Weekend box office: “Shrek Forever After” #1 with diminishing returns; “MacGruber” explodes, but in the bad way

Shrek Forever AfterThe fourth and, I’m guessing, probably final theatrical bow for the soulful green troll with the Scottish accent grossed an estimated $71.25 million this weekend for Dreamworks and Paramount, according to the mighty Box Office Mojo chart. That’s a lot more than enough to make “Shrek Forever After” the top movie in the country this week, and a substantial take for any movie. It is, however, significantly below the $121.6 that the widely unloved last entry in the series earned on its opening weekend back in 2007 — without the benefit of inflated 3-D ticket prices.

It’s even further below the  numbers that were being bandied about by writers, if not, studios, earlier on. I mentioned last time that Carl DiOrio thought the film could hit $100 million, but failed to note the breakdown at the Numbers. It said that while “analysts” (whoever they may be) were suggesting a $90-$95 million opening, the studio was pimping a more modest $80 million while trying to diminish expectations. They should have diminished them a little bit more.

The week’s other major opener, “MacGruber,” proved my hunches to be at least as wrong as DiOrio’s. While steering clear to some extent of the $15-20 million guess at the Numbers, I doubted the single-digit numbers that DiOrio mentioned. As the singer of the obscure Difford and Tilbrook tune says, let’s face it, I’m wrong again. As it turns out, even DiOrio’s lowest figures weren’t low enough. The incompetent MacGyver-like bomb diffuser only earned a fairly pathetic $4.1 million in 2,551 theaters for the #6 spot. I think it’s safe to say that the poor reputation of SNL-derived films clearly preceded this one, which actually has garnered reviews that are a bit better than most other films in this long-running franchise.

Grim faced Ryan Phillipe, Will Forte, and Kristen Wiig face the b.o. music

Still, considering that most SNL sketches, even at their best, never seem to sustain until the end of the bit, it shouldn’t be too surprising that the movies derived from them have a hard time holding attention through feature-length running times. If “MacGruber” suffered from a bit of movie guilt-by-association, it’s just too bad for anyone who was hoping for a quick A-list status for the off-kilter Will Forte — a performer who I think would fit in really nicely in a David Lynch movie. (I mean that as a compliment, I think.) On the other hand, every time I check Rotten Tomatoes, even it’s now-meh-to-bad (once kind of okay and maybe even almost good) critical numbers keep dropping, with “Top Critics” being a bit more brutal.

The #2 and #3 spots, respectively, were held by “Iron Man 2” with an estimate of $26.6 million for Marvel and Paramount, and “Robin Hood” with $18.7 million estimated for long suffering Universal. Probably helped by weak competition, both movies managed to keep their weekly drop to just under 50%. Still, I think it’s safe to call the $200 million “Robin Hood” a disappointment that won’t do much for the careers of either Russell Crowe or Ridley Scott, not that they’re in any danger of obscurity just yet.

A paucity of movies for women of any age probably also helped grow some legs for the #4 cross-generational rom-com, “Letters to Juliet,” which dropped only by 32.8% and earned a solid $9.1 million for the probably fairly modestly budgeted film. That should help young Amanda Seyfried cement her growing credibility as a box office draw, at least for young-female-skewing films and even if her most challenging film role so far has been ignored. Of course, that lack of female-friendly major draws will change next week with the arrival of “Sex and the City 2.”

Jesse Eisenberg is probably okay for the JewsOn the limited release circuit, it was actually a pretty good weekend for Jesse Eisenberg and the talented young actor’s efforts to prove he’s something other than a Jewish knock-off of Michael Cera. His high-concept drama with mixed reviews, “Holy Rollers,” performed fairly strongly in its opening weekend on three screens with a solid per screen average of $13,003 from an audience that probably discussed after the film whether the drama about a drug-running Hasid was good or bad for the Jews. Doing even better was the all-star comedy, “Solitary Man,” top-lined by Michael Douglas and Danny DeVito (let’s not talk about how long it’s been since “Romancing the Stone” and ‘The War of the Roses”),” and also featuring mid twenty-something Eisenberg. On the strength of strong reviews and the cast, it managed an estimated $22,250 on four screens. As usual, Peter Knegt at Indiewire has the details.

  

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Weekend box office: “Shrek Forever After” enters the 3-D fray

The combined power of family films and the inflated ticket prices of 3-D films being what it is, I don’t think there’s room for much doubt that the putative final entry in the now four film-long computer animated “Shrek” franchise will take the weekend, and probably in a reasonably major way. According to jolly Carl DiOrio, $100 million may be possible. That’s a number that, while being substantially less than past openings featuring the affable troll, may be overheated, with other experts predicting significantly lower amounts. On the one hand, DiOrio theorizes that the tracking surveys don’t properly account for the strength of family films nor the 3-D box office bonus. (He notes some theaters in NYC are charging $20.00 for 3-D showings.) Still, four movies in, people may tend to write this one off as a last ditch attempt to cash in on a once immensely popular character.

Shrek whatever

Are they right? Well, our own David Medsker, not a huge fan of the series, actually thinks “Shrek Forever After” has the most heart of any entry so far and notes that it has lowered the number of fart jokes, always a welcome change in my book. It’s also probably worth noting that Dreamworks and Paramount have chosen an animation newbie in director Miguel Arteta, whose previously been best known for such character driven, off-beat low budget indie comedies as “Chuck and Buck” and “The Good Girl,” as well as the more recent and somewhat more mainstream targeted “Youth in Revolt.” The choice of Arteta has apparently worked to some degree as the film has enjoyed a modest bump upwards in esteem from the critically unlovedShrek the Third.” Still, the marketing for the film has been hampered by title changes — previous monikers were “Shrek:  The Final Chapter” and “Shrek Goes Fourth.” Still, as long as people remember the “Shrek” part, it shouldn’t be too big a problem.

There will be competition from other just a bit less family-friendly major releases rated PG-13 for varying degrees of violence, but Marvel/Paramount’s “Iron Man 2” has been dropping by over fifty percent from its terrific but not ultra-immense opening week, and therefore is likely to come at #2. Last week’s #2, “Robin Hood,” is expected to have a pretty huge drop in its second week based on its unexciting word of mouth and will come in somewhere lower in the top five. Its a good thing for beleaguered Universal Studios that the action-adventure criticized for a marked lack of fun has nevertheless generated strong international numbers.

MacGruber
The week’s other new release has been getting a lot of ‘net coverage, and is based on a character with a lot of TV exposure. Even so, the gurus seem to agree that it won’t be a massive hit. Given that the Saturday Night Live movie brand is not exactly vibrant, though it’s always fun to read about — and was last made use of in 2000 — “MacGruber” could be seen as damaged goods from the start because it’s derived from a series of one-joke skits from the show featuring Will Forte and that PH favorite/comment generator, Kristen Wigg. No wonder that the “tracking” has not been too spectacular.

The very broad comedy, essentially an elaborate spoof of the old “MacGyver” TV series, about an incompetent would-be super-spy who isn’t nearly as good at defusing huge bombs as he thinks he is, is apparently tracking fairly poorly. On the other hand, this film is getting a entirely non-rapturous but okay critical reaction (59% “fresh” as of this writing), which indicates to me it will end up as a video guilty pleasure for many of us. The question is, will so many of the audience decide to wait for the DVD/Blu-Ray or cable version of the film that the number will really be a rather sad $8-10 million as Carl DiOrio suggests, or will enough family-film wary 17-40 year old males decide to enjoy the film’s juvenile-yet-R-rated pleasures making for the more robust $15 or even $20 million figures suggested by C. S. Stowbridge at the Numbers? I’ve been wrong before, but I’m guessing “MacGruber” will at least break double digits. I hope it does fairly well, if only so there’s a chance we’ll see Betty White reprise her SNL role as MacGruber’s (too) beloved grandma in the sequel.

There isn’t a huge amount of action this week on the limited release market, at least in terms of high-profile new movies. “Holy Rollers,” a fact-inspired tale starring Jesse Eisenberg as a young Hasidic Jew — if you don’ t know the term, just think of them as the tech-friendly, urban equivalent of the Amish — who gets caught up in trafficking Ecstasy. Apparently, its premise is more interesting than the actual movie. What a shanda.

Holy Rollers

  

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SXSW 2010: MacGruber

It’s been a long time since a “Saturday Night Live” skit was turned into a full-length feature, and for good reason. With the exception of a rare few (most notably the first “Wayne’s World” and “Night at the Roxbury”), they’ve all been pretty terrible. Director Jorma Taccone hopes to buck that trend with “MacGruber,” the big screen adaptation of Will Forte’s MacGyver-like soldier of fortune. Though it might seem like the kind of one-joke concept that couldn’t possibly be funny for 84 minutes, “MacGruber” is so unrelenting in its attempt to win over the audience with childish humor that you can’t help but laugh along.

MacGruber (Forte) was once regarded as the country’s greatest hero, but in the ten years since the murder of his fiancée, he’s given up his gadget-making days and retreated to South America to live in a monastery. But when his old nemesis, Dietrich Von Cunth (Val Kilmer), steals a nuclear warhead with the intention to blow up the White House, MacGruber is recruited by Col. James Faith (Powers Boothe) to come out of retirement and save the world once again. After he blows up his team of former military buddies, MacGruber enlists the help of longtime friend Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) and by-the-books soldier Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) to track down the warhead and pound some Cunth.

macgruber

If you laughed at that last bit, then there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy “MacGruber,” because the script is positively overflowing with that kind of juvenile wordplay. Co-written by Forte, Taccone, and fellow “SNL” scribe John Solomon, the trio does a surprisingly good job of taking a series of minute-long skits that all invariably end up with MacGruber blowing up and expanding it into a real story. It’s not a particularly great story, mind you, but it gets the job done for a film more concerned with setting up the next big joke. There are a lot of jokes that don’t really warrant more than a snicker, but some of the film’s running gags – including one involving MacGruber’s Blaupunkt car stereo and another where he obsesses over a rude motorist – will leave you in stitches.

Even the jokes that aren’t necessarily funny still work to some degree thanks to the film’s cast. Forte is excellent as the title character (just wait until you get a load of MacGruber’s trademark combat move), perfectly towing the line between naivety and just plain stupidity, while Kristen Wiig makes the most of her limited screen time. Ryan Phillippe also helps to ground the film as the straight man of the group, and Van Kilmer, although he doesn’t really capitalize on the sheer absurdity of his character, is clearly having a blast playing the villain. Though it gets off to a bit of a rough start comically, “MacGruber” eventually draws you in with its brand of sophomoric humor, pulling out all the stops in the name of comedy (and the ratings board). It’s certainly not the funniest film of the year, but there are enough laughs scattered throughout to suggest that not every film based on an “SNL” skit is complete shit.

  

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“MacGruber” red-band trailer shocker: it’s funny.

Save for a few odd sketches and short films and the occasional Weekend Update zinger, I basically gave up on SNL years ago. It’s not that the performers aren’t good, it’s the quality of the writing that has pretty much gone into the toilet and I don’t think I’m alone in that perspective. As for the MacGruber character, I think Will Forte is an inherently funny guy — but to me the sketches were a moderately fun idea marred by poor follow-through.

Still, life can be full of surprises, and so I must agree with the assembled movie geeks at Christopher Campbell’s place (though not Campbell himself), that this red band trailer, which features some very silly rough language, for the upcoming cinematic spectacular, “MacGruber” is pretty funny stuff . I’ve had a rough day and a bit of harmless silliness like this was just what I needed, even though I’ve never watched a single episode of “MacGyver.” As usual, the trick is playing things as straight as possible and having both Kilmer and the great Powers Boothe in the ensemble seems to help.

  

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Sounding off on “Basterds”, a new Spidey writer, movies you didn’t ask for, and Werner Herzog

Some quick items from around the web tonight.

* Quentin Tarantino talks to Mike Fleming about, what else, “Inglourious Basterds” — the movie made simply to confuse my spell checker. And, yes, once again, Harvey didn’t tell him to cut it by forty minutes and it’s actually slightly longer now than it was when it screened at Cannes to all-over-the-place reviews. He made suggestions, however.

* Gary Ross has been brought in to do a new draft of Sam Raimi’s “Spiderman 4.” Ross is a solid writer, and an okay director in his own right. He’s done wonders for Tobey Maguire’s career previously on both the career launching “Pleasantville” and the entertaining but kind of unremarkable “Seabiscuit.” So, perhaps it’s just an attempt to get a script that will work better than the highly problematic Spidey 3. Josh Wigler, however, has some concerns involving Ross’s upcoming Lance Armstrong project.

* They have a director for the big, huge, enormous 3-D Smurfs movie. Do I give a smurf? No mother-smurfing way.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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