When I read the novel Body of Lies, by Washington Post political columnist David Ignatius, my first though was not, “That’s a movie.” Instead, my reaction was, “Can U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East really be that wrongheaded and misguided?” That may be why the new film adaptation has had trouble getting traction with audiences in pre-release tracking surveys and why its opening weekend is softer than you might expect.
Despite the star power of Oscar-winner Russell Crowe and three-time Academy Award nominee Leonardo DiCaprio, Body of Lies (Warner Bros) has managed just a lukewarm $17.15M opening, losing out to Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Disney). The reviews are just so-so for Body of Lies (54 percent Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), and this one would need to rely on word-of-mouth to hit a decent domestic number, however, it will probably top out at $34M-$37M. (With almost no awards buzz, it will not benefit from Oscar season the way that Warner Bros’ Syriana did in 2005.)
With a stellar pedigree, including a script by Oscar-winner William Monahan (The Departed), two big movie stars (let’s call it two and a half since Russell Crowe gained a reported 50 pounds to play this role) and Ridley Scott at the helm, coming off of his commercial and critical success with American Gangster, how could Body of Lies go wrong? The problem is not pedigree. It is subject matter.
Sir Ridley’s new spy thriller is the latest attempt by Hollywood to say something important about the war on terror, and Body of Lies is actually strongly outperforming efforts like last year’s A Mighty Heart ($3.9M opening), Rendition ($4M opening) and Lions For Lambs ($6.7M). The two most successful post-9/11 spy thrillers have been 2007’s excellent Peter Berg-directed The Kingdom ($17.1M opening – $47.5M cume) and this year’s Vantage Point ($22.8M opening – $72.2M cume). The difference here is that The Kingdom had a strong, conventional narrative and Vantage Point’s Rashomon-style puzzle-work was actually fun. Moviegoers have shown less interest in what I am sure are more realistic espionage scenarios like the one played out in Body of Lies.
Let’s face it. With the Dow down 18 percent this week, the biggest one-week drop in Wall Street history, ticket buyers are not necessarily looking for a complex, arcane, espionage thriller. With the country arguing over Presidential politics and life seeming very, very serious, a lot of people would rather see a funny movie about a dog in a purse.
It is safe to say that somewhere at Disney, plans are underway for Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2. Chloe the Chihuahua is a movie star, and her legs are longer than they look. Beverly Hills Chihuahua has added another $17.51M for the three-day, which will give it a second consecutive weekend win, down just 40 percent, and a new 10-day cume of $52.5M.
Sony’s Quarantine, an R-rated horror flick about a rare strain of rabies in a confined apartment building, with lots of shaky camera work and plenty of screaming courtesy of Exorcism of Emily Rose star Jennifer Carpenter, has apparently eked out an impressive Friday win with an estimated $5M on opening day. It played out the weekend better than the standard horror film and finishes as a surprise No. 2 with about $14.2M for a good, solid, low budget hit.
Holdovers Eagle Eye (Dreamworks/Paramount) and Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Sony) will round out the top 5 for the weekend. The Shia LaBeouf high-tech thriller snagged another $11M for a new domestic cume of $70.5M. Meanwhile, Nick & Norah’ managed $6.5M for the three-day and a 10-day cume of $20.8M.
The new football movie, The Express (Universal), is proving to be a little too “been there, done that” for moviegoers. The heartfelt story of Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy, starring Harlem-born, Brooklyn-raised former Amherst College football player-turned-actor Rob Brown and sports movie veteran Dennis Quaid as former Syracuse coach Ben Schwartzwalder, fumbled on opening weekend with a disappointing $4.73M and a sixth-place finish.
The other new wide opener is the hardly-screened-for-critics City of Ember (Fox). This odd family fantasy movie from Walden Media and Playtone (Tom Hanks’ company) features a lot of talent including Oscar nominees Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) and Marianne Jean-Baptiste, and Oscar winners Tim Robbins and Martin Landau , but it is a non-starter in 10th-place with a meager $3.2M.
The Duchess (Paramount Vantage) expanded to just over 1,200 playdates, but has failed to score big. The Keira Knightley–Ralph Fiennes period costume drama delivered a $2,752 weekend Per Theatre Average on Friday for $3.32M (No. 9). The top 3 Per Theatre Averages for the weekend were the brand new Guy Ritchie crime pic RockNRolla ($20,143 PTA), Mike Leigh‘s brilliant new Happy-Go-Lucky is next with $20,000 per, and Rachel Getting Married is third with a $17,185 PTA.
STUDIO THREE-DAY ESTIMATES
1. Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Disney) – $17.55M, $5,442 PTA, $52.5M cume
2. NEW – Quarantine (Sony) – $14.2M, $5,770 PTA, $14.2M cume
3. NEW – Body of Lies (Warner Bros) – $13.1M, $4,841 PTA, $13.1M cume
4. Eagle Eye (Dreamworks/Paramount) – $11M, $3,048 PTA, $70.5M cume
5. Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Sony) – $6.5M, $2,685 PTA, $20.8M cume
6. NEW – The Express (Universal) – $4.7M, $1,685 PTA, $4.7M cume
7. Nights in Rodanthe (Warner Bros) – $4.6M, $1,790 PTA, $32.3M cume
8. Appaloosa (Warner Bros) – $3.3M, $2,589 PTA, $10.8M
9. The Duchess (Paramount Vantage) – $3.3M, $2,752 PTA, $5.6M cume
10. NEW – City of Ember (Fox) – $3.2M, $1,583 PTA, $3.2M cume
Go to our Box Office section for recent weekend movie analysis.