Tyler Perry can do well all by himself

Tyler Perry in "I Can Do Bad All By Myself"

Tyler Perry’s latest for Lionsgate, “I Can Do Bad All By Myself,” which once again features his crazed cross-gender alter-ego, Madea, over-performed its expectations by a few million and nabbed the weekend’s top box office spot with an estimated $24 or 25 million. The reason for the discrepancy, by the way, is that it appears that the numbers Nikki Finke nabbed late last night are differing slightly from those being offered by Variety and THR.

Finke is characteristically spinning the gross as a negative for Perry, since his last film made $41 million on its opening run. However, that was “Madea Goes to Jail.” If there’s one thing we’ve learned about film marketing in the current climate in recent years, having a title that explains your premise never hurts. Just ask “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” Of course, that’s not the whole story — just ask “Snakes on a Plane.”

Considering that this film is actually getting okay reviews (58% “fresh” on the RT Meter as of this moment) from the critics who’ve sprung for a film bucks to see the movie this weekend, it seems that Perry is offering a least a modicum of story-and-music based entertainment. Low expectations may also be helping. The good news for him is that it seems to be pleasing his large, predominantly African-American and female, fan base — ensuring that his modestly budgeted films remain profitable. I wonder if Lionsgate is reevaluating its decision not to screen “I Can Do Bad” in advance; they actually might have found some decent quotes to help pull in some newbies. Tyler recently signed a deal to make a film of the 1975 poetry-based Broadway sensation by Ntozake Shange, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.” Is critical respect of some sort in his future?

9With an estimated $15.2-$15.5 for Focus Features over its first five days and an on-track $10.9 million for the weekend, “9” seems to have found its audience. As I recounted last time, it’s only the eighth movie to be so numerically named, if you don’t count the original short film that launched it. (The true no. 9 will be Rob Marshall’s upcoming film of the Broadway musical “Nine.”) Now, I don’t how I missed this before, but the computer animated dystopian tale from newcomer Shane Acker was actually released on Wednesday of last week. That was not simply to get a jump on the competition, but to milk the fact that it was September 9, 2009 — i.e., 09/09/09. I guess the numerical mojo didn’t hurt.

Coming up in the #3 spot was neither of the two remaining major theatrical releases, but…drum roll…”Inglourious Basterds” once again proving wrong those who assumed that a subtitles and cinephilia heavy flick would ward-off rank-and-file filmgoers. At roughly an estimated $6.5 million in its fourth week for the Weinstein Company, Quentin Tarantino‘s latest has accumulated about $104 million so far, which I think is about double what some insiders expected from it. It seems fairly certain now that, with the benefit of at least a few Oscar nominations, it’s going to beat the $108 million take of “Pulp Fiction,” though perhaps not adjusted for inflation.  I can’t wait to see what Tarantino’s next step will be.

The critically dissed Kate Beckinsale “Whiteout” — which Fox tried to pass off as sci-fi horror in the tradition of “The Thing” but is really more of an action-thriller/whodunit — and Summit’s Heathery actual horror/slasher remake, “Sorority Row,” went down to an ignominious, youth-audience splitting, defeat. Each film made just over an estimated $5 million. The real horror film (i.e., “Row”) did slightly better than the fake one set in Alaska, but they were both unable to beat even the second week of the fourth-place “All About Steve,” and came in at the sixth and seventh spot on their opening week. Ouch.

  

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Will “Funny People” be a sad clown at the box office?

Whatever my reaction to it winds up being when I finally see “Funny People,” Judd Apatow has my respect. As a producer, writer, and sometime director of mostly R-rated comedies, he’s enjoyed a level of unusually consistent box office and artistic/critical success over a large number of movies that only Pixar, which takes much longer to make its very different brand of crowd-pleaser, can top right now.

Making good movies requires taking risks, and Apatow is taking one right now with a film that is being described as a tragicomedy and with his only hedge being a cast dominated by popular comic actors led by Adam Sandler. That the film seems to be largely dividing critics and generating confused reactions would, if I were Apatow or Universal, make me a little nervous. Actually, Universal may be more nervous than Apatow. As Nikki Finke and everyone else is reporting tonight, the hyphenate comedy guy just inked a 3-picture deal with them, so he’s set for the time being.

Variety‘s Dave McNary reports that box office predictions vary pretty widely for the film, from the low twenty millions to the mid-thirties. No wonder. A casual look around the wilds of Rotten Tomatoes indicates that the Apatow’s third feature as a director after “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” is far different piece of work and what you might call “difficult.” As far as I can remember, this has almost never indicated an immediate box office success — better to have critics universally detest the movie, it seems, than be conflicted. Movies that elicit this kind of reaction have more than once emerged years later as cult hits or even, as in the case of “Blade Runner,” legitimate classics. On the other hand, Adam Sandler’s name will count for something, and the presence of Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, among others, certainly won’t hurt. But, on the other other hand, we’ve seen the power of stars amount to less than expected results more than once over the last year or so.

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