Box office preview: The comedy calm before the “Transformers” storm?

Awaiting the coming midweek arrival of the next big fanboy franchise entry, “Transformers: Revenge of the Carniverous Unicorns” or whatever it’s called, a couple of high concept comedies with theoretically strong potential sail into the nation’s multiplexes this weekend. While both should do okay business, the “meh” to “Cathy”-style “ack!” reactions from critics (I know we don’t really count but, hey, if you tickle us, do we not chuckle?) might indicate somewhat limited potential against the ongoing one-two punch of “The Hangover” and “Up.” I expect a close one. But then, I’m always wrong.

Of the two new comedies, “The Proposal,” starring Ryan Reynolds as a put-upon assistant cajoled into a sham marriage with his you-know-what-on-wheels boss played by Sandra Bullock, appears to be the somewhat stronger contender. This initially struck me as something of a gender-reversed redo of Mike Nichols’ similarly high-concept 1988 Melanie Griffith vehicle, “Working Girl,” with the executives originally played by Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver mushed into Bullock’s publishing bigwig. However, the reviews indicate something darker at times, but probably less entertaining for a mass audience. With a 44% “fresh” at Rotten Tomatoes, mirrored by our own David Medsker’s split critical decision, critics are turning no cartwheels. The Hollywood Reporter however suggests that the film has some pretty serious date-movie appeal and that might be enough for $20 million or so, which might be enough to hit the #1 spot. Certainly many women may feel that, to paraphrase Griffith 21 years back, Reynolds has a mind for comedy and a body for sin. It’s therefore a good bet they subtly encourage their significant others to attend with them, who themselves might not mind looking at the adorable, if now fully adult, Ms. Bullock for a couple of hours themselves. We shall see.

Jack Black and Michael Cera react to  reviews of If critics were unconvinced by “The Proposal,” they were hurling ancient curses at what sure seemed to me like a promising comedy concept but, then, there’s the me-always-being-wrong thing. I speaketh of the hunter-gatherers-go-biblical “Year One,” directed by comedy veteran multi-hyphenate Harold “Egon Spengler” Ramis. The critics seem to agree that this vehicle for two of the best known names in youth-targeted comedy, Jack Black and the gifted savior of dry humor among the young, Michael Cera, is a million miles away from being Ramis’s best work. (That would include probably one of the beloved films of the last twenty years, “Groundhog Day” as well as the frat-boy touchstone, “Caddyshack.”) On the other hand, Variety offers the thought that it’s “tracking” is improving. I’m still trying to figure out what “tracking” actually means, but I guess that’s supposed to be a good thing.

Nevertheless, our own Jason Zingale heaps some pretty serious 1.5 star scorn on a film which mixes some fairly extreme-sounding scatological humor with some pretty big comic prey in taking on some of the best known characters from the ever-popular first half of Jehovah’s bestselling two-part epic. He’s hardly alone, as only 19% of the RT gang saw much of worth in it and some saw the opportunity to hurl a few would-be comic zingers of their own. CHUD’s Devin Faraci commenteth:

Year One is so dedicated to being historically accurate that it only uses jokes that are at least two thousand years old.

Entertainment Weekly‘s Owen Glieberman went the contrarian root and actually awarded the film a relative rave with a B- rating, and appears to be one of the few (only?) critics to heap praise on Jack Black’s performance while attacking the dryness of Cera. He also offers what the film’s many detractors will take as a terrifying thought:

Every era gets the prehistoric comedy it deserves.

Meanwhile in arthouse land: The would-be prestige comedy “Away We Go” widens to 132 screens this weekend. Also, the week’s new limited release is yet another promising sounding attempt at America’s funnybone, the latest from Woody Allen (though apparently the original script dates back to the seventies), “Whatever Works” starring HBO’s own Larry David. Allen’s films are almost the definition of review-driven hits-or-misses and this one has engendered what is at best a split decision with 53% (only 9% among “top critics”!) at RT. That’s low enough to (forgive me, Lord, for what I’m about to say) curb filmgoer enthusiasm.

  

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