The Weekend Warrior: June 4 – 6

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. (*NOTE: We will probably be pushing the Weekend Warrior back to Wednesdays, at least over the summer so that the Warrior can use the weekend to do other things.)

If you aren’t already doing so already, you can follow The Weekend Warrior on Twitter where he talks about box office, movies and all sorts of random things.

Updated Predictions and Comparisons -

UPDATE: Well, folks, for the first time in a long time, we’re taking a mulligan this week because various additional information seems to point to Fox’s Marmaduke not faring as well as we originally thought… and it’s not just that we hated the movie. (Review is coming soon.) That gives Nick Stoller’s comedy a better chance for second place and both Killers and Splice should do slightly better than we originally predicted. Of course, if we were right originally and Marmaduke ends up bringing in big audiences, we’re going to be mildly annoyed at the forces who convinced us otherwise. Many of the returning movies that have been out for a couple weeks are also losing more theaters than we originally projected so those are adjusted accordingly.

1. Shrek Forever After (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $22.5 million -48%

2. Get Him to the Greek (Universal) – $19.4 million N/A (down .2 million but up one notch)

3. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Disney) – $15.0 million -49% (same but u one notch)

4. Killers (LIonsgate) – $14.5 million N/A (up .1 million and one notch)

5. Sex and the City 2 (New Line/WB) – $14.0 million -55% (up .5 million and one notch)

6. Marmaduke (20th Century Fox) – $13.7 million N/A (down 6.7 million and four notches… Yikes!)

7. Splice (Warner Bros.) – $11.2 million N/A (up 1 million)

8. Iron Man 2 (Marvel/Paramount) – $8.3 million -49% (down .1 million)

9. Robin Hood (Universal) – $5.5 million -48% (down .2 million)

10. Letters to Juliet (Summit) – $3.1 million -47% (down .2 million)

Weekend Overview

June kicks off with a weekend where there are no sure-things, especially after last week’s abysmal showing over Memorial Day weekend that looks likely to put the nail in the coffin for this summer. Either way, one probably shouldn’t expect any one movie to make more than $25 million this weekend as everyone waits for Pixar to (hopefully) save the summer with Toy Story 3 in a couple of weeks.

With neither of last week’s new movies performing particularly well, two very different new movies stand a shot at taking first place, Nick Stoller’s R-rated road comedy Get Him to the Greek (Universal), reuniting Jonah Hill and Russell Brand from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, or the PG-rated family film based on the popular comic strip dog Marmaduke (20th Century Fox), featuring the voice of Owen Wilson and others. While the former is likely to win Friday, the latter is likely to make up the business and overtake it over the weekend, though neither may be strong enough to dethrone Shrek in its third weekend. Either way, it’s likely to be an incredibly tight race with all three ending up in the low $20 million range but not much higher.

The weekend’s oddest offering may very well be Killers (Lionsgate), an action-comedy that pairs Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher, both whom have their own fanbases but neither who seem particularly well-suited for this type of movie. It’s just not very clear who this movie is for, men or women, which may mean it will have a problem getting either, especially against so much competition for all potential audiences. Still, Kutcher’s popularity among younger women should help bring in enough audience to stay ahead of at least one of last week’s returning movies, but just slightly.

The mixed genre message of Killers is not likely to affect the genetic horror thriller Splice (Warner Bros.), conceived by Cube director Vincenzo Natali and produced by genre favorite Guillermo del Toro. Starring Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, it’s likely to bring in the older guys not interested in “Greek” as well as horror fans intrigued by the strong commercials. Still, it’s looking for a fairly low placement in the Top 10 due to the number of other movies in the market.

This week’s “Chosen One” is the documentary Cropsey by Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio which you can read more about below.

Yeah, so last summer was kind of a strange one, because there was an extra weekend in between Memorial Day and the first weekend of June, so first we’ll cover the bonus weekend where the animated Up (Disney/Pixar) topped the box office with $68.1 million on its way to becoming one of the biggest hits of the summer. Sam Raimi’s horror flick Drag Me to Hell (Universal) choked, opening in fourth place with $15.8 million, which was quite disappointing.

The following weekend, the actual first weekend in June saw three new comedies opening, but only one succeeding, as Todd Phillips’ The Hangover (Warner Bros.) became the surprise sleeper hit of the summer, topping the weekend with an astounding $45 million on its way to $277 million total. Will Ferrell starred in the comedy based on the Sid and Marty Krofft Saturday morning television show Land of the Lost (Universal), but it opened with a disappointing $18.8 million, possibly due to the confusing marketing that made it look like a kid’s film. It fared better than the return of Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) in My Life in Ruins (Fox Searchlight), which tanked with $3.2 million in 1,164 theaters for ninth place. In both weekends, the Top 10 grossed between $158 and 160 million, but unless Marmaduke or Get Him to the Greek really break out, this is going to be another down weekend for the box office.

Sorry, no “Battle Cry” this week due to the number of movies being released, but hopefully, we’ll have a new one next week or maybe our second “DVD Corner” as it’s been sometime since we did one.


Marmaduke (20th Century Fox)
Starring Owen Wilson, Lee Pace, Judy Greer, William H. Macy, Steve Coogan, Sam Elliott, Fergie, George Lopez, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Emma Stone, Kiefer Sutherland, Marlon Wayans
Directed by Tom Dey (Failure to Launch, Shanghai Noon, Showtime); Written by Vince Di Meglio and Tim Rasmussen (License to Wed, Smother)
Genre: Comedy, Family
Rated PG
Tagline: “Live Large”
Plot Summary: The popular comic strip Great Dane Marmaduke (voiced by Owen Wilson) is on the move with his family and their pet cat Carlos (George Lopez) to Orange County, California, where the dog has to deal with all the teenage issues of moving to a new place – finding new friends, adjusting to the different customs, etc. Ookay.

Mini-Review: In a desperate attempt to provide entertainment for those whose age and/or brain capacity are roughly the age of a 3-year-old, here’s another silly talking animal comedy that’s only worth mentioning since it attempts to take those semi-cute one panel comic strips that have appeared in newspapers for decades and turn them into some sort of cohesive feature film.

From the opening, we’re immediately inured to the idea that Marmaduke, the large-size Great Dane from the comic books, will be narrating the entire thing in the voice of Owen Wilson with all sorts of lame puns and quips about everything going on around him. It starts simply enough by showing him interact with his family on their Kansas farmhouse, but once the story moves to California, it’s more about his encounters with the local canines, including a Doberman named Bosco, voiced by Kiefer Sutherland, and a hot collie voiced by Fergie… no, not the Duchess, the other one. From there, the movie turns into a rivalry between the geeks (the mutts) and the Greeks (the pedigrees) at the dog park that pretty much goes exactly where it’s expected. From there, we’re subjected to every bad pun, farting jokes and moronic physical humor–this one contains it all–and when that doesn’t seem to be working, they put the dogs on a surfboard and try to throw in a bit of family drama, as Marmaduke’s family is having trouble adjusting to their new environment. None of it works, and even a quick “Almost Famous” gag is not enough to ease the pain.

Who knows what Lee Pace or Judy Greer did in a past life to deserve being booked onto such an atrocious abomination of a movie. As the head of the household, Pace spends the entire movie either at the mercies of Marmaduke’s misbehavior or his boss’ Type-A demeanor, hamming it up and making faces to the point where you feel like saying to him, “There, there, someday you’ll get enough therapy to make you forget this experience.” His boss is played by William H. Macy in another one of those bill-paying roles that will probably be left off the montage when he receives his Lifetime Achievement Oscar. On the other hand, Greer gets a few reaction shots but little else – a complete and absolute waste of her abundant talent, though at least she never resorts to the embarrassing behavior of Pace.

Most of the canine voice work never rises above the normal paycheck-collecting actors sometimes like to do in order to justify taking smaller movies of considerably more value for less money. While there’s certainly a brief thrill seeing Emma Stone and Christopher Mintz-Plasse reunited after “Superbad,” the latter plays such an annoyingly dimwitted character it’s impossible to enjoy the reunion. At least the former is slightly better as a potential love interest for Marmaduke. Bad voicework aside, it’s hard to determine which is the worst animal-related CG offense of the movie; using it to make the dogs talk and dance, or the wanton CG removal of dog genitals throughout.

“I wish you could hear what I was saying,” Marmaduke tells the young boy in the family during one of the movie’s forced moments of sentimentality. Surely, the audience will feel otherwise and will probably wish the filmmakers took a cue from “Babies” and just showed dogs cavorting without all the awful dialogue. It ultimately turns into an adventure of Pace trying to rescue Marmaduke, but everything is so predictably laid out, you probably won’t care.

If you’re idea of fun is watching talking dogs dance and even surf then please… get the f*ck away from me, because “Marmaduke” is probably the type of crap you’ll eat up regardless of what anyone tries to tell you to save your time and money. But seriously, there is a special place in hell for filmmakers who deliberately force audiences to endure a worse dog movie than both “Marley & Me” and “The Shaggy Dog” remake put together. “Marmaduke” is painful for anyone watching and embarrassing for all involved. Rating: 2.5/10

Analysis:

The relationship between 20th Century Fox and dogs goes well beyond releasing bad movies like I Love You, Beth Cooper and Max Payne, because the studio has had great success, not only with movies featuring the lovable furry pets, but also by bringing popular comic strip and cartoon characters to the screen. That was first proven when they produced a movie starring the cartoon strip character Garfield, voiced by Bill Murray, which grossed $75 million opening in early June 2004. That movie’s success probably helped pave the way for Fox picking up the rights to bring Alvin and the Chipmunks to the screen, which led to two $200 million blockbusters.

Hoping at least for the success of the former, Fox have decided to repeat the process by bringing the lovable newspaper strip Great Dane Marmaduke created by Brad Anderson in 1954 to similar CG life. “Marmaduke” has been a mainstay in newspapers from the largest cities to the smallest towns ever since his creation, currently appearing in over 600 newspapers across the globe. While there many not be that many people who have been dying to see Marmaduke at the movies, there are certainly enough dog lovers out there who will be as interested in the movie for its adorable dog antics as for the namebrand value of this particular dog. The fanbase of the comic strips certainly helped the first Garfield movie open well despite a similarly crowded June weekend in 2004–in fact, it opened just below Shrek 2 in its third weekend–although the quality of the movie wasn’t good enough that anyone cared when Fox made a sequel to it.

Voicing Marmaduke is Owen Wilson, whose last big hit, for 20th Century Fox in fact, was the dog movie Marley & Me, which brought in an enormous amount of dog lovers to the tune of $143 million. Pairing Wilson, once thought to be down and out in terms of a career, with a dog worked well, so it makes sense to have Wilson provide the voice of a dog in hopes of bringing in a similar audience. He’s joined by a diverse voice cast including George Lopez, who provided his voice in Disney’s talking dog movie Beverly Hills Chihuaha, which was an even bigger hit, grossing nearly $95 million. The trailer also mentions the voices of Kiefer Sutherland (playing Marmaduke’s Doberman rival) and Black Eyed Pea’s singer Fergie as his love interest. Indie favorite William H. Macy seems to be in his dumbed-down Wild Hogs mode for this movie as well.

Essentially, Marmaduke will mainly be targeting family audiences as the summer kicks into high gear and schools start letting out. Warner Bros. had huge success with the first Scooby-Doo movie by opening it early June and it defied all expectations with a $54 million opening. Disney’s Beverly Hills Chihuaha is another good comparison, although that opened in October, and one certainly can’t forget Disney’s attempt to bring the cartoon Underdog bombed to realize that not all talking dogs are the same. The latter may have suffered by being a known property handled in a completely different way.

For more discerning moviegoers, Marmaduke is going to look ridiculously dumb and one shouldn’t expect any good reviews, but the commercials and trailers are geared to appeal to the same suburban crowd who helped make Marley & Me and the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movies such big hits for Fox i.e. dog lovers and kids/parents who don’t know better. However well this may do this weekend, expect it to have problems taking on stronger family fare like The Karate Kid and Toy Story 3 in the following weekends, though it should have a strong first week at least.

Why I Should See It: This looks like another talking CG dog movie, the kind that Americans seem to just love.
Why Not: This one kinda lost me at the dancing dogs.
Projections: UPDATED: $13 to 15 million opening weekend on its way to roughly $40 to 45 million total.

COMPARISONS


Get Him to the Greek (Universal)
Starring Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, Rose Byrne, Sean Combs, Elisabeth Moss
Written and directed by Nicholas Stoller (director Forgetting Sarah Marshall, writer of Yes Man, Fun with Dick and Jane)
Genre: Comedy
Rated R
Tagline: “Arriving This Summer (Hopefully)”
Plot Summary: Junior A&R guy Aaron Green (Jonah Hell) has a chance to make points with his boss (Sean Combs) at the record label, while fulfilling a life-long dream by agreeing to bring rowdy rocker Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) from London to a reunion concert at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles in three days, but Aaron soon finds that Snow is impossible to control, and the cross-country mission has put Aaron at odds with his girlfriend (Elisabeth Moss),

Interview with Nick Stoller (Coming Soon!)

Review (Coming Soon!)

Analysis:

Trying to give the family movie a run for its movie is the second R-rated comedy of the summer after the recent bomb MacGruber, this one spinning-off characters from the 2008 sleeper comedy hit Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which grossed $63 million in the spring of 2008. It specifically follows Russell Brand’s rock star character Aldous Snow as he hits tough times following his break-up with Marshall and subsequent break-up with his sexy British girlfriend Jackie Q (played by Rose Byrne in a very different role for her). Once again, Brand has been teamed with Jonah Hill, who played the obsessed maitre d’ in that movie, though this time, Hill takes center stage playing a different character.

At this point, Brand is still somewhat of an unknown property, having only appeared in three movies including a tiny part in the long-delayed Christina Ricci romance fantasy Penelope. Even so, Brand is fairly popular among the younger set, having hosted a number of MTV awards shows over the years. Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which was directed by “Greek” director Nicholas Stoller, was a big break for Brand, which was somewhat squandered when Sandler convinced him to appear in his Disney family movie Bedtime Stories. Since then, Brand has become better known for his engagement to popular singer Katy Perry than for any of his movies.

Jonah Hill is generally liked among young audiences and the college set, something he owes very much to Judd Apatow, who gave Hill a small role in his first movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin, an even bigger role in his second movie Knocked Up and even more to do in last year’s Funny People. More importantly, the Apatow connection helped get Hill cast in a leading role in Seth Rogen’s Superbad, the R-rated summer megahit that grossed over $121 million after opening with $33 million. Hill hasn’t done that much since then to prove he’s a draw on his own and besides playing a secondary role in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, his only significant non-Apatow-affiliated appearance was in Ricky Gervais’ The Invention of Lying.

The movie also includes the likes of Sean Combs a.k.a. rap mogul P. Diddy, who is featured quite prominently in the ads, and many feel steal the movie from the bigger comedy stars. Also, “Mad Men” star Elisabeth Moss plays Hill’s girlfriend, and she’s mainly being featured in the commercials that are trying to entice younger women and couples for the film’s relationship humor.

That last bit of marketing could very well be attributed to the fact that rock movies have not had a very good run at the box office. Even This is Spinal Tap, which became a huge cult film in the years after its release, did not perform particularly well in theaters. Other comedies and semi-comedies like The Rocker and Rock Star failed to make much of a mark, although the latter, which teamed Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston, could be attributed as much to its poor choice of release weekend. Apatow previously produced the musical biopic comedy Walk Hard starring John C. Reilly, which bombed pretty badly during a busy holiday season, and Get Him to the Greek has a similar behind-the-music feel to it. At least Jack Black had success playing a rock star (sort of) when he starred in Richard Linklater’s School of Rock which helped break out the comic star big time, although it was also a PG movie that appealed to a wider range of audiences.

The biggest hurdle the movie faces, besides the questionable draw of Hill and Brand, is whether the premise and the title are things that may interest mainstream moviegoing audiences beyond the hip college set who will be on break from school. It doesn’t seem like taking a rock star across country is something that many can relate to. On top of that, R-rated comedy has started to wane in the last few months not just with MacGruber but also with hugely-hyped comedies like MGM’s Hot Tub Time Machine, which didn’t perform as well as some may have hoped. Even the R-rated action flick Kick-Ass couldn’t make more than $20 million its opening weekend despite a ton of advance buzz and hype. That makes this a little less of a sure thing than it may have been last summer where comedy was king.

Even so, the movie is being marketed a bit like last year’s The Hangover, focusing more on Hill being driven to partying by hanging around with Aldous Snow; Universal has also been doing a similar amount of cross-country campaigning for the movie as Sony did for Superbad, hitting some of the cities featured in the movie for promotional screenings. That should certainly help it among the younger college-age crowd who’ll talk about the movie on social networking sites.

While this should do well among the 18 to 25 MTV set, it’s doubtful older audiences will have much interest in it, although being a very funny movie, reviews should generally be positive. Likewise, word-of-mouth should help the movie have decent legs, as should the fact it’s one of the few original movies in a summer full of sequels and remakes.

Why I Should See It: Jonah Hill and Russell Brand were hilarious in their small bits in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, so a full-on spin-off movie is certainly well deserved, and this one has as many crazy laughs as last year’s hit The Hangover.
Why Not: Will a movie about taking a rock star across country have as much resonance as waking up in Vegas with a hangover? Probably not.
Projections: $18 to 21 million opening weekend and $65 to 70 million total.

COMPARISONS


Killers (Lionsgate)
Starring Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl, Tom Selleck, Catherine O’Hara, Katheryn Winnick, Kevin Sussman, Lisa Ann Walter, Casey Wilson, Rob Riggle, Martin Mull, Alex Borstei
Directed by Robert Luketic (The Ugly Truth, 21, Legally Blonde, ); Written by Bob DeRosa (The Air I Breathe), Ted Griffin (Ocean’s 11, Rumor Has It, Matchstick Men)
Genre: Action, Comedy, Romance
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “Marriage… give it your best shot.”
Plot Summary: Jen Kornfeldt (Katherine Heigl) thinks she’s found the man of her dreams in Spencer Aimes (Ashton Kutcher) but after they’re married, she learns that he’s an international super-spy and a hitman, sending both of them on the run from men who want to kill him.

Analysis:

Just what we need to save the summer (sarcasm)… another high concept romantic action comedy ala The Bounty Hunter, this one teaming Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher for a movie that’s clearly trying to be Mr. & Mrs. Smith, although it’s sending out mixed messages about what audience it’s looking to bring in. Normally, an action movie would be something of interest to guys, but the commercials play off the romantic chemistry between Heigl and Kutcher, something clearly of more interest to women.

Both actors come from out of the world of television and both have successfully made the transition to movies, though they’re also known for other things, Kutcher for his MTV show “Punk’d,” being married to Demi Moore and his voracious Twitter account, Heigl for her outspokenness to the media. Heigl’s career took a huge upswing when she starred on the ABC show “Grey’s Anatomy,” and she’s starred in three hugely successful comedies: Judd Apatow’s sophomore effort Knocked Up ($149 million gross), and the romantic comedies 27 Dresses and The Ugly Truth, which both grossed over $75 million. Although Kutcher’s bread and butter has been comedy, he’s branched out into other genres a few times with the thriller The Butterfly Effect ($58 million gross) and The Guardian ($55 million), but his pairing with Cameron Diaz for the summer comedy What Happens in Vegas may be his biggest solo hit. Most recently, he played a major role in Gary Marshall’s romantic comedy hit Valentine’s Day which grossed $110 million, though one wonders how much of that can be attributed to Kutcher and not the rest of the ensemble cast. For instance, Kutcher’s Sundance indie Spread tanked in limited release last year.

The comedy pairing is directed by Robert Luketic, who last brought Heigl together with Gerard Butler for the battle-of-the-sexes comedy The Ugly Truth to the tune of $88 million, though that was clearly targeted more towards women. Luketic had previous hits with 21 and Jennifer Lopez’s Monster-in-Law. Luketic hasn’t really done any action and neither has his two actors, so one has to wonder if that aspect of the comedy could be lacking.

The movie will mostly be bringing in the younger women who’ve already seen or have no interest in Sex and the City 2, though setting this sort of rom-com in the world of spy action does not necessarily mean guys will care to see it, particularly because Heigl’s last few offerings have been decidedly anti-male. While using a similar premise as the mega-hit Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the fact this movie looks so much The Bounty Hunter (another recent Gerard Butler dog that did decently) won’t help, but it also looks a lot weaker than the similar-looking Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz movie coming out later this month.

This is an odd movie to be distributed by Lionsgate, who have not had very much luck with romantic movies, the best example being the Dane Cook rom-com My Best Friend’s Girl with Kate Hudson, though much of that may have had more to do with burnout on the comedian than with Lionsgate. Still, the fact that they weren’t able to bring in Hudson’s normal audience for that straight rom-com makes one wonder if they can interest Heigl or Kutcher’s audiences in something that’s very different for both them. Certainly, the commercials don’t look very special, basically just having them do their normal thing and it’s hard to believe that many people will be excited to see this. It certainly won’t help that they decided not to screen the movie for critics in advance, something that often sets off warning bells, not only among movie writers but also among the more intelligent moviegoers who pay attention to reviews before deciding what to see.

At least the movie is PG-13, which means it can bring in younger teen women, and who knows? Maybe some teens will buy tickets to this and then sneak into Get Him to the Greek, a stronger comedy with far more positive buzz, but this is definitely one of the weaker and less-defined offerings in a busy weekend of movies that aren’t the sure-fire draws of the summer. However well it does this weekend, one shouldn’t expect it to be around much after that.

Why I Should See It: I guess something can be said for the potential chemistry between Heigl and Kutcher.
Why Not: Haven’t we seen enough bad movies starting them separately? Surely, putting them together cannot be a good thing.
Projections: $14 to 16 million opening weekend and roughly $40 million total.

COMPARISONS


Splice (Warner Bros.)
Starring Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac
Written and directed by Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Cypher) with Antoinette Terry Bryant
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi, Drama
Rated R
Tagline: “Science’s newest miracle… is a mistake.”
Plot Summary: Genetic scientists Clive and Elsa (Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley) have made great breakthrough in the splicing of DNA from different animals to create hybrids with medical benefits, but when they experiment with splicing in human DNA, the results, an amazing creature they name Dren (Delphine Chaneac) quickly develops intelligence and emotions but also a fiercer side that makes her potentially dangerous to the couple as they try to keep her existence a secret.

Mini-Review The welcome return of one of horror’s more underrated filmmakers, Vincenzo Natali, is marked by one of the most distinctive scientific horror films since Cronenberg made it fashionable during the ’80s. In fact, maybe not since his remake of “The Fly” has a movie gone to such disturbing lengths to show what happens when science goes horribly awry, essentially for the sake of progress.

In this case, we see what happens when a pair of romantically-linked scientists, who have made a rep for themselves splicing the DNA of animals to create new lifeforms able to supply their corporate benefactors with products with medicinal capabilities, make one last effort when they’re threatened of being shut down. As we learn, once you succeed at playing God, there’s always that next step and deciding how far to take it, and Elsa decides to breach the unknown by splicing human DNA to the mix, creating Dren (that’s “nerd” backwards). At first, the results are as alien as their previous efforts, but soon, Dren becomes more humanoid in appearance and behavior, making it harder to terminate the experiment.

While plenty of mad scientists have made mistakes in the name of progress, the premise of “Splice” isn’t about creating a creature that then escapes to maim and kill, as much as creating a new lifeform that allows scientists to grow as people. The film’s strength lies in the fact that Natali was able to make the movie without studio interference, but was still able to create something mainstream enough to be marketable. Natali’s best move was casting serious dramatic actors like Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley who could handle the important dynamics that develop as Dren becomes a surrogate for this couple having a child of their own, as she grows and matures at an exponential rate. At a certain point, Delphine Chaneac takes over the part of Dren via a combination of CG and prosthetics that would do Guillermo del Toro proud. Not surprisingly, del Toro is one of the film’s producers, and if you’re a fan of what his film “Mimic” hoped to attain, you’re on the right track to enjoy “Splice” as well.

While the first act of the movie contains more scientific babble than the recent medical drama “Extraordinary Measures,” it never loses site of its audience, which are the fans of the gore and gross-out moments that are fully provided to help bump up the entertainment in what’s generally a slower-paced affair than the normal creature-based horror flick.

“Splice” only begins to falter as it enters its third act and it starts going places the viewer may have pondered but certainly wouldn’t have any desire to see, and then things are left off at a place that sets up an easy sequel. Like “The Fly,” “Hollow Man” and so many other horror films that bring joy from their innovation, more of an effort should have been made to make sure this one was done-in-one. With the added concern of potentially continuing the story, it loses something with its obvious and deliberate cliffhanger twist. That’s not enough to entirely ruin the enjoyment of the experience, and it will certainly leave viewers with a lot to think about afterwards, which is also a rarity for the genre. Rating: 8/10

Analysis:

The underdog of the weekend is the new horror movie from Cube creator Vincenzo Natali, which was originally going to be released by Senator Films before it collapsed last year, but the producers premiered the film at the Sundance Film Festival to strong reviews and buzz, to the point where producer Joel Silver picked the movie with his company Dark Castle Films to give the movie a wider summer release. On the one hand, it fits well with Dark Castle’s low-budget horror flicks, but it’s far stronger than many of Silver’s horror releases, which tend to give foreign filmmakers their first work in the United States, maybe because it was produced independently. While Splice uses a similar high concept as some of Dark Castle’s productions, it’s also far more intelligent with more depth of character than Silver’s production company usually delivers. So far, Dark Castle’s releases have generally made between $30 and 40 million in theaters with Halle Berry’s Gothika being the one breakout getting closer to $60 million.

The movie stars Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody and actress Sarah Polley, who was nominated for an Oscar for her screenplay for Away From Her and before that had appeared in a number of genre films including Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead. Brody’s biggest film to date was his starring role in Peter Jackson’s King Kong, but other than that and M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, his only movie to gross more than $20 million was Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, the movie for which he won a surprise Oscar. Clearly, Brody hasn’t established himself enough of a draw for audiences, which may be why the commercials focus less on the cast and more on the scares. Nothing new there.

While this might have a bit too much in common with the recent bomb Extraordinary Measures, it’s being marketed more like a straight horror movie ala Jeepers Creepers, which should help it bring in the horror fans, as well as the 18 to 25 audience preferring scares to the laughs of Get Him to the Greek. The movie should generally get good reviews and strong word-of-mouth building from its Sundance premiere, and it’s a similar low-budget horror movie to other Sundance buzz movies that it doesn’t have to do that much money to break even.

Although Dark Castle has been somewhat sporadic in recent years with a couple of their movies (Whiteout, Ninja Assassin) being delayed literally for years, Warner Bros. has been pulling out the stops with the commercials for Splice really playing up the disturbing nature of the movie’s unusual premise, which could help it entice a younger audience from 15 to 25. While it will be competing with “Greek” and even Killers for that audience, it’s an equally strong movie as the former, which means it shouldn’t be impacted by the normal horror movie frontloading and could do decently based on word-of-mouth as schools let out for the summer.

Why I Should See It: This is a truly original and disturbing genetic horror flick, certainly one of the strongest horror movies of the year so far.
Why Not: The movie tends to go to places where you’d probably rather it not go.
Projections: $10 to 12 million opening weekend and $30 to 35 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Cropsey (Cinema Purgatorio)
Written and directed by Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio
Genre: Documentary
Unrated
Tagline: “The Truth is Terrifying”
Plot Summary: One of New York’s most frightening unsolved mysteries of the ’80s involved a series of vanishing children around an abandoned mental institution in Staten Island, which led to the urban legend of “Cropsey.” The filmmakers reexamine the case to try to find out what really happened, even contacting the homeless drifter Andre Rand, who was jailed for the crimes.

Another one of the strong docs from last year’s Tribeca Film Festival (and others) is this look at an urban legend that surrounded the disappearance of a number of kids near a Staten Island mental institution during the ’80s, as filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio try to solve a case that haunted their own childhoods in the area.

“Cropsey” was one of those horror stories kids used to tell to scare each other, but that’s not really what this movie is about, because after the film’s introduction, those urban myths are never mentioned again. The real story is about the disappearance of a little girl with Down Syndrome that started a wave of disappearances of mentally handicapped children from the area surrounding the woods of Staten Island. It quickly turns into an investigative doc that examines all the evidence while covering the new court trials for Andre Rand, the prime suspect behind the disappearances of 7 missing children, hoping to find out if there was anything the original investigators may have missed.

Zeman and Brancaccio find and interview many of the people who were around at the time of the original disappearances 25 years earlier and are able to uncover a lot of new information that had never been brought to light before. All of the facts of the case are compiled with the new interviews to create a very clear picture of what may have happened to the missing kids.

Part of the story is based around the Willowbrook State School for the criminally ill, which was shut down in the late ’70s creating myths about what happened to its inhabitants once they were released. Rand was a caretaker there, said to still be haunted by the horrors he experienced. The filmmakers talk to anyone and everyone who may have a theory about what happened to the kids, including the possibility of Satanic cults having used them for their rituals. Those last two ingredients create the main connection to the horror stories of Cropsey, including an extremely scary moment when the filmmakers are exploring the abandoned buildings of Willowbrook at night.

Their film takes an even more interesting twist when they start corresponding with the accused kidnapper, and they come close to interviewing the man who knows what may have really happened but has buried them in his own delusions.

The results are a compelling and comprehensive doc about the case, though it’s not without its problems, the most prominent one being the way the filmmakers tend to infiltrate themselves into the film, most notably with Zeman’s narration, his voice not quite being commanding enough to carry the movie; Brancaccio is substantially better once she takes over. Some might also get mildly peeved that the movie sets itself up as one thing, an expose of the truth behind a horror story, but in fact, is something that may have been more appropriate for Court TV. That doesn’t make it bad, and in fact, the way the information is uncovered and revealed is quite riveting, whether or not you lived on Staten Island or the surrounding areas at the time or not. After all of that information is shared, it’s somewhat disappointing the movie leaves it to the viewer to assemble the puzzles pieces themselves to determine whether Rand is innocent or guilty of the kidnappings. Even so, the movie is infinitely fascinating for the way it lays out those puzzle pieces as well as the interesting local characters the filmmakers encounter on their way to learning the truth themselves.

Cropsey opens on Friday at the IFC Film Center in New York City, then expands to L.A. on July 9.

Also in Limited Release:

Colin Farrell stars in Neil Jordan’s romantic fantasy Ondine (Magnolia) as a fisherman named Cyracuse who finds a beautiful young woman named Ondine (Alicja Bachleda) in his nets, who his ailing daughter Annie believes her to be a mermaid, but as Syracuse falls in love with Ondine, he soon learns that she has a dark past that she’s seemingly forgotten. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday then rolls out into other cities in June. You can see the full release schedule here.

LeeLee Sobieski stars in Julie Davis’ romantic comedy Finding Bliss (Phase 4 Films) as a 25-year-old film school grad who comes to L.A. and gets caught up in the adult film industry by taking a job as an editor at a profitable X-Rated video company, while trying to make a low-budget romantic comedy at night. Also starring Denise Richards, Jamie Kennedy and Matt Davis, the movie opens at the Village East in New York on Friday.

After many delays, Jordan Galland’s horror-comedy Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Undead (Indican Pictures) also opens at the Village East, starring Jake Hoffman who gets a job directing an off-Broadway version of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” written by a Romanian vampire, who brings the real Hamlet back to life to continue their rivalry over Ophelia.

Mark Hopkins’ doc Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors without Borders (Truly Indie) is fairly self-explanatory from its title, follows the lives of four volunteers in the Doctors Without Borders program providing emergency medical care in war-torn Congo and Liberia.

Whiz Kids (Shadow Distribution) is a documentary by Tom Shepard and Tina DiFeliciantonio that follows three high school seniors as they take place in a prestigious science competition. It opens in New York at the Cinema Village on Friday and in L.A. on June 11.

Prakash Jha’s Rajneeti (UTV) is the latest from Bollywood, following a man’s struggle to stay out of politics, and the family rivalry that has arisen out of two cousins’ attempt to make their way through that increasingly corrupt world.

If you’re in New York City and enjoy independent film, you can also check out the 1st Annual NYC Filmmaker’s Festival 2010, which shows the best of young talented filmmakers competing for valuable prizes that can help them continue making films. It seems to have a variety of films and a pass for the entire festival, running from June 3 – 6 at Scandinavia House at 58 Park Avenue, is just $32! You can find info about this at the Official Site.


Next week, it’s the battle of the ’80s remakes as Joe Carnahan’s action movie based on the popular television show The A-Team (20th Century Fox) takes on Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith in the remake of The Karate Kid (Sony). May the best bit of nostalgia/retro prevail!

Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas

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