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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