“Meatballs” satisfies family film hunger over tame movie weekend; “Jennifer’s Body” is lifeless

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A CGI-animated family comedy in 3-D performed very well at the box office this weekend and an R-rated horror-comedy tanked. Guess what will be seeing even more of and what we’ll be seeing even less of. Never mind the fact that one film people liked a lot, and the other film they didn’t care for so much. Can’t let a small factor like that affect our views of such matters.

Anyhow, to be very specific, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” didn’t quite hit the level of financial success predicted in the comments to our pre-weekend post by David Medsker, who also reviewed the film. Not that I’m in much position to lord it over Mr. Medsker, since I opined that “I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one go well over the $30 million mark.” Well, I wasn’t wrong if by “well over” you mean by a tenth of a million. The weekend estimate being reported by our usual suspects (Variety, THR/Reuters, Nikki Finke) is $30.1 million, which basically means the film hit the high end of the insider guessstimates, with a small cherry on top for Sony with it’s biggest animated hit yet.

Next in line is a bit of a pleasant surprise in terms of its second-place rank this weekend, not so much in terms of the amount of cash it actually generated. “The Informant!” managed an estimated take of $10.5 million. That can easily be framed as some kind of demerit on the career record of both star Matt Damon and writer-director Steven Soderbergh. For what it’s worth, the film’s critical reception, as expressed in its Rotten Tomatoes “fresh” rating, has improved considerably (from 67% to 74%) since I wrote this all up very early Friday morning, but Nikki Finke has reported a C- ranking from CinemaScore, so we probably have to chalk some of that up to the fact that Soderbergh is kind of a cinephile hometown favorite. He fails frequently with critics and film lovers as well as the public, but he does so by taking big risks, which we tend to see as highly honorable. To the public, however, an unsatisfying movie is just that, unsatisfying, and this one is seems to be appealing just to a particular niche.

Matt Damon in Nevertheless, an Oscar nomination for Damon — which Nikki Finke notwithstanding is still possible — might help the modestly budgeted fact-based comedy to make a decent profit over the long haul. At this point, however, this is Damon’s second least remunerative opening weekend. (The first was “The Good Shepherd” a dark, realistic spy film that bored even me — a fan of dark, realistic spy films.) I don’t know if there’s any significance to that whatsoever, since the film is obviously playing down the star’s usual areas of mass appeal and especially considering how many star-driven movies are disappointing the studios these days. Is it possible that after nearly a century of movies audiences are finally figuring out that actors don’t make up the stories as they go along and those writer and director people have more to do with a film’s quality? Nah.

In the number three spot, we have a holdover from last week. Tyler Perry’s “I Can Do Bad All by Myself” dropped a higher than average 57% but still managed an estimated $10.1 millions on the actor/writer/director’s traditional blend of comedy, music, and the African-American equivalent of schmaltz. (A Jewish fun fact for the New Year, the literal meaning of “schmaltz” is chicken fat, so a “schmaltzy” film is basically one made the way you’re Yiddishe mama would have made it. Is chicken fat used in soul food much? I have no idea but I’m getting hungry thinking about it.)

The poorly reviewed romantic comedy and/or drama, “Love Happens” did a hair better than I personally expected with an estimated $8.5 million. Apparently a reliable minority of people can’t get enough of Jennifer Aniston, regardless of how mediocre her vehicles may appear to be, but I do hope costar Aaron Eckhardt gets some of the credit.

By now, you’re probably wondering if I forgot something, but, alas for Megan Fox, high-profile writer Diablo Cody, and director Karyn Kusama, I have not.  “Jennifer’s Body” is said to have earned some $6.8 million. This is a serious disappointment as the film was expected to earn roughly double that. How much will the studio blame its apparent overconfidence in the drawing power of Ms. Fox? How much will they blame the fact that people just don’t seem to like the movie? Or will they take the predictable, easy, and thoughtless way out and blame the genre?

In the thirties, “The Bride of Frankenstein” was funny and was a smash hit; in the seventies, “Jaws” was pretty funny; “Scream” was funny and made huge bucks in the nineties.  A horror movie with laughs will do well again, some day, I’m sure. If the studios make a few good ones, that is.

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