The Weekend Warrior: February 25 – 27

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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.

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Updated Predictions and Comparisons

UPDATE: Not too many big changes except that the new movies are getting few theaters than we estimated and The King’s Speech is making another major expansion going into Oscar weekend although It probably will do most of its business on Friday and Saturday rather than Sunday’s Oscar night.

1. Hall Pass (New Line/WB) – $14.8 million N/A (same)

2. Drive Angry 3D (Summit) – $13.2 million N/A (down .5 million)

3. Gnomeo & Juliet (Disney/Touchstone) – $12.6 million -34% (same)

4. Unknown (Warner Bros.) – $12.4 million -43% (same)

5. I Am Number Four (DreamWorks) – $10.3 million -47% (same)

6. Just Go With It (Sony) – $10.0 million -45% (same)

7. Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son (20th Century Fox) – $7.6 million -52% (down .4 million)

8. The King’s Speech (The Weinstein Co.) – $7.5 million +15% (up 2 million and two places)

9. JustIn Bieber: Never Say Never (Paramount) – $6.8 million -49% (same)

10. The Roommate (Sony/Screen Gems) – $2.0 million -49% (same)

Weekend Overview

After a relatively weak Presidents’ Day weekend where nothing really popped, two very different R-rated movies will try to bring in some of the college-age audiences that may not have been catered to with last week’s offerings. Essentially, this weekend could be a tight race as humor is being pitted against action and suspense, but what it REALLY is about is whether two rather prolific former box office superstars can show they still have the mojo when facing each other in a relatively tame late February weekend.

The Farrelly Brothers have had a number of huge comedy hits, though not in almost ten years, but by teaming comedy superstar Owen Wilson and “Saturday Night Live” star Jason Sudeikis for Hall Pass (New Line/WB), they’re hoping presumably to bring in married couples and the date crowd for some raunchy R-rated fun, although women might not find the premise to be as friendly to their sensibilities as the recent No Strings Attached. In that sense, the movie is probably going to go for the same beer-swilling fratboys as Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, but without the emotional resonance that has allowed them to bring in women audiences, thereby limiting the film’s audience.

Nicolas Cage returns for his second movie of 2011 with Drive Angry 3D (Summit Entertainment), a revenge action-thriller from the guys behind the 3D remake of My Bloody Valentine, co-starring Amber Heard and William Fichtner. The promise of action and violence should get the blood boiling for the 17 to 30-year-old guys interested in something to see in a weekend that’s mostly devoid of major sports games, and Cage’s presence certainly will entice more people to see this movie than may normally, though the moderate theater count may counterbalance the higher 3D ticket prices to keep this somewhere in the $15 million range.

This week’s “Chosen One” is the French drama Of Gods and Men (Sony Pictures Classics), which you can read more about below.

This weekend last year, two new movies opened but neither were able to defeat Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, which remained on top for the second week running with $22.3 million. The Kevin Smith-directed Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan police action-comedy Cop Out (Warner Bros.) took second place with a strong $18.2 million, Smith’s biggest opening ever. Tim Olyphant starred in the remake of George Romero’s The Crazies (Overture), which took third with a strong $16 million. The Top 10 grossed $104 million but since we don’t expect any of the new movies to make more than $15 million, this weekend will fall just short.


Hall Pass (New Line/WB)
Starring Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Richard Jenkins, Christina Applegate, Alexandra Daddario, Stephen Merchant, Nicky Whelan, Larry Joe Campbell, Tyler Hoechlin
Directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary, Shallow Hal, Me, Myself and Irene and more); Written by Bobby and Peter Farrelly, Pete Jones, Kevin Barnett
Genre: Comedy
Rated R
Tagline:
Plot Summary: Best friends Rick and Fred (Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis) who each have been married for many years start to get restless, so their wives (Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate) give them a one-week “hall pass” to do what they want and get it out of their system. Little do they realize that the single life isn’t all fun and games.

Mini-Review: Anyone hoping Peter and Bobby Farrelly, longtime Ambassadors of Bad Taste, might finally come out of the slump they’ve been in by being given the freedom of an R-rating should probably go back and rewatch “There’s Something About Mary,” because “Hall Pass” proves unequivocally that the Farrellys will never achieve that level of greatness again in their lifetimes.

Owen Wilson’s Rick and Jason Sudeikis’ Fred have been married so long they’ve become frustrated with their dull lives, and all they can think about is having sex with other women, Rick with the sexy Australian barista at his local coffee shop. Sick of it, their wives decide to give them a chance to sow their wild oats for one week. If we hadn’t seen Katie Aselton’s “The Freebie” a few months back, we may have thought it was a good idea, too.

“Hall Pass” has an okay premise even if it’s just a bit too easy to get laughs watching the guys awkwardly make time with hotter young women, though something just feels off about the way the story plays out that’s hard to put into words. Maybe it’s just that Judd Apatow has covered a lot of the same material in a far funnier way without losing the humanity, but it also suffers from some of the problems of other recent comedies (a few of them starring Wilson), where it feels like a lot of bits strung together with no real cohesion to the story. Most of that humor is expectedly sophomoric though once in a while, there’s something that’s good for a laugh, but otherwise, they just goes for the most graphic and raunchy descriptions of sex. The fact the Farrellys felt the need to use the R-rating to show full frontal male nudity (probably one of the least funny uses of male genitalia in some time) and breasts shows that the material wasn’t strong enough to carry the movie.

Owen Wilson doesn’t have much to offer that we haven’t seen him do in every single movie and role, and Jason Sudeikis is definitely the better of the two, making the most out of the material even if it doesn’t require much stretching. Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate are proving the adage about TV actors trying to make the move to films, as the Farrellys give their characters very few saving graces. When the two wives go off to Cape Cod to give their husbands room to follow-through on their deal, they get the short end of the stick with a weak subplot involving their own trysts with a baseball coach (Bruce Thomas) and an amorous player. About an hour into the movie, Richard Jenkins shows up as Rick’s significantly older over-sexed friend, a remotely funny character only in the way he’s played Jenkins, but not too far removed from previous Farrelly side characters, most notably in “Shallow Hal.”

Having the guys tripping on hash brownies is the type of Comedy 101 you’d hope the Farrellys would be beyond by now since we’ve seen it so many times in movies that are more desperate for laughs. For the most part, the film just feels repetitive and formulaic, especially when things fall apart and an ongoing conflict leads to an inevitable car chase, the guys make up with their wives and all is well. The End.

There are certainly a few laughs to be found in the Farrellys’ tribute to extra-marital sex, but there’s very little that sets it apart from superior comedies that have done a better job portraying real people as the dirty-minded beings we all are. Rating: 5.5/10

Analysis:

The history of R-rated comedy has been well-documented in this column over the past nine and a half years, but before the Judd Apatows and Todd Phillips’s came along and dominated, Bobby and Peter Farrelly were the kings of raunchy R-rated comedy thanks to their sleeper hit There’s Something About Mary in 1998. They followed that with sizeable hits with Jim Carrey’s Me, Myself & Irene and then Jack Black’s Shallow Hal, but they haven’t had a movie gross over $45 million since then with movies like Stuck on You and their remake of The Heartbreak Kid, starring Ben Stiller, failing.

This time around, they’re teaming with Stiller’s good friend Owen Wilson, who famously made his entry into R-rated comedy with the blockbuster hit Wedding Crashers, but who has had a rather sporadic career since making his debut in Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket in 1996. His biggest hits have mostly been the ones that paired him with Ben Stiller like Meet the Parents and the “Night at the Museum” movies, though Wilson was successfully paired with Jackie Chan for Shanghai Noon and its sequel and he’s had more hits than misses. Then again, last December, Wilson co-starred in the James L. Brooks flop How Do You Know followed a week later with his return to Stiller’s franchise Little Fockers, but Wilson just hasn’t been able to bring in audiences consistently over the years, and this one may just look a little too much like what he’s already done before in Wedding Crashers. Maybe that’s the best thing going for the movie and maybe not.

Wilson is paired with Jason Sudeikis, the “Saturday Night Live” star who moved from the writers’ room to the cast in 2005, yet hasn’t quite popped on the show despite his long tenure. He’s had small appearances in Rainn Wilson’s flop The Rocker and a bigger part in last year’s R-rated rom-com bomb Going the Distance. It’s kind of odd seeing him make the big jump to co-lead in such a prominent role where he seems to be getting the biggest laughs in the commercials. The Farrellys’ latest also stars Jenna Fischer from “The Office,” whose biggest movie was Blades of Glory with Will Ferrell and Christina Applegate, and who appeared opposite Sudeikis in The Rocker. Her biggest hit is Anchorman… with Will Ferrell.

As usual, the R rating may be somewhat limiting, because it keeps teen moviegoers who might find the sophomoric humor to be funny, but one figures this will be targeting males 18 and up more than anything, which is also rather unfortunate since that audience may be just as interested in Drive Angry. Then again, one should expect that younger married couples should enjoy watching this together to help bond over the humor in trying to make it in the singles game after being married, so women may “take one for the team” on this one, similar to with Just Go With It last month.

If word-of-mouth is good, the movie should have okay legs although there are a lot bigger high-profile movies opening in March that are likely to pull in the audiences, so this one really needs to make a mark its opening weekend or it will joining some of the Farrellys’ other movies in the bargain bin.

Why I Should See It: The Farrellys’ humor normally works based on on their ability to reveal how guys really think.
Why Not: The misogynistic nature of the humor may put off the women who could help put this comedy over the top.
Projections: $14 to 16 million opening weekend and roughly $45 million total.

COMPARISONS


Drive Angry 3D (Summit Entertainment)
Starring Nicolas Cage, William Fichtner, Amber Heard, Billy Burke, Simona Williams, Katy Mixon
Directed by Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine 3D); Written by Todd Farmer (The Messengers, Jason X, upcoming Halloween III and Hellraiser remake), Patrick Lussier
Genre: Action, Drama
Rated R
Tagline: “All Hell Breaks Loose”
Plot Summary: A hardened felon named Milton (Nicolas Cage) goes after the cult of religious fanatics that killed his daughter and tries to stop them from killing his infant granddaughter. He’s joined by Piper (Amber Heard), a waitress who steals her ex-boyfriend’s ride to help him go after the cult’s leader Noah King (Billy Burke), while being chased by a mysterious figure known as the Accountant (William Fichtner).

Analysis:

We’re not quite sure what we can say about the second teaming of filmmakers Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer, following their breakout 3D hit remake of My Bloody Valentine, except that it looks like a balls-to-the-wall action thriller that will allow Nicolas Cage to have a lot of fun while tying together some of his past fast-driving movies like Gone in 60 Seconds and Ghost Rider.

Cage is coming off the rather mediocre action-thriller Season of the Witch, which has similar supernatural themes but basically was met with lack of interest, and the same thing happened with his summer release The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, so you have to wonder whether Cage is still any sort of draw when not playing Ghost Rider or Benjamin Gates in the “National Treasure” movies. Cage is working more than ever in order to earn a paycheck following reports of having financial problems, but that’s led to a lot of bad decisions in terms of the quality of movies he’s been making and his fans have taken note. For every big movie Cage has made, he has two or three bad movies that barely make a dent at the box office and then once in a while, he’ll surprise with a movie like Knowing. Either way, he’s still considered an A-lister and he’ll be a bigger draw for the movie than anything else especially if there’s the promise of him pulling out one of his crazier performances.

Joining Cage is the super-hot Amber Heard, an actress who seems to enjoy not wearing a lot of clothes, which is why male moviegoers love her so much. She’s been slowly making her way through the ranks with supporting roles in Pineapple Express, Zombieland and the Sundance flop The Informers, but she moved into leading roles with The Stepfather and the straight-to-DVD And Soon the Darkness, and she’s building quite a reputation for herself by staying in the realms of genre. In fact, her breakout role was in Jonathan Levine’s All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, which few have had a chance to see and she was also hand-picked by John Carpenter to star in his upcoming horror film The Ward. Heard is clearly a fan favorite genre star in the making. Another key ingredient is character actor William Fichtner, who has been slowly establishing himself as a fan favorite himself.

Revenge thrillers are nothing new even if Nicolas Cage hasn’t really done too many, but it’s kind of strange this is coming out so soon after the Dwayne Johnson bomb Faster, even if this has more of a supernatural slant than that movie. It’s still a fairly conventional premise in terms of someone trying to get revenge for the murder of a loved one, something that goes back to titles like Charles Bronson’s “Death Wish” movies, Walking Tall and more recent offerings like James Wan’s Death Sentence.

This looks like the kind of fun, mindless entertainment that young college-age guys and even a few older ones love to watch, a cult favorite in the making, although that audience often doesn’t find movies like this until DVD. What might make this a movie they’d prefer to see in theaters besides the fun crowd interaction is that it was filmed in 3D, and Lussier’s previous film used the format well enough that those in the know will be aware that this isn’t that cheap p*ssy 3D conversion sh*t. (Pardonnez mon français.) Summit is opening Drive Angry fairly moderately into roughly 2,200 theaters but most of those will be 3D showings, which means ticket prices will generally be 25 to 33% higher than normal, so one can generally expect a higher per-theater average than a movie like this would normally have.

After screening the film for select press, who provided lots of great quotes, Summit has chickened out on screening this for real film critics with most of them only getting a chance to see it late on Thursday night or Friday morning, and that definitely sets up alarm bells that maybe this movie isn’t as good as the quotes will try to make moviegoers think. Regardless, this is meant as a one-weekend wonder and if by any chance it’s any good, it has some tough competition come March.

Why I Should See It: This looks like the kind of fun genre thrill ride that we don’t often see in theatres.
Why Not: Unless of course you’re one of the five people who saw Dwayne Johnson in Faster in which case, it is.
Projections: $13 to 15 million opening weekend and roughly $36 million total.

COMPARISONS


THE CHOSEN ONE:

Of Gods and Men (Sony Pictures Classics)
Starring Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin, Philippe Laudenbach, Jacques Herlin
Directed by Xavier Beauvois (Le Petit Lieutenant, Don’t Forget You’re Going to Die); Written by Xavier Beauvois, Etienne Comar
Genre: Drama
Rated PG-13
Tagline: “In the Face of Terror, Their Greatest Weapon was Faith”
Plot Summary: Perched in the mountains of Algeria in Northern Africa, a group of French Christian monks must decide what to do when a group of Islamic fundamentalists kill a group of foreigners and they have to decide whether to hold their ground at the monastery or flee, leaving the villagers under the protection at the mercy of the rebels.

There are films out there that seem to be geared specifically towards the snobbish film elite rather than mainstream moviegoing audiences and many French filmmakers who will gladly cater to that select group. The first time I saw Xavier Beauvois’ new film, I got the impression this was the type of art film that has lots of gorgeous images but not much of a story since it’s such a slow-build as it shows the day-to-day of monks in Algeria, using a slice-of-life format that cuts between their interactions with the villagers and their daily prayer sessions. Why this slow set-up may seem odd is that the film is based on the true story of a group of monks that were kidnapped by Muslim fundamentalist rebels and were never seen again. That piece of French history doesn’t really happen until the last fifteen minutes of the film, so if you go into this expecting “Munich” (as I probably did the first time) you may be disappointed.

Instead we see the various monks led by Lambert Wilson’s Christian and Michael Lonsdale as their aging physician, discussing and debating the merits of staying versus leaving their post while trying to maintain a neutrality between the military and the rebels. After the rebels kill a number of foreigners, things get more serious, and the danger of their situation escalates further when they rebels show up asking them to treat their wounded and give them medicine. Though the government’s military offers to protect the monks, they refuse to be aligned with one faction in the conflict, instead wanting to be there for the villagers who really need their medical skills and moral support.

One of the issues I first had with the film was that as you’re watching it, you can’t help but think, “Yeah, stop talking about all the dangers and get the hell out of there!” and as the monks who fear for their lives start to succumb to those who are adamant about staying, you start to wonder why. That’s really the beauty of the film in that it allows us to explore the monk’s faith that they’ll be protected by God as they do good deeds in his name side by side with the realities of the dangers they’re facing.

The subtlety in Lambert Wilson’s masterful performance is what makes so much of the film work, as he expresses so much emotion often without saying a word, and the rest of the ensemble do a fine job in making you feel as if you’re watching real monks’ lives rather than actors. It’s a film that could easily be reenacted as a play, and that’s because the script is incredibly strong yet the amount of dialogue never bogs things down as the talking sequences are juxtaposed with a number of gorgeous musical passages in which the actors sing Gregorian chants as they pray. There’s one particularly impressive scene where an army helicopter hovers outside the monastery while they pray, making it seem like the power of their faith is what drives away the imposing military presence.

Beauvois also uses Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” theme in a pivotal scene as the monks have one last meal before the inevitable, though one does wonder if this scene and others will have the same impact for anyone going into the film not knowing the monks’ inevitable fate. Another minor criticism is that it’s impossible to tell how much time is passing. The monks essentially wear the same clothes throughout making it feel like the story is taking place in a matter of days. In fact, the film actually covers literally years between the time the rebels start killing people and the monk’s kidnapping.

France rightfully made “Of Gods and Men” their submission for the Oscars, and it’s surprising it wasn’t nominated, because there are similar themes to at least three of the movies that did get nominated and it’s just as strong a film. Either way, if you’re looking for a sublime bit of filmmaking that explores faith and history without the pandering that often comes with the former and the Hollywood clichés that normally comes with the latter, there’s a lot to admire and appreciate in Beauvois’ powerful effort.

Of Gods and Men opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Also in Limited Release:

21-year-old Xavier (I Killed My Mother) Dolan’s second feature Heartbeats (IFC Films) stars himself and Monia Chokri as two close friends who meet a good-looking young newcomer to town named Nicolas and the three of them spend a lot of time together, both of them competing for Nico’s affections. It opens in New York at the IFC Center on Friday and then in L.A. on March 4.

In David G. Evans’ drama The Grace Card (Samuel Goldwyn Pictures), Michael Joiner plays police officer Bill “Mac” Mcdonald who is angry at the world and God when he loses his son, and things only get worse with his inability to accept his black partner Sam Wright, played by Mike Higgenbottom. Will he be able to accept God back into his life and offer a grace card to his partner? The faith-tinged drama opens in roughly 300 theaters on Friday.

Charles Picerni’s thriller The Bleeding (Anchor Bay Films) stars Michael Matthias as a ex-Army Ranger Shawn Black, who is looking for his parents’ killer and instead finds a family of vampires living in a nightclub. Starring Vinnie Jones and Michael Madsen, it opens Friday in theaters then hits the DVD shelf March 1, so it must be pretty damn awesome.

A Good Man (Film Presence) is a documentary by Safina Uberoi about the relationship between Australia’s Chris Rohrlach and his stroke-inflicted quadriplegic wife Rachel who have been successfully raising a family when he gets the idea to start a brothel to help raise capital when a drought hits their sheep farm. It opens at the Quad Cinema in New York on Friday.


Next week, the month of March kicks off with FOUR movies! “Pirates of the Caribbean” director Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp reteam for the animated Western (of sorts) Rango (Paramount), Matt Damon and Emily Blunt star in George Nolfi’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s The Adjustment Bureau (Universal), Topher Grace and Anna Faris hit the town in Take Me Home Tonight (Relativity Media), while Alex Pettyfer (him again!) and Vanessa Hudgens take on a classic fable in Beastly (CBS Films).

Copyright 2011 Edward Douglas