Greetings and welcome back to the Weekend Warrior, your weekly guide to the weekend’s new movies. Tune in every Tuesday (Wednesday this week) for the latest look at the upcoming weekend, and then check back on Thursday night for final projections based on actual theatre counts. If you’re not doing so already, you can follow The Weekend Warrior on Twitter where he talks about box office, movies and all sorts of random things.
1. Date Night (20th Century Fox) – $26.7 million N/A (down .6 million)
2. Clash of the Titans (Warner Bros.) – $25.6 million -58% (same)
3. How to Train Your Dragon (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount) – $20.0 million -32% (up .2 million)
4. Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too? (Lionsgate) – $15.0 million -49% (down .2 million)
5. The Last Song (Walt Disney Pictures) – $8.3 million -548% (up .3 million)
6. Hot Tub Time Machine (MGM) – $4.8 million -41% (Down .1 million)
7. Alice in Wonderland (Walt Disney Pictures) – $4.5 million -45% (same)
8. The Bounty Hunter (Sony) – $3.0 million -47% (down .3 million)
9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid (20th Century Fox) – $2.9 million -44%
10. Letters to God (Vivendi Entertainment) – $1.3 million N/A (up .2 million)
After a crazy Easter weekend in which a new opening record was set, this weekend should see a much closer race for the top spot. One can probably safely assume the fanboy factor of seeing a movie opening weekend will mean a hefty drop for last week’s #1 movie Clash of the Titans (Warner Bros.) in its second weekend. That would give the comedy Date Night (20th Century Fox), starring Tina Fey and Steve Carell, a good chance at besting it, as it takes advantage of a lack of comedies that appeal to women and men together. Essentially, the movie’s title is a home run because any man or woman in a relationship will understand the high concept humor in it, making the movie a less than ironic “date night” choice for married couples and singles, many of them fans of the movie’s two individual stars, curious what they can do when brought together. Expect decent business on Friday and Saturday and then word-of-mouth will determine whether it has any sort of longevity in the market after that.
On the other side of the spectrum is the PG drama Letters to God (Vivendi Entertainment) that will be targeting Christian groups in the Bible Belt, but with very little money for marketing and promotion, it’s not likely to do much business outside that demographic. Opening in over 800 theaters, it should be able to bring in enough business in some areas to make a small dent into the Top 10 with roughly a million dollars or slightly more.
This weekend last year was Easter weekend, once again making comparisons difficult, but Miley Cyrus’ Hannah Montana: The Movie (Walt Disney Pictures) scored another solid opening weekend for the young star with $32.3 million. Also, Seth Rogen starred in the dark R-rated comedy Observe and Report (Warner Bros.), which didn’t fare as well as some of his previous movies, opening in fourth place behind Fast & Furious and Monsters vs. Aliens with $11 million. Faring even worse, Dragonball: Evolution (20th Century Fox) bombed with less than $5 million in over 2,100 theaters to open in eighth place. The top 10 grossed $122 million.
Unfortunately, we had to ditch “The Battle Cry” this week to get caught up on other things.
Date Night (20th Century Fox)
Starring Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, Leighton Meester, Common, Taraji Henson, Kristen Wiig, Ray Liotta, Mila Kunis, Mark Ruffalo, William Fichtner, Olivia Munn
Directed by Shawn Levy (The Pink Panther, Night at the Museum, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian); Written by Josh Klausner (upcoming Shrek Forever After)
Plot Summary: On a romantic night out in New York City, married couple Phil and Claire Foster (Steve Carell, Tina Fey) become victims of mistaken identity putting them into a series of dangerous situations.
Mini-Review Going by the title, one would assume “Date Night” is another formulaic romantic comedy and that Tina Fey and Steve Carell were doing it merely for a paycheck. In both cases you’d probably be wrong as Shawn Levy’s first PG-13 movie in years owes more to action comedies of the ’80s and ’90s imbued with the type of humor fans of both actors should enjoy. When the movie opens with the trademark “Hey, ho, let’s go” of the Ramones, you might be expecting something far edgier than you actually get, but for Shawn Levy, “Date Night” may be the closest he comes to doing something that doesn’t feel entirely dumbed down. Not that it’s particularly intelligent either, but it’s all relative.
The Fosters have gotten so used to their everyday routine as a hard-working parents and loving New Jersey couple that their love life has hit a wall, and a spur of the moment trip into New York City leads the couple to a fancy restaurant where they pretend to be another couple to get a table. This leads to them being chased by two armed goons who think they’re the couple whose reservation they took. It sounds like a fairly simple premise for a comedy, and it is, but sometimes, that’s all you really need for a movie to work as it’s meant to, which is to entertain and create laughs. In both cases, “Date Night” succeeds and that’s in large part due to the casting of Carell and Fey, who rarely drift away from what they do best. Individually, they’re really funny, but together, they’re a comedy concoction that’s rarely been matched. Sure, other than being married with kids, Fey isn’t drifting too far from Liz Lemon and Carell’s character falls safely in between others he’s played before.
Whatever you think about Levy as a director, he clearly knows when he has two actors that know funny and he lets them do their thing then picks the best bits, which allows for some incredibly strong laughs. Not all of it works and sometimes it gets a little silly, but Carell and Fey have a way of making even the silliest moments–the two of them doing an erotic dance to get close to the bad guy is up there–fun and funny.
There’s still plenty of room for others in the cast to get laughs, whether it’s a shirtless Mark Wahlberg, who plays up the gag so splendidly, he gets a laugh every time he shows up to open his door sans shirt, or James Franco and Mila Kunis as a very different couple from the Fosters. Like most of the comedic side characters–Nick Nervies from “Curb Your Enthusiasm” as a cab driver they crash into for instance–they’re in the movie just enough to get laughs but never enough to wear out their welcome.
The moments of the movie that don’t work as well are when it gets into the actual crime-thriller aspect of the story. Few of the actors playing thugs and gangsters are particularly effective at being threatening, even Ray Liotta, typecast as the mob boss behind the overall plot. The question is how much the film’s bland crime plot takes away from the fact that Fey and Carell are infinitely fun to watch on screen. Levy isn’t as clever with the movie’s action moments ever, which are more on par with low-budget action movies of the ’90s rather than anything that might impress modern-day action fans. Even so, the movie does have a lot more car chases than some might expect, and that helps keep things moving forward at an upbeat clip between the laughs.
“Date Night” is by no means groundbreaking even by studio comedy standards, but like last year’s “The Proposal,” the movie succeeds more based on its two leads than on its high concept material. Even so, as an action-comedy, it’s at least 20-30 times funnier and more entertaining than Kevin Smith’s “Cop Out” without trying nearly as hard. Rating: 7.5/10
It’s not often that a comedy opening wide gets a weekend to itself, but that happened last October with Vince Vaughn’s Couples Retreat, which took advantage of its solo release to the tune of a $34.3 million opening, and that’s also the case with this comedy that pairs two of NBC’s biggest stars. Both Tina Fey and Steve Carell have proven tremendously popular among a wide group of audiences, to the point where both them and their shows have been nominated for multiple Emmys, although Tina Fey has found much more success on television with “30 Rock” despite it being on air for a shorter period of time.
Coming from out of the world of “Saturday Night Live,” for which she was head writer, Tina Fey found success at the movies when she wrote and starred in the Lindsay Lohan movie Mean Girls, which also starred current stars Rachel McAdams and Amanda Seyfried. From there, she got her own show, “30 Rock,” and didn’t appear again in a movie until she was paired with her long-time friend Amy Poehler in the 2007 comedy sleeper Baby Mama. Like that movie, Date Night isn’t written by Fey, but another movie she seems to be doing just to keep her film career going beyond the television show, and only appearing in one movie every two years certainly seems to be working for her.
On the other hand, Steve Carell has had a fairly healthy film career while at the same time starring on NBC’s “The Office,” some of his bigger successes being ones where he played support to major comedy stars like Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey. With the latter, Carell did Bruce Almighty, a movie that many felt he stole, which prompted Universal to move Carell to the front for the sequel Evan Almighty. Before that, Carell starred in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the directorial debut of Judd Apatow, which showed that he was capable of headlining a movie. It’s been quite some time since Carell starred in a movie, the last one being the summer action-comedy that updated the television show Get Smart, which is one of Carell’s biggest “solo” hits to date. Date Night is his first of two movies this year, the second one being Dinner for Schmucks, which reteams him with Paul Rudd in a comedy helmed by director Jay Roach (Austin Powers) – it’s not a coincidence that the trailer for that is premiering with Date Night this weekend.
Date Night is directed by Shawn Levy, who has mainly been doing successful family-related fare like the two “Night at the Museum” movies and a couple Steve Martin comedies, so directing comedy geared more for adults is fairly new territory for him. Closest he came was directing the Ashton Kutcher-Brittany Murphy comedy Just Married. Still, he’s certainly a director who has a good amount of success under his belt with his five movies grossing over $650 million domestically.
Besides the two stars, the movie features appearances by many similarly famous actors from Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis to rapper Common, Taraji P. Henson, and others, most of whom are featured in the commercials and trailer, which might also help interest people in seeing the movie.
Date Night will probably do most of its business among women between 20 and 40, which is Tina Fey’s normal demographic, but it can also bring in some of those guys who like her and Carell from their popular television shows. More importantly, couples, whether married or not, can understand the relatable idea of “date night” going horribly wrong, which is where the movie’s humor comes from.
Due to the slower weekend Fox has been able to get their new comedy into over 3,000 theaters, which means it should be spread throughout the country, and like Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island a few weeks back, not having other new movies as options should help the movie do better than it may have normally. Fortunately, both television actors and the premise should be able to play in many areas, even if it’s likely to do more business in big cities. The odd thing is that both actors are mainly known for their work on NBC and in Universal movies, which may be why so many people think this movie is being released by Universal rather than Fox. Still, they’ve been able to get ads during NBC’s Thursday comedy night to make sure the duo’s fans know about the movie, but they haven’t been able to get nearly as much airtime as there would be with the usual corporate synergy.
That all said, we don’t have a ton of confidence of this being a good movie since 20th Century Fox waited until Wednesday to screen it for most critics. They must realize that the movie is a fairly easy sell between the two main stars, all the other actors in the movie and the strong premise and title. Because of that, the movie should do very well this weekend, but it has a lot of comedy competition next week, which might keep it from becoming an even bigger comedy in the long-term.
Why I Should See It: Tina Fey and Steve Carell have generally been very funny on their own, so putting them together should be a comedy homerun.
THE CHOSEN ONE:
Last week was a bit weak in terms of limited releases but this week, we have two really strong movies. Sadly, we don’t have enough time to write more fully about them in this column, but check out the upcoming interviews we’re posting this week for more on both of them.
The Square (Apparition)
It opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.
When You’re Strange: A Film About the Doors (Abamorama)
Under the Radar:
Everyone Else (The Cinema Guild) – This drama from Maren Ade follows a happy young German couple (Lars Eidinger, Birgit Minichmayr) on vacation in the Mediterranean whose relationship starts to splinter after a dinner with one of his work colleagues, and they realize their relationship isnt as successful as they think. After premiering at last years Toronto Film Festival, it opens exclusively at the IFC Center in New York on Friday.
La Mission (Screen Media Ventures) – Benjamin Bratt stars in his brother Peter Bratt’s directorial debut as Che Rivera, a reformed inmate and alcoholic who drives buses in the Mission district barrio, who loses his temper and beats his only son, Jesse (Jeremy Ray Valdez), when he finds out he’s gay, and Che finds himself all alone and emotionally broken. After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, it opens in New York and L.A. then expands elsewhere, which you can learn more about on the official site.
Who Do You Love (International Film Circuit) – In this new movie about Chess Records–the second after the 2008 movie Cadillac Records–Alessandro Nivola plays Leonard Chess, the Polish immigrant who becomes interested in the Chicago blues scene during the mid-40s, who begins to produce records with his brother Phil, including artists such as Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Etta James and others. It opens in New York at the Village East Cinemas on Friday and then in L.A. on April 16.
After.Life (Anchor Bay) – In this thriller from Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, Christina Ricci wakes up in a funeral home on the slab after a horrible car crash and finds its funeral director Elliot Deacon (Liam Neeson) preparing her body for burial. The thing is that she can still talk and doesn’t think she’s dead but finds herself trapped in the funeral home by the sadistic mortician. Also starring Justin Long and lots of Christina Ricci nudity, it opens in select cities on Friday.
The Black Waters of Echos Pond (Project 8 Films) – Robert Patrick and Danielle Harris star in Gabriel Bologna’s supernatural horror film about nine friends on holiday who discover a board game in a Victorian home in Maine, and inadvertently unleash an evil spirit that brings out the worst in them, and they turn on each other. It opens in select cities on Friday.
Women Without Men (IndiePIx Films) – Shirin Neshat adapts Shahrnush Parsipur’s novel bout four Iranian women during the 1953 coup d’etat by the American and British that took down the elected Prime Minister and put the Shah back into power.
Next week, director Matthew Vaughn tackles the Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. graphic novel Kick-Ass (Lionsgate) with Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Nicolas Cage and Chloe Moretz, while a superstar ensemble cast takes on the comedy remake Death at a Funeral (Screen Gems).
Copyright 2010 Edward Douglas