As I was too chicken to more than implicitly predict last time, “The Hangover” held on to its #1 spot with a cool $33.4 million. Variety reminds us that this is only a 26% drop, very rare in today’s opening-weekend-centric turn-’em-and-burn-’em movie world. The star-free ensemble farce is clearly benefiting from excellent word of mouth so that folks who might ordinarily avoid an R-rated comedy about a Vegas bachelor party gone off the rails are being attracted. Good work.
Also Pixar/Disney did fabulously with its unbeatable, yet rare, principle that if you work really hard and imaginatively to provide quality family entertainment with a heart and soul as well as a bit of show-biz razzle-dazzle, people will actually show — you should pardon the express — “Up.” The CGI 3-D animation-fest with a cranky elderly protagonist that no sane executive would ever have greenlit were it not for Pixar’s unprecedented track record, earned $30.5 million and dropped a low 31%.
Meanwhile, in star-driven product land, “The Taking of Pelham 123” met the rather modest expectations for a lavish, all-star, action-remake and hit $25 million, while the Eddie Murphy family flick, “Imagine That,” netted a sad $5.7 million for the #6 spot on its opening weekend at over 3000 screens.
Now, I want to add that, while trashing movies I haven’t personally seen is against my religion (for all I know, I’ll end up sorta liking Tony Scott’s “Pelham” — stranger things have happened, I’m the guy who liked “Domino”), even more against my religion is trashing the concept of remakes, though on the whole they tend to be less good than earlier successful versions. True, it doesn’t exactly scream “originality” to take on a property that’s been previously successful, but no one says, “Oh God, not another remake of ‘Romeo and Juliet.’” There is absolutely nothing wrong with restaging an old concept, as long as you have something of your own to say with that property and are not simply going with something that looks likes a safe bet in a business where safe bets don’t exist. Lack of “originality” is not the problem; abject creative cowardice is.
Movie remakes go back to Hollywood’s youth. Probably my single favorite little-known Hollywood factoid is that the 1941 “The Maltese Falcon” starring Humphrey Bogart and directed by John Huston was actually the third adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s great detective novel made over a period of about ten years. I also happen to think that Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is arguably even better than the rather great original version directed by Don Siegel in 1956. And, moving to TV land for just a second, is there any human being on the planet who thinks the recently concluded “Battlestar Gallactica” (don’t tell me how it ends!) isn’t a million times better than the unbelievably awful original? As Roger Ebert likes to say, movies are not what they are about but how they are about it. If you have something fresh to say by revisiting an old story, by all means say it, just make sure you’re not kidding yourself.
Anyhow, returning to this weekend’s b.o., what I think harmed both “Pelham” and “Imagine That” was that, as far as was visible from either the marketing or the response to it, these were movies that offered not one thing fresh or exciting or in any way of a great deal of interest other than the services of its stars. That’s good for something — big stars are the closest thing on the planet to a certain level of guarantee of public interest and sometimes that’s all you really need. But if you really want to hit it big, you’ve got to gamble a little bit that the audience is more interested in being genuinely entertained than lulled by the presence of name entertainment brands.
On the other hand, “Terminator Salvation,” which nobody seems to like too much, is actually doing very well abroad and the very honestly entertaining “Drag Me to Hell” isn’t exactly burning up the U.S. box office. So, who knows?