So maybe “The American” f**ked with the correct Mexican

George Clooney is

Hey, we’ve got ourselves a modest surprise that diverges substantially from what I wrote back on Thursday night. Though the weekend is still ongoing, apparently, a lot of people didn’t get the memo that “The American” is a rather dry if eye-filling European-set arthouse style thriller, rather than the intelligent but plot-heavy action film a la the original “Day of the Jackal” they might have felt like seeing. That’s what the dreadful D- Cinemascore rating Nikki Finke is reporting would seem to indicate, in any case. Also, George Clooney‘s star power still counts for something. Even La Finke has stopped her bitter attacks on him.

Box Office Mojo reports that the “one last job” thriller about an assassin and gun-maker earned an estimated take of nearly $13 million. Finke has her estimated numbers a bit larger than that, and her guesses about the film’s total take including Labor Day and it’s early opening reflect that. (The estimate she has has the film making a total of 19.2 million.) Assuming all that’s true, it’s just possible that the adult-oriented thriller could outgross the roughly $32 million “Vampires Suck” has made so far, perhaps there is a movie God, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Danny Trejo is
All of this is not to say that this weekend’s tongue-in-cheek Mexploitation geek fave starring the very cool Danny Trejo, “Machete,” did at all badly on this somewhat underwhelming weekend. It was outgrossed slightly by this weekend’s predicted #1 film, “Takers,” which netted an estimated $11.45 million in its second weekend. It’s $11.3 million really isn’t that bad, however even if it is ranked at #3. I don’t have a budget for the film, but Nikki Finke’s argumentative commenters were throwing around a $25 million figure — a bit high for Robert Rodriguez but quite cheap for a movie with this kind of all-star supporting cast, including Jessica Alba and Robert DeNiro. Considering the way movies like this tend to have a long and healthy life on DVD, that strikes me as a very good start. And that’s not counting the inevitable New Beverly Cinema double-bill with “Black Dynamite.”

“The Last Exorcism,” as predicted, suffered a large 62.5% drop in its second weekend, perhaps largely due to an ending most audience members hated, with an estimate of over $7.6 million. I’m convinced it was the vagueness of the premise that did in this week’s week’s third wide new release, “Going the Distance.” The raunch-infused rom-com came about Justin Long and Drew Barrymore having a long-distance relationship, I guess, wheezed across the finish line at the #5 spot with an estimate of slightly under $6.9 million. Yeah, I know, I wrote “6.9.” Grow up already.

Drew Barrymore and Justin Long try

  

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Summer to end with a bang-bang and some kiss-kiss, but perhaps not so many bucks

Say what you will about this labor day weekend’s cinema offerings, you can’t complain that they haven’t covered the twin cinema poles of traditional gender preferences. For mega-manly geeks, Danny Trejo finally gets his big Hollywood close-up courtesy of Robert Rodriguez and “Machete.” For more refined males who like their action thrillers to be a bit more arthouse than grindhouse, we have the latest vehicle for George Clooney. Set in Italy, “The American” sounds as dry as a Bunuel martini’ and likely to be about as popular with the masses when set against the cinematic Long Island ice teas and daiquiris usually served during this time of year. Finally, we have a romantic comedy broadly (and, Dave Medsker says, awkwardly) spiked with raunchy gags, “Going the Distance,” testing the box office appeal of stars Drew Barrymore and relative newcomer Justin Long.

None of these movies are expected to burn up the box office. Jolly Carl DiOrio seems to figure that last week’s narrow box office winner, “Takers,” will take this weekend as well. (Presumably, the #2 “The Last Exorcism” is expected to suffer the usual large drop for horror pictures, exacerbated perhaps by disappointment in the film’s ending.) Still, assuming everyone kept their budget nice and low things shouldn’t be too disastrous. I’m guessing that director Rodriguez’s famed gift for squeezing his pennies combined with some support from the underserved and powerful Latino audiences as well as the geek-American community should assure a reasonably profitable outing for the the tongue-in-cheek quasi-parody, “Machete.” I’m feeling less confident for “Going the Distance,” which seems to suffer from a vague premise and marketing campaign.

George Clooney IS
“The American,” which was released on Wednesday to no particular box office earthquake,  is splitting critics in a way that makes me want to see it even more than I already do. In any case, it is almost inherently a small audience picture in a marketplace this strongly geared to younger viewers not known for their patience with thrillers stronger on atmosphere than action or plot. It’s title might be dull, too, but wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where it at least outgrossed “Vampires Suck”?

  

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Weekend box office: Demons take robbers (maybe, kind of) in a photo-finish (updated — results reversed)

To be perfectly honest, this whole business of the box office horse race is a bit silly. Box office is not a zero-sum game and is probably a bit more like horseshoes than hand grenades. The success of one film doesn’t necessarily take that much away from the success of another. In this weekend’s case, people who felt like seeing an attempt at a stylish robbers-‘n-cops thriller were edged out very slightly by people who wanted to see another scary mockumentary. This weekend, the results are close enough that the “actuals” may be different enough from the estimates to reverse the #1 and #2 positions.

TakersTo be specific, the horror tale, “The Last Exorcism,” earned an estimated $21.3 million for Lionsgate, while the crime thriller “Takers” netted an estimate of $21 million. Aside from being extremely close, it’s worthy of a huge asterisk. As per Box Office Mojo, “Exorcism” was in 668 more theaters while Screengems/Sony’s “Takers” had the week’s highest per-screen average ($9,519). The heist picture had a budget of $20 million, extremely modest by contemporary studio standards, which means that it’s very much on its way to profitability. However, like prior horror mock-docs, “Exorcism” is by far the profitability king this weekend with an announced budget of $1.8 million. That’s enormously tiny in Hollywood terms and makes this a big win for producer Eli Roth, first-time feature director Daniel Stamm, and the screenwriting team of Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland, whose unpromising looking upcoming ‘net-driven horny-teenager flick, “The Virginity Hit” got a certain amount of bloggy attention a while back.

On the bad news side for “The Last Exorcism,” Nikki Finke has noted that the film received a “D” from Cinemascore. She decreed, in typically blunt Finkian fashion, “they hated it.” Well, that seems a fair enough assessment, except that it might not be that simple. The ending has been generating a certain amount of complaints even from critics, who have been mostly supportive of the film. Clearly horror fans and others who plunked down $10+ more, however, may be feeling cheated and we have reports of audible responses from audience.

A friend and I have been having for decades having to do with mostly good movies with bad endings versus mostly bad movies with good endings and which are “better.” Perhaps like the critics who were kind to “The Last Exorcism,” I believe the journey is more important than the destination but, of course, it’s the destination you often remember most easily. I wonder if any of those D-graders had second thoughts on the way home as their immediate anger lessened and they remembered the “good parts” on the way home.

[UPDATE: Yes, that difference was small enough to be reversed. According to Nikki Finke and Box Office Mojo, the “actuals” have reversed the order of the this week’s top 2l.  “Takers” took $20,512,304 and is now #1, while now #2 “The Last Exorcism” received $20,366,613. That’s a difference of just over $145,691.]

In other news, the week’s #3 film was ‘The Expendables” with $9.5 million estimated in its third week. That expanded 3D only reissue of “Avatar” I spent time discussing on Thursday night turned out not to be monkey wrench to anyone else’s success. It only managed to get into 12th place, earning a decent but definitely non-blockbuster $4 million in about a third as many theaters as a typical wide-release.

Finally, the indie/limited release beat is percolating along nicely with good news for the first half of a fact-based French 2-part gangster thriller “Mesrine: Killer Instinct” starring the memorable Vincent Cassel. Meanwhile, my mild obsession with the success of “Get Low,” which continues to thrive, is mellowed by the knowledge that it’s not likely to match the years #1 indie so far, “The Kids All Right.” As usual, the details are available as handled very nicely by Peter Knegt over at Indiewire.

Julianne Moore and Annette Bening in

  

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Weekend box office: A crime caper, a demon (non) con, and some bulked up Na’vi head to the ‘plex

The good news is that it seems pretty clear that “Vampires Suck” will not be the #2 movie again this weekend. The not-quite-news is that, with the reign of “The Expendables” also almost certainly over, there is some real doubt about what will be #1 because of the special extended edition, all 3D, release of box office champion “Avatar” in over 800 theaters.

While Ben Fritz confesses to some actual confusion, jolly Carl DiOrio cautiously leans toward the heist thriller “Takers” to take the weekend with some amount in the “teen millions.” Although our own Will Harris found some things to like in a thoroughly mixed review, the thriller is being out-and-out bashed by many critics, with the consensus being that the film, which stars Chris Brown, potential A-lister Idris Elba, and “Avatar” leading-female-life-form Zoe Saldana (well, Will says she’s hardly there), is a tinsel-laden rehash or, as Cinemablend’s Josh Tyler puts it (via Rotten Tomatoes pull quote):

The logical result of watching Heat over and over and over until your brain burns out, and then wondering what it would look like if the whole thing were remade as a Smirnoff Vodka commercial.

Doing better critically is this week’s other new wide release, “The Last Exorcism.” Producer Eli Roth’s first foray away into PG-13 scares, the movie boasts a premise that actually threatens to justify one more shot at the increasingly large horror mock-documentary subgenre with a premise I know I’ve seen somewhere before in some form. It’s about an avowedly phony exorcist who opts to document his own con job only to find himself beset by…well, just guess. It’s a premise ripe for laughs and satire as well as scares and a majority of critics find this an auspicious debut for first time helmer Daniel Stamm.  There’s been some viral promotion for this film. Considering the style and the no-name cast, I’m sure the budget for this “Exorcism” was good and low and that’s nearly always a smart move, especially with an attempt at horror that’s more than just frightening.

One proviso, however. Most seem to agree that the ending is a let down. One thing about the most commercially successful entries in this genre, they might not have been great cinema in the usual sense, but they had wowser endings.

Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, and Lucas Black In the indie world, the year’s next candidate for break-out film turns out to be “Get Low,” which will almost no longer be a limited release as it expands onto 570 screens. Yes, I’m one of the very few writers not to be the least bit charmed by the film. So, what’s the voice of one-almost-lone movie critic versus a wave of good reviews and enormous, well-earned goodwill built up by three great stars like Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Murray? Don’t answer that.

  

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