weekend, from $8.5 million to $6.3 million. Playing at only 1,303, I Am Sam has made an excellent $18.7 million through Wednesday.
There's no rest for Cuba Gooding Jr.'s Snow Dogs. The family comedy continues to run much of the competition ragged as it enjoyed a third weekend haul of $10.1 million, or 22 percent less than the previous weekend's $13 million. That was the smallest decline in earnings for any of the films in the Top 10. Snow Dogs now has $52.3 million through Wednesday. Even with competition arriving in the form of Big Fat Liar and Return to Neverland, Snow Dogs should run its way to $75 million.
Richard Gere's The Mothman Prophecies flew lower by a better-than-expected 34 percent in its second weekend, going from $11.2 to $7.3 million. With $22.6 million through Wednesday, The Mothman Prophecies could survive being dismissed as a substandard X-Files knockoff and end up making close to the $37.7 million that Gere's Autumn in New York made in 2000.
The Super Bowl sacked Kung Pow: Enter the Fist. The martial arts spoof tumbled 45 percent in its second weekend, from $7 million to $3.8 million, for a total of $12 million through Sunday. Kung Pow: Enter the Fist will be lucky to kick its way to $17 million.
Leading Oscar contenders A Beautiful Mind, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Gosford Park should continue to do strong business in advance of Tuesday's nominations announcement.
Director Ron Howard celebrated his fifth $100 million hit last weekend with A Beautiful Mind. The biography of mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr. has made $106.3 million through Wednesday. A slew of nominations, plus a win or two, will result in a possible $140 million total for A Beautiful Mind.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring will vanquish Shrek this weekend to become the second-highest earner of 2001. Peter Jackson's epic has $267.5 million through Wednesday. Shrek ended its run with a $267.7 million. Securing a Best Picture nomination will help The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring climb to a $300 million total.
Robert Altman's classy murder mystery Gosford Park dropped by only 15 percent in its third weekend in wide release, from $2.7 million to $2.3 million. With its total standing at $19.9 million through Wednesday, Gosford Park will surpass The Player's $21.7 million this weekend to become Altman's biggest hit in more than two decades. A shot at Oscar gold would be the icing on the cake for an iconoclastic director who seems to be back at the peak of his creative powers.