The Weekend Warrior: August 22 – 24

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Greetings and welcome back to the Weekend Warrior, your weekly guide to the weekend’s new movies. Tune in every Tuesday for the latest look at the upcoming weekend, and then check back on Thursday night for final projections based on actual theatre counts.

It’s the second to last weekend of summer, the week before Labor Day ends the whole shebang, and I wouldn’t want to have to be someone trying to predict the box office… oh, wait, I am someone trying to predict the box office. Poor me. This is notoriously one of the worst weekends of the year, which is why studios will dump whatever movie they don’t know what else to do with there. It’s a weekend where very few movies either new or returning will be able to gross more than $20 million as many people go on vacation, some are returning to school and everyone suddenly loses interest in going to the movies.

 

With that in mind, you have to wonder whether any of this week’s offerings will open with more than $15 million and if not, it means Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder could very well stay on top. There are two movies that stand the best chance to dethrone it, each appealing to a different gender, and the testosterone-driven action remake Death Race (Universal) starring Jason Statham stands the best chance at besting it, although it will be a tight and close race that might not play out until Monday. It should do better than the female-friendly comedy The House Bunny (Sony) starring Ana Farris, Emma Stone and other hot actresses, which comes from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions in hopes of doing something for the ladies. Neither movie will probably get very good reviews but the brainless appeal of the two movies to young men and women, respectively, should allow them to do decently against the weaker returning movies, even if Tropic Thunder will certainly hold its ground well.

Rainn Wilson from “The Office” stars in the rock comedy The Rocker (20th Century Fox), which will open on Wednesday in hopes of getting some early business before being trounced by the other movies over the weekend, but the biggest loser of the weekend might end up being Ice Cube’s PG sports drama The Longshots (MGM/Dimension Films), which looks like so many other movies, and will have a moderate opening that tries to target urban audiences.

UPDATE: Not much has changed in terms of the order, just a bit of reshuffling in the bottom half of the Top 10 as Rainn Wilson’s The Rocker seems to have been met with complete and utter lack of interest, at least on Wednesday. It should pick up some word-of-mouth business on Friday but it has a lot more competition then, too. Of last week’s movies, only Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder will be able to hold up its business as it adds more theaters this week, but it still won’t be enough to get the action fanboys into see Universal’s Death Race. Keep an eye on that bottom half for a mess of movies around the $5 million mark, but the big movies of the weekend should be Death Race, The House Bunny, Tropic Thunder and The Dark Knight.

This week’s “Chosen One” is I.O.U.S.A. (Roadside Attractions), Patrick (Word Play) Creadon’s timely doc about the U.S. economy, which you can read about here.

Updated Predictions

1. Death Race (Universal) – $15.8 million N/A (down .4 million)

2. Tropic Thunder (DreamWorks) – $15.0 million -42% (same)

3. The House Bunny (Sony) – $12.4 million N/A (up +.6 million)

4. The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.) – $10.5 million -36% (same)

5. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Warner Bros.) – $6.8 million -54% (down .1 million)

6. The Longshots (MGM/Dimension) – $5.6 million N/A (Same but up 1 spot)

7. The Rocker (20th Century Fox) – $5.4 million (originally 6.2) N/A (down .8 million and 1 spot)

8. Pineapple Express (Sony) – $5.1 million -49% (up .1 million and 1 spot)

9. Mirrors (20th Century Fox) – $4.9 million -56% (down .4 million and 1 spot)

10. Mamma Mia! (Universal) – $4.4 million -28% (same!)

This weekend last year was another dumping ground with six new movies in wide release, but
Sony’s comedy Superbad remained on top with $18 million, followed by the 3-quels The Bourne Ultimatum and Rush Hour 3. Fourth place was a tight race between two new movies but the Brit-com Mr. Bean’s Holiday (Universal) came out just ahead of the Jason Statham-Jet Li action-thriller War (Lionsgate), both ending up below $10 million. Scarlett Johansson starred in The Nanny Diaries (MGM/Weinstein) which opened in sixth place with $7.5 million. And then there were the movies that didn’t even get into the Top 10. Rod Lurie’s well-reviewed drama Resurrecting the Champ (Yari Film Group) with Samuel L. Jackson and Josh Hartnett opened at #15 with $1.7 million, and the crime-thriller Illegal Tender was right behind it opening in a third the theaters. Then there’s the strange case of the anti-Mormon monstrosity September Dawn which ended up with less than a million in over 800 theatres, it and “Champ” averaging roughly $1000 per site. The top 10 grossed $83 million and this weekend’s offerings stand a good chance of besting that amount.


Death Race (Universal)
Starring Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Tyrese Gibson, Ian McShane, Natalie Martinez, Jason Clarke
Written and directed by Paul W. S. Anderson (Alien vs. Predator, Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat) with J.F. Lawton
Genre: Action, Thriller
Rated R
Tagline: “Get ready for a killer ride.”
Plot Summary: When racing champion Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) is framed for a murder he didn’t commit, he’s urged by the warden of the prison Terminal Island to don the metal mask of the mythical unkillable racer Frankenstein and take part in the three-day Death Race, driving in heavily armed and armored vehicles against other convicts, in order to win his freedom.

Mini-Review: To think that a Roger Corman midnight cult movie from the ‘70s which painted a dark and violent future that’s now eight years past could possibly be bested in this day and age is surprising, especially when molded into a studio-funded remake cast with known stars compared to the high concept indie vehicle for David Carradine post-“Kung Fu” and Sylvester Stallone pre-“Rocky.” For better or worse, “Resident Evil” mastermind Paul W. S. Anderson turns out to be the right man for the job in turning a gratuitously violent exploitation movie from the ‘70s into an equally violent action movie for the 21st Century, although it does take some time to adjust to the movie’s deliberately colorless muted look. Everything is set-up and explained in a simple and uncomplicated way so that one can quickly get into the action with little muss or fuss. The writing and dialogue are great, but really, do they need to be? Once the racers get onto the track for the three stages of the movie’s main race, that’s when the fun begins as Anderson has created easy to understand rules and added weapons to even the playing field as the drivers shoot at each other with large guns, spray oil and napalm and give the viewers lots of explosions and blood. You can tell Anderson is having a great time with these stunts, striving do as much sans CG as possible which is fairly impressive, especially when the giant Dreadnought enters the field and creates even more mayhem for the racers. (It seriously has to be seen to be believed and more than a few times, you’ll find yourself whooping it up at some of Anderson’s more jaw-dropping stunts.) Jason Statham isn’t stretching much as actor with his latest tough guy role, and there’s more than a few problems with his underdeveloped character. It’s not particularly plausible that a former race car driver/mechanic would so easily turn into a killer, even in prison, for instance. It’s bad characterization but not quite as bizarre as piling so many quirks onto Frankenstein’s arch-nemesis Machine Gun Joe, played by Tyrese Gibson. It’s a character so full of quirks, mostly mentioned in passing but never fully explored in a satisfying way, and it’s hard not to think that a better actor would have done a lot more with him to create a better foil for Statham. Fortunately, that’s where Joan Allen comes in. Without a doubt, the best thing going for Anderson’s remake is making Terminal Island’s warden a woman, which adds another dimension to the “game” and Allen is terrific at playing a steel cold mega-bitch who can dish it out as good as she can take it. Her scenes with Statham are some of the best in the movie, even if her motivations, essentially to keep up the ratings for Death Race, seem somewhat obvious and forced. Anderson cutting to her for a reaction does a lot to enhance every crash and kill. Similarly, having Ian McShane play the head of Frankenstein’s crew turns what might have been a bad over-used stereotype into a far more entertaining one, and the same can be said about some of the other secondary characters. One of the weaker plot points is the “big secret” that Ames has taken the place of the original and now deceased masked driver Frankenstein, which seems pretty obvious by the way people behave around him both on and off the track. There’s also a few honest to gosh flubs like having Frankenstein and other racers glare at each other through car windows that we’re told earlier were two-way glass to hide Ames’ identity, so he could drive without the mask and not reveal that he’s not the real Frankenstein. Basically, “Death Race” is exactly what you might expect, a mindless action flick that allows you to cheer as people get slaughtered while racing around in armored cars, no more and no less. But that’s actually a good thing, because anyone expecting anything even remotely approaching intelligence in terms of plot or character is obviously in the wrong movie. Rating: 7/10

Director Paul W.S. Anderson is finally getting away from making movies based on video games, something he began in 1995 with Mortal Kombat, one of the more successful late August movies, which continued when he kicked off franchises based on the violent video game Resident Evil and then made Alien vs. Predator, bringing together two hugely popular franchises. He’s taking a similar approach with his remake of Roger Corman’s 1975 cult classic Death Race 2000 about a car race where it’s kill or be killed and in this case, the reward for the convicts racing in it is their freedom.

The original movie had mostly been forgotten even in the midnight movie circuit, but the rights were picked up by Universal as a vehicle (ha ha) for Anderson and British action star Jason Statham, who has been continuously building his audience of fans since his early days as part of the ensemble cast of Guy Ritchie’s first movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels through the 2003 ensemble caper movie The Italian Job and finally headlining his own movies, such as his starring role in the Luc Besson produced The Transporter in 2002. For two years, Statham was to Labor Day what Will Smith is to the 4th of July with his holiday record-setter The Transporter 2 being followed a year later with the R-rated action-flick Crank. Last year, Lionsgate, Statham’s studio home for the last couple years, decided to release War, Statham’s reunion with Jet Li a week earlier (see above) and it didn’t fare nearly as well as the other two movies, but earlier this year, he received a lot of critical and popular acclaim with the heist movie The Bank Job. Statham is clearly an actor who has filled the need for action stars with the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger moving onto other things.

Statham is surrounded in this movie by a strong cast including more than able support from former R ‘n’ B singer Tyrese Gibson who’s back in the drivers’ seat for the first time since co-starring in Universal’s hit sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious, his second movie with John Singleton after Baby Boy. Since then he co-starred in the summer sleeper hit Four Brothers with Mark Wahlberg, followed by his own breakout crime drama Waist Deep, the less successful military drama Annapolis with James Franco, and Michael Bay’s Transformers. Tyrese certainly adds an extra amount of street cred to the movie beyond what Statham brings. There are a couple surprises in the cast including respected dramatic actress Joan Allen, who had appeared in many small movies but quickly came to global prominence when she co-starred in the last two Jason Bourne movies, also both huge hits for Universal. The cast is rounded out by Ian McShane, whose inimitable face and voice are featured prominently in the ads. Although he provided a key voice in DreamWorks’ hit Kung Fu Panda, his movie career generally has put him into ensemble casts like this one and recent movies like The Seeker and We Are Marshall haven’t done great, not helped or hindered by McShane being in them.

Death Race benefits from an incredibly simple, easy-to-comprehend premise, one that’s similar to the 2007 action-thriller bomb The Condemned starring “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Vinnie Jones, about a group of convicts set against each other to the death. A similar idea is also present in the action flick Game from Crank directors Neveldine & Taylor, which has just been pushed back to next summer. There’s little doubt that a movie like this has only been made to appeal to guys, although that interest could be fairly spread out among city guys and those in the suburbs since it’s such an easy-to-sell action premise. Universal has continued their run of great commercials with this one, showing off the action and the violence that one can expect when a director like Paul Anderson is working with an R-rating. Being late August means that it’s the time when moviegoers systematically stop going to movies, so one has to wonder if this will get the same size audience as Anderson’s Alien vs. Predator, but guys generally tend to stick around at this time of summer.

Death Race clearly has the strongest cast and premise of the weekend but it’s going up against the pre-Labor Day weekend jinx that has historically kept new movies from making more than $20 million on the weekend. Mark Wahlberg’s Invincible and Jet Li’s Hero were two of the bigger movies which opened on the weekend with $17 and $18 million, respectively, and that’s why most studios don’t expect much from movies they open on the weekend. Movies like Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin and last year’s Superbad have been able to open just one week earlier and do better in their opening weekend while building word-of-mouth with school starting up again. It’s generally known (or at least implied) that movies dumped on this weekend are not good movies, but surprisingly all four of the new movies are being screened in advance for critics including Death Race, which one would expect to be treated similarly to the violent action movie Doomsday released by Universal earlier this year with no pre-screenings.

Either way, Death Race will probably be a one-week wonder and won’t even get much of a significant bump from the Labor Day weekend where it’ll be competing with Vin Diesel’s Babylon A.D. (followed by Nicolas Cage’s Bangkok Dangerous the week after), so it’s all about this weekend where it’ll be facing off against Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder for the top spot.

Why I Should See It: With a great cast and concept, this could end up being a better than average action movie with lots of ultra-violence!
Why Not: Being dumped so late in the summer season makes you wonder whether Universal is just trying to get this out there, knowing it will eventually do better on DVD.
Projections: $15 to 17 million opening weekend but less than $40 million total.

COMPARISONS


The House Bunny (Sony)
Starring Anna Faris, Colin Hanks, Emma Stone, Kat Dennings, Dana Goodman, Katharine McPhee, Rumer Willis, Christopher McDonald, Beverly D’Angelo
Directed by Fred Wolf (Strange Wilderness); Written by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith (10 Things I Hate About You, Legally Blonde, Ella Enchanted, She’s the Man, upcoming Bride Wars, The Ugly Truth)
Genre: Comedy
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “For the girls of ZETA house, college life was no party, until Shelley showed up.”
Plot Summary: After she’s tossed out of the Playboy Mansion, Playboy Bunny Shelley Darlington (Anna Faris) becomes the house mother at a sorority of misfit girls who are about to lose their house if they can’t sign new girls up for their sorority, so Shelley gives them her own unique take on how to be themselves.

Mini-Review: If “The House Bunny” were just another dumb comedy it might be harmless enough but it tries to tread the precarious territory of being a comedy with a message and that’s what ultimately proves to be its undoing, because it’s not particularly funny and its message isn’t very clear. We’re introduced to Anna Faris’ Shelly through a storybook fairy tale of the ugly orphan who grew into a beauty who eventually moved into the Playboy Mansion as a bunny with dreams of being a centerfold. When a rival convinces her to leave, the now 27-year-old Shelly is homeless until she discovers a college campus and a sorority of misfits and outcasts who need saving, because they’re about to be closed. Shelly convinces the brainy and awkward Natalie (Emma Stone) that she would be make the perfect house mother and that they can get more pledges by throwing parties and acting sexier to attract guys. From there, you can pretty much guess the results which fall somewhere between “Legally Blonde” and “Revenge of the Nerds” as the overly perky and enthusiastic, but more than slightly dimwitted Shelly does her best to turn the ugly ducklings into swans. Seems like a fair enough concept, and maybe it would have been funnier if it wasn’t treading similar territory as “Animal House,” “Accepted” and so many similar campus movies. It’s not too surprising that this is an amalgam of ideas from the minds that brought you “Legally Blonde” and the high concept dogs of David Spade and Rob Schneider. At some points, you almost half wish they’d show up to add some life to the movie, because this clearly isn’t one of Faris’ better or funnier characters, essentially a dumb blonde pseudo-bimbo who doesn’t seem to be in a position to give anyone advice, much like Elle Woods actually. That doesn’t stop her from quickly bonding with the menagerie of misfit girls, giving them the threatened makeover and leading them down a path where they’re destined for a soul-crushing bit of reality before learning their valuable life lesson. Just about every beat is predictable if you’ve seen any “very special episode” of “The Facts of Life” and maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if the characters weren’t all stereotypical “ugly girls” who clean up nice, forcing you to question what the movie is trying to say: “acting dumb and sexy is the way to get guys”? “be yourself and people will like you”? It cycles through all of these as it tries to hook Shelly up with a nice quiet guy (Colin Hanks), but it just doesn’t know where to find laughs so it tries everything from moronic pratfalls to Faris saying people’s names in a deep Exorcist-like voice. Some of them succeed; most don’t. Because Faris is trying way too hard, Emma Stone is able to effortlessly steal the movie from under her (something she’s gotten good at) with a far more organic performance that makes her a standout among the younger actresses. Kat Dennings from “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” is a punky feminist who changes so much that you’re not sure what to think about her, Rumer Willis is an ugly girl with a back brace who suddenly has cleavage, but Katharine McPhee’s “pregnant hippy” is the worst of the lot, adding nothing in terms of story or character, and she’s clearly the worst actress in the bunch. Beverly D’Angelo is sorely underused in a perfect role as the housemother from a competing sorority; the movie would have been infinitely better with more between her and Faris. Hugh Hefner himself actually has a couple scenes in the movie that make it obvious he should stick to publishing and leave acting to the actors. Everything ultimately ends up where you might expect with the obligatory “big speech” from Shelly to convince the college dean not to close their sorority, and you can probably figure the rest from there. Who knows if the movie is meant for burgeoning feminists or teen airheads with nothing better to do with their time, but as much as the word “vapid” is thrown around in the movie, it also ends up being the perfect adjective to describe it. There are much better comedies out there right now to waste time on this one. Rating: 4.5/10

Not the last comedy of the summer, but maybe the oddest is this new high concept comedy from Happy Madison Productions, Adam Sandler’s production company who’ve been making movies for his young male fans for over decade, but with The House Bunny makes a movie targeted more towards teen girls. Even odder is that the movie has a lot in common with this weekend’s other new comedy, Fox’s The Rocker, which is also about a guy expelled from something he loves who uses his vast knowledge to mentor a bunch of impressionable younger types… and in both cases, one of them is Emma Stone from Sony’s 2007 summer hit Superbad!

Setting aside the fact that two production companies got a similar idea around the same time and that two studios decided this weekend was the perfect time to release something like this with lots of schools starting up again, this movie was written by the writers of female-friendly comedy hits as Legally Blonde and Amanda Bynes’ She’s the Man as well as Anne Hathaway’s Ella Enchanted, two women who obviously know how to write for teen and slightly older girls, and directed by Fred Wolf, whose first movie Strange Wilderness was dumped by Paramount earlier this year to predictably dismal results.

Much of the movie’s success is based around the fact that it’s a vehicle for Anna Faris, who first came to prominence as the star of Scary Movie back in 2000, which she followed up with three sequels of varying quality and success, as well as co-starring roles in comedies like Waiting… and Just Friends opposite Ryan Reynolds and My Super Ex-Girlfriend opposite Luke Wilson and Uma Thurman, none of which did particularly well. A few of her movies like Smiley Face and Mama’s Boy never even made it to theaters, but recently, she appeared on a couple of episodes of HBO’s “Entourage” acting more like herself rather than the deranged and confused characters she often plays in movies. Oddly, this movie looks the most like her last movie for Happy Madison Productions, which was Rob Schneider’s The Hot Chick in 2002,

One thing that makes the movie more for women is the number of young actresses in the cast surrounding Faris, some who are quite hot at the moment due to other movies they’ve been in. First and foremost is Emma Stone, who appears in both of this week’s comedies, this and The Rocker, following her successful breakout in last year’s August comedy Superbad, and it also stars Kat Dennings, who played Catherine Keener’s oldest daughter in Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin and has appeared in various teen angst movies including the recent Charlie Bartlett and upcoming hipster flick Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. The estrogen-laced cast is completed with “American Idol” finalist and runner-up Katharine McPhee with her first major feature film role and Rumer Willis, daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore (looking more like the latter than the former), also has a key role after appearing in her father’s thriller Hostage. Although that’s a lot of really attractive actresses there, it’s doubtful the movie will use their looks (or the “Playboy” connections) to try and get guys interested, since the point is to remain a female-friendly movie. It will essentially be more of a movie for teen and slightly older girls to go see together or possibly a date movie, but otherwise, don’t expect to see many guys seeing this with plenty of other choices.

The sole dude in the movie is Colin Hanks, son of Tom, who first got attention on the show “Roswell” and in the comedy Orange County but he hasn’t been too active, appearing in Peter Jackson’s King Kong and in the recent serial killer thriller Untraceable as well as a couple of indies, but not really making much of a mark as a comedic actor. This may be why he’s barely even mentioned in the ads.

It’s strange that Sandler’s company is trying to make a comedy more for young women, because they’re an audience that’s so fickle and finicky, as seen by the many movies that bombed after trying to copy the hit Legally Blonde. What’s odd is that while the premise sounds like a female empowering comedy, the commercials are selling it like a typical wacky physical comedy and it makes Faris’ character look very dumb. One movie that tried to target women with humor that usually appeals more to men was Cameron Diaz’s The Sweetest Thing, which didn’t do nearly as well as expected following the Farrellys’ There’s Something about Mary. On the other hand, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler had a substantial hit with their female-friendly pregnancy comedy Baby Mama back in April, which shows that with the right cast, a comedy can bring in the targeted audience. This one is certainly different from the current women’s movies in theaters like the hit musical Mamma Mia! and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, and although there are already a lot of comedy choices in theaters (including this week’s The Rocker and Hamlet 2–see below), many of them are more geared towards guys, which does give this a slight edge by offering something different. In general, Happy Madison hasn’t had very much luck with movies not starring Sandler, or at least Rob Schneider, and they’ve had more than their share of out-and-out bombs.

Despite their long-standing relationship with Sandler and Happy Madison, Sony doesn’t seem to have a lot of confidence in this movie, waiting until the past month to air ads that look really dumb, playing up the physical comedy that looks like the worst parts of the non-“Scary Movie” spoofs like Epic Movie and Meet the Spartans, the type of material that should be below Faris at this point. Then again, that seems to be what sells movies these days, and the trailer was apparently received well in front of Mamma Mia!, the second biggest female-centric movie of the summer after Sex and the City, two movies that proved the female audience for a movie like this is out there. The movie will mostly be aiming for the teen girls, who might not be as interested or be able to get into the R-rated comedies in theaters. Unfortunately, they’re also not exactly he demographic that feels the need to rush out and see movies or see them at all, and if it’s not great, they’ll be the first to tell their friends to avoid it (via text message probably).

Because trying to market a movie produced by Adam Sandler to women might be somewhat of a lost cause, Sony is reminding them that Happy Madison also produced Sandler’s 50 First Dates, probably his most successful movie among women thanks to its romantic storyline and plum Valentine’s Day release. The House Bunny looks nothing like that movie and probably won’t make what that movie made its opening weekend in its entire theatrical run, so it should be lucky with whatever it makes this weekend and next since it probably won’t be around very long.

Why I Should See It: There’s a lot of really hot and sexy actresses in the cast, many of whom have been in very funny movies.
Why Not: This looks really, really, REALLY dumb… I mean REALLY, and it might not be up to any of the previous work of the cast.
Projections: $11 to 13 million opening weekend and roughly $35 million total.

COMPARISONS


The Rocker (20th Century Fox)
Starring Rainn Wilson, Christina Applegate, Josh Gad, Teddy Geiger, Jane Lynch, Emma Stone, Jason Sudeikis, Howard Hesseman, Jeff Garlin, Bradley Cooper, Lonny Ross, Will Arnett, Fred Armisen
Directed by Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty); Written by Maya Forbes & Wallace Wolodarsky (Seeing Other People), Ryan Jaffe
Genre: Comedy, Music
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Opportunity rocks.”
Plot Summary: Robert “Fish” Fishman (Rainn Wilson) was the drummer for the ’80s hair metal band Vesuvius who was ejected from the band just as they signed their big record deal. 20 years later, the disillusioned dreamer has just been fired, but his nephew asks him to play drums with his prom band A.D.D. who suddenly take offering “Fish” a new shot at fulfilling his rock ‘n’ roll dreams.

Interview with Rainn Wilson

Review

For those who don’t have enough comedy, here’s another one, and it has a similar premise as The House Bunny (just set in a rock band rather than a sorority) and it also sports a PG-13 rating in hopes of getting some of the younger teens who haven’t been able to get into some of R-rated fare that’s been flooding the market this summer and who are now returning to school. And as mentioned above, it also co-stars the super-hot Emma Stone! This one is very much a vehicle for Rainn Wilson, one of the stars of NBC’s popular sitcom “The Office” and set in the world of rock music, the most obvious reference is Jack Black’s 2003 comedy hit School of Rock, which opened with $18 million and went onto make nearly $70 million.

Produced by Shawn Levy, the man behind Fox comedy hits like Night at the Museum and Cheaper by the Dozen, The Rocker is a similar low-key low-budget affair, one that puts Wilson front and center, but also has an impressive ensemble cast, something that’s worked so well with hit comedies like Knocked Up and the recent Step Brothers, although you might not know about them from the ads which mainly focus on Wilson. His young band is led by good-looking singer/songwriter Teddy Geiger (who I honestly know nothing about and won’t even try to pretend I do), Emma Stone, who’s mainly known for playing Jonah Hill’s love interest in last year’s comedy hit Superbad, and Josh Gad, kind of a Jonah Hill lookalike who was last seen in Sony’s hit 21, and the commercials have started showing more of them in hopes of getting their younger fans to see the movie. The rest of the cast includes the likes of Christina Applegate, the child star from “Married with Children” whose had a bit of a resurgence thanks to the success of her new sitcom “Samantha Who?” There’s also Jane Lynch from The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries, Jeff Garvin from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Jason Sudeikis and Fred Armisen from “SNL” and Will “Arrested Development” Arnett in a small but funny role.

Even though School of Rock was a big hit, other movies set in the world of rock music haven’t fared nearly as well, particularly Mark Wahberg’s Rock Star which bombed, although Cameron Crowe’s award-winning Almost Famous is considered one of the movies in the genre, even though it targeted a much older audience than The Rocker. Most rock comedies will forever be compared to Rob Reiner’s This is Spinal Tap, which is considered the pinnacle of the genre, but for the most part, the genre has been relegated to indie releases and many of them have found a cult audience once they hit DVD.

The Rocker is the first movie in quite some time from director Peter Cattaneo, the Oscar nominated director of The Full Monty, but this isn’t exactly the kind of movie that you could sell to that audience. The Rocker really doesn’t look or feel like the kind of movie that might appeal to the 20 to 40 something female-heavy audience of “The Office,” plus the younger audiences who might be interested in this kind of PG-13 comedy probably don’t have much affinity for Wilson. That makes this movie strange in that it’s trying to sell Rainn Wilson to a younger audience rather than putting him in something that might appeal to those who like “The Office” even if Robert “Fish” Fishman isn’t that far removed from Dwight Shrute. It’s strange that Fox aren’t spending more time trying to sell the movie based on the music, which includes a lot of great pop/rock songs that could probably do well and get more interest in the movie.

Oddly, this is opening in more theaters than the other two movies, but there are already way too many comedies in theaters, so it’s entering an already oversaturated market. Although this will probably get better reviews than the other movies this weekend, the ads have made it look like another dumb comedy made up mostly of physical humor, which isn’t really the case. Basically, this is a really funny movie that’s destined to bomb, though hopefully, it can find its audience later on DVD and cable.

Why I Should See It: This is a very funny and warm look at being in a rock band when you’re young.
Why Not: Yeah, it looks just a bit too much like a rip-off of School of Rock and the trailers don’t look as funny as the movie actually is.
Projections: $2 to 4 million on Wednesday and Thursday, another $5 to 7 million on the weekend; roughly $18 to 20 million total.

COMPARISONS


The Longshots (MGM/Dimension Films)
Starring Ice Cube, Tasha Smith, Keke Palmer, Jill Marie Jones, Earthquake
Directed by Fred Durst (The Education of Charlie Banks); Written by Nick Santora (“Law and Order,” “Prison Break”)
Genre: Sports, Drama, Comedy, Family
Rated PG
Tagline: “The New Coach Has a Secret Weapon.”
Plot Summary: Curtis Plummer (Ice Cube) is a down-and-out former football star who is asked to babysit his teen niece Jasmine (Keke Palmer), something he does by teaching her how to throw a football. When he realizes that she actually has talent, he convinces the local high school team to put her in as quarterback, something that helps them make it all the way to the Super Bowl in Miami.

Interview with Fred Durst

Mini-Review: A pleasant surprise from the unlikely duo of Ice Cube and Fred Durst, this real-life sports drama centers around Keke (“Akeelah and the Bee”) Palmer’s Jasmine Plummer, a shy and studious young girl who becomes a nationwide phenomena as the first girl quarterback in Pop Warner football. Her talents are discovered by her Uncle Curtis (Ice Cube), a down-and-out beer drinking former ball player who’s been unemployed since the factory in their hometown of Minden, Illinois was shut down; he’s a pretty good barometer for how the entire town is feeling. When he’s asked to look after his introverted niece, the two of them bond over Curtis’ love of the game, and it turns out she has actual talent for throwing a football, so he needles the coach to give her a try on the local team. As hard as the movie’s central story may be to believe, it’s actually the one absolute truth in the movie, that a girl named Jasmine Plummer became the first girl quarterback in Pop Warner. Once you realize that, it’s easy to enjoy where the story goes as it’s kept entertaining with humor and drama always driven by the characters. While the dialogue and delivery is flat at times, Keke Palmer delivers another powerhouse performance, showing that she’s just as credible when tossing a football as she is when playing a spelling bee champ. Her scenes with Ice Cube as they bond and become closer are incredibly touching as the duo create an on-screen chemistry that’s quite infectious. Durst has clearly done his homework in finding out what makes these types of movies work, and while the results are somewhat predictable and formulaic, it is effective even when the movie resorts to overly sentimental dramatic moments in order to tug on the heartstrings. Fortunately, there’s always any number of fun satellite characters around the duo to keep things light while creating a credible sense of community. Some of these performances are better than others, but they’re really just a way of keeping the movie fun and it works. What really pulls the whole thing together is the wonderful score by Teddy Castelucci, whose soaring strings make the dramatic scenes better, while also making the training and game sequences more exciting. As the team improves with Jasmine as their quarterback and eventually Curtis as their coach, it leads to a third act where the town comes together to get the team to the Super Bowl in Miami, Florida. There’s also a predictable plot point about having Jasmine’s no-good father turn up just as things are getting good for his estranged daughter, but by then, you’re already sold and very little can keep you from rooting for Jasmine’s success. If you can get past the predictable nature of every sports movie–after all, there’s only really two possible outcomes of the “big game”–you may be surprised by how much you find yourself enjoying this sweet inspirational story that while familiar at times, keeps you thoroughly entertained by mixing healthy doses of humor into the real world drama. Rating: 7.5/10

Potentially the biggest dumper in a weekend full of them has to be this new movie from Dimension, which is a strange one, being a family family-friendly girl power sports movie made by former gangsta rapper Ice Cube with Fred Durst, the frontman for controversial metal band Limp Bizkit, reuniting for the first time since touring together on the “Family Values Tour” ten years ago. It’s a very different movie for both of them being a heartwarming drama that could appeal to the same African-American audience that’s made Ice Cube such a big star with his “Friday” franchise, Barbershop and its various spin-offs. Cube’s popularity among that audience was seen most recently when they flocked to see his most recent movie First Sunday with its opening weekend to the tune of $17 million.

After successfully making the transition from rapper to actor, Ice Cube broke into family films with the hit Are We There Yet? and the less successful Are We Done Yet? last year, and he’s come a long way from being the frontman for rap group N.W.A., having created an image that’s popular among African-American audiences but also appeals to white suburban males. Even though he’s had success with the two franchises he co-produced, the early “Friday” movies and Barbershop and its sequel/spinoff, Cube has also had a good number of bombs like the action films Torque and XXX: State of the Union. The biggest bomb of Cube’s career had to be John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars, which opened this same weekend seven years ago and made less in total than most of Cube’s movies have made opening weekend.

For his first sports-related movie,Cube has brought on Keke Palmer, the young actress whose breakthrough performance in Akeelah and the Bee received critical raves last year, although the movie itself only did moderate business compared to other urban movies, even with a big push for the movie from its main corporate sponsor, Starbucks. This is the second feature film from Fred Durst as a director from Durst after helming the indie drama The Education of Charlie Banks, which did the film circuit last year and won an award at the Tribeca Film Festival, but has yet to be released.

This is a different movie for Cube in that it’s not a straight comedy nor is it necessarily a “black” movie, but instead, it’s an inspirational sports movie like Hoosiers, a genre that’s thrived in recent years especially with movies like Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer’s Remember the Titans and Peter Berg’s Friday Night Lights, which spawned an even more successful television show. While these movies tend to be released later in the fall, at the height of football season, two years ago Mark Wahlberg had an enormous hit with the inspirational football drama Invincible released on the same weekend to make $17 million. Dwayne Johnson (aka “The Rock”) didn’t have as much success with his 2006 football movie Gridiron Gang, but a year later, he played a football player who has to take care of a little girl in Disney’s The Game Plan, which was an enormous success. The Longshots falls somewhere between the two of them but it’s actually more like the indie drama Gracie based on the story of a young girl trying to play soccer, a movie that barely found any audience, let alone the young girls it was trying to.

This is a strange movie for Bob Weinstein’s company as well, which is mostly known for its horror and genre films like the movies of Robert Rodriguez, but at the same time they did produce his Spy Kids movies, though at the time, they probably benefited from being under the umbrella of Dimension’s former business partners at Disney.

Like far too many late August movies, this has barely gotten any advertising until the last minute making it clear that Dimension is just dumping it, hoping to get any business they can theatrically before releasing it on DVD, probably before Thanksgiving. The movie probably didn’t cost very much to make so it’s not that big a loss, but it just doesn’t seem like the kind of movie that can thrive in this environment. While the movie will try to appeal to girls with a similar empowerment message as The House Bunny, Dimension must realize that this is not a weekend to release a family movie if they want any business since half the kids are back in school, the other are somewhere on vacation and there’s just not a lot of audience for this any kind of movie right now. At this point, not even strong reviews will do much to save this one against much stronger and better advertised choices, so its best hopes is to find a Labor Day audience through word-of-mouth.

Why I Should See It: Pairing Ice Cube and Keke Palmer seems like a good move to create a sweet family-friendly film.
Why Not: There’s probably few people who’ll feel the need to see a Lifetime movie like this in theaters rather than waiting until DVD or cable.
Projections: $4 to 6 million opening weekend and $15 to 18 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

As much as I wanted to make Hamlet 2 this week’s “Chosen One,” it just didn’t feel like the responsible thing to do, not with this really important and informative doc opening which I feel everyone in the country needs to see:

I.O.U.S.A. (Roadside Attractions)
Starring David M. Walker, Robert Bixby, Alan Greenspan, Warren Buffett, Robert Rubin, Paul O’Neill,
Written and directed by Patrick Creadon (Wordplay) with Christine O’Malley (Word Play) and Addison Wiggin (co-author of the book “Empire of Debt”)
Genre: Documentary
Rated PG
Tagline: “One Nation. Under Stress. In Debt.”
Plot Summary: Patrick Creadon, director of the critical fave documentary Wordplay, takes a look at the government’s economic problems which has caused the debt to grow to nearly $9.5 trillion by following U.S. Comptroller General Dave Walker and the Concord Coalition’s Bob Bixby around the country on their “Fiscal Wake Up Tour.”

It’s fairly apparent from the box office that moviegoing audiences are always looking for new ways to be entertained rather than trying to learn something or become smarter by going to the movies, so it’s both refreshing but equally saddening when a movie like this comes along that’s so full of important information that every American should know but might not actively seek out to see over some of the more entertaining fare in theaters. This new doc from the creators behind Wordplay is full of lots of numbers–I believe that’s called “irony”–but it does a great job explaining the various aspects of the country’s deficit and how and why this issue is so important to all of this. It does this by following Comptroller General David Walker and activist Bob Bixby on a cross-country tour to talk to the American people about the country’s debt problem. More importantly, Creadon’s film ably explains the different types of deficit the country is faced with and how it has gotten so out of hand, and though your eyes might glaze over from the amount of information, the movie is as important as movies like The Corporation and Michael Moore’s Sicko at informing people of important issues that are too easy to ignore.

While it’s a very serious movie, the most interesting chapter has to be the one framed by a very funny “SNL” sketch with Steve Martin and Amy Poehler about “not buying what you can’t afford,” which sadly is a big part of the country’s debt problem, because so many people spend any extra money rather than “saving for a rainy day.” The film makes some interesting comparisons between the U.S. and China, currently the most profitable country in terms of trade, and it’s shocking to watch American cars being turned into scrap metal to be exported to China and Japan to be turned into things that we’ll ultimately buy, then discard, starting the whole process over again. As impressive as Creadon’s interviews with the movies and shakers in big business and the country’s economy might be, it’s when he talks to average men and women on the street to find out what they know about the country’s problems where one realizes they’re not alone. Their lack of informed knowledge is probably shared by millions of people who would normally give a movie like this a wide berth unfortunately.

For those who’ve been eyeing the upcoming Presidential election and hearing about how it all comes down to the candidate’s stance on economy without realizing what that means, this film is a terrific easy-to-digest tutorial, and while it does often take the liberal approach, which essentially means attacking the current administration, it’s hard not to point fingers when the country’s debt is worse now than it’s ever been in past years. Certainly not as warm and fuzzy a topic as Wordplay, the movie deals with a critical and timely subject matter, and it would have been awful if Creadon decided to take a lighter or more humorous approach to the material. Ultimately, I.O.U.S.A is to the country’s troubled economy what An Inconvenient Truth was to global warming and while it might not seem like the most entertaining subject for a movie, it’s extremely effective at getting its message across. Anyone still confused or uncertain about the government’s economic problems should try to see this, if not in theaters in select cities this weekend, than on DVD for sure. (Hopefully that DVD will be out before the election… hint, hint.)

If this sounds interesting, on Thursday, August 21, you can catch a special screening of the movie followed by a 45-minute panel discussion with financial leaders including Warren Buffett, Davie Walker and Pete Peterson. You can find more details about the nationwide event here.

Honorable Mention:

Hamlet 2 (Focus Features)
Starring Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, Amy Poehler, David Arquette, Elisabeth Shue, Melonie Diaz, Skylar Astin, Phoebe Strole, Joseph Julian Soria
Directed by Andrew Fleming (The Craft, Dick, Nancy Drew, The In-Laws); Written by Andrew Fleming and Pam Brady (“South Park,” Team America)
Genre: Comedy
Rated R
Tagline: “One high school drama teacher is about to make a huge number 2.”
Plot Summary: Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) is a former actor now working as a high school drama teacher in Tucson, Arizona. He’s a recovering alcoholic with an abusive wife (Catherine Keener) and he finds out that his drama program is about to be shut down, so he decides to write a huge stage production to try to save it and he comes up with “Hamlet 2,” a musical sequel to Shakespeare’s play that brings all the dead characters back from the original.

Interview with Andrew Fleming & Pam Brady

Interview with Steve Coogan

I was hoping to write more about this outrageous comedy before it opens this weekend but having missed the last screening last week and having been five months since I last saw it, hopefully the stuff above will be enough for people to check it out when it opens in select cities on Friday or when it opens nationwide in 1,700 theaters next Wednesday, August 27. It’s just a really funny and entertaining movie that continues this summer’s run of great original comedies.

Also in Limited Release:

Cthulhu (Here! Films/Regent Releasing) – In this horror-thriller from Dan Gildark, Jason Cottle plays a Seattle professor who travels back to the Oregon coast and gets caught in a series of events revolving around the New Age cult his father belonged to that may signal the end of times. Opens in Hollywood at the Regent Showcase Theater.

I Served the King of England (Sony Classics) – Based on the novel by Bohumil Hrabal, Jiri Menzel’s romantic comedy centered around an old-world Prague hotel opens in New York at the Quad Cinemas and in L.A. on Friday.

Momma’s Man (THINKFilm) – Azazel Jacobs’ indie dramedy stars Matt Boren as Mikey, a 30-something who comes to New York on a business trip and ends up staying at his parents’ loft in his childhood room, and he decides to try to escape from the reality of his normal life to stay there for a while. It opens in New York at the Angelika Film Center on Friday.

Trouble the Water (Zeitgeist Films) – This documentary from Tia Lessin and Carl Deal cuts together digital camera footage shot by aspiring rap artist Kimberly Roberts who was stranded in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and captured amazing images on her new camcorder. The Sundance Film Festival award-winner for documentary opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Mini-Review: While I’m not keen on trashing a movie that has the noblest of intentions–to show the results of the most horrifying natural disaster that’s hit our country in the past five years–this movie turns an interesting concept into something not quite as interesting, which is a shame considering some of the amazing footage in its first half hour. Essentially, it cuts together the camcorder footage of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans from one of the poor patrons of the 9th Ward, one Kimberly “Black Kold Madina” Roberts, a would-be rapper who’s forced to stay behind but somehow survives and tries to get on with her life, returning a number of times after her community is destroyed. The most amazing footage shows the actual flood hitting and their escape efforts, trying to get help from military to no avail. Seeing this both as it happens then revisiting the same places afterwards is powerful in of itself. Roberts really loves talking about herself, something that grows tiring, which isn’t good since she’s both the central character and narrator for every frame of the movie. From the moment we meet her, she remains “in character” acting cocky and flippant and hamming it up for her new camcorder. We never really see her express any true emotion, not from seeing her community destroyed or even losing family in the disaster. In the most disturbing scene, she returns to the 9th Ward weeks after escaping to find an uncle’s remains in his house undiscovered; her reaction is so matter-of-fact that you wonder why you’re supposed to care when she obviously doesn’t. What does help set the poignant mood is the excellent and musically varied soundtrack by British trip-hop group Massive Attack which is far more effective than Roberts’ own way of trying to tell her story, as well as the actual news footage that shows the devastation from another angle. The movie just gets less and less interesting as it goes along, following Roberts for 18 months after the events, as we see her family trying to recover with very little help from the local government. Later in the movie, we learn that Roberts and much of her family have served time for being drugdealers–we see how one of them is trapped in the overcrowded prison during the hurricane–and as noble as it is for them to want to start over now that their previous lives have been destroyed, it’s hard not to feel like we should have been told this upfront. It makes you question the veracity of Roberts possibly exaggerating her story to hustle the filmmakers into making a movie about it. One can certainly see a bunch of liberal filmmakers crawling around the remnants of Katrina-struck New Orleans desperately looking for a story, finding Roberts and her footage (which is what happened) and thinking they have a goldmine, without really knowing where to go once that initial footage runs out. That’s pretty much the case with “Trouble the Water,” an average doc that far too often turns into a showcase for Roberts’ burgeoning career as a rapper, something that often takes away from its potential as a real human and emotional story of how Katrina affected the average person in New Orleans. Rating: 6.5/10


Next week, it’s Labor Day and studios are starting to dump all the rest of their summer movies including Vin Diesel’s long-delayed return to action and sci-fi with Babylon A.D. (20th Century Fox) as well as two more comedies, the latest from the spoof factory Disaster Movie (Lionsgate) and the long-delayed College (MGM). Also, Don Cheadle and Guy Pearce face-off in the political thriller Traitor (Overture Films), opening Wednesday, the day on which this week’s limited release Hamlet 2 (Focus Features) will also expand nationwide.