Box Office Preview: ‘The Watch.’ That’s All, Because You don’t Mess with the Bat.

The Watch

Studios were afraid to release much in the way of blockbusters this week, what with competition from “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” That hasn’t changed. Not a lot of big name movies (or movies with big names) are being released around now, save as counter-programming. That is, films that have star power but are decidedly different from those two blockbusters. For a case in point, look to  “The Watch,” the newest picture written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the team who brought “Superbad” into the world. You can almost see the gears churning in the studio exec’s head: the demographic who saw Batman last week might like a nice splash of comedy right about now.

From afar, it looks like “The Watch” could slide perfectly into that hole, given its writers and cast, which includes comedic heavyweights Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill in leading roles. Then there’s the fact that it was directed by Akiva Schaffer of The Lonely Island and “smaller names” like Will Forte and Richard Ayoade in the cast. For those of you wondering who the fourth guy in the above picture is, it’s Ayoade. He’s not very well known stateside, but he’s massively funny and a big deal across the pond. Watch “The IT Crowd” if you don’t believe me, it’ll be a Hidden Netflix Gem one of these days.

Unfortunately, looks can be deceiving. Despite all that potential, “The Watch” currently sits at a 14 percent on the Tomatometer. Bullz-eye’s Ezra Stead had this to say:

Much of the humor comes from screaming, dick jokes and colorful profanity, and the film overall is pretty loud and dumb. Hill and Forte give the funniest performances, and Stiller and Vaughn deliver exactly what is expected of them at this point (I’m pretty sure Vaughn is just playing himself in most of his comedies), but Ayoade and DeWitt have very little to do until the third act. Delivering exactly what is expected is this film’s modus operandi, though, and it’s entertaining and intermittently very funny. It’s only when the audience is asked to care about the idiotic Evan and Bob as characters – particularly in subplots involving Abby or Bob’s teenage daughter (Erin Moriarty) – that “The Watch” falls short of its relatively modest ambitions.

Oh, yes, I’m sure you’re wondering about the plot. Four bored suburban guys come together to form a neighborhood watch after after a friend of Stiller’s character, who works as a night shift security guard, is brutally murdered. But guess who’s actually responsible for the crime? Aliens. No, seriously.

If you do fit “The Watch’s” target demographic: you need to see a movie this weekend and don’t care to see “The Dark Knight Rises” twice, then it could be for you. Just don’t expect the film to be anything but the phoned-in counter program that it is.

  

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Box Office Recap: It’s All the Same, Only the Names (from 3-10) have Changed

Last week, two new releases, “Madgascar 3” and “Prometheus,” occupied the top two spots on the domestic box office charts for the first time since April 22, when “Think Like a Man” and “The Lucky One” knocked out “The Hunger Games” after four weeks on top. This weekend, something else that hadn’t happened in some time occurred: the nation’s two highest grossing movies remained static. “Madgascar 3” and “Prometheus” remain cemented at the top of the charts with $35.5 million and $20.2 million, respectively. The last films to accomplish that feat: “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” and “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” over the last two weekends of 2011, Dec. 23-25 and Dec. 30-Jan. 1.

Hair metal musical “Rock of Ages” came in third place with $15 million. Now, I could make that sound like a lot by pointing out that’s the sixth best opening of all-time for a musical and the third highest for a film adapted from the stage. But let’s be frank here, given the film’s prime summer release date, huge release (it played in 74 more theaters than “Prometheus” did in its first week), and most importantly its star-studded cast, “Rock of Ages” was a supreme disappointment. Seriously, this is a film with names like Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Malin Akerman, Mary J. Blige, Alec Baldwin, Bryan Cranston, Will Forte, Eli Roth and of course, Tom Cruise in its end credits. It should have made more money.

So what was the problem? Well, as I hypothesized in my Box Office Preview, nobody, and I mean nobody likes hair metal, the genre this film was banking on. Kids don’t like it, of that I can assure you, and baby boomers were the ones telling their children to turn that garbage down during the lost decade that was the 1980’s. As I said on Friday, the target audience here was the tiny sliver of the American population that was both a teenager during the 1980′s and enjoyed the crap at the top of the pop charts at the time.

All that showed in the demographics. For some reason, whoever keeps track of this stuff divides the entire population of the country into only two groups: above 25 and below 25. Nearly 75 percent of the audience for “Rock of Ages” was in the above category, and females made up 62 percent. Those numbers are staggeringly skewed.

Unsurprisingly, the demographics for the weekend’s other new release, Adam Sandler’s “That’s My Boy,” were distorted in the opposite direction. Sandler, of course, is known for his high-brow humor, stuff like “If peeing your pants is cool, consider me Miles Davis.” That’s sarcasm folks. Anyway, 52 percent of the comedy’s audience was under 25, and 54 percent was male. I know that doesn’t sound like much after what you just read, but in general, that’s not an insignificant skew towards teenage boys. “That’s My Boy” came in fifth place with $13 million.

The remainder of the chart offered few surprises. Sandwiched between the two new releases, “Snow White and the Huntsman” made $13.8 million, and “That’s My Boy” was followed by “Men in Black 3” and “The Avengers.”

Meanwhile, Wes Anderson’sMoonrise Kingdom” continues to chug along at the specialty box office. With nearly $2.2 million, the film moved into ninth place this weekend despite being shown in just 178 theaters (compare that to Rock of Ages'” 3,470 and tenth place finisher “What to Expect When You’re Expecting’s” 1,216).

Here are the results for this weekend’s top 10 at the box office:

Title/Weeks in release/Theater count, Studio/Three-day weekend total/Cume
1. Madagascar 3, 2/4,263, Paramount/Dreamworks, $35.5 million, $120.451 million.
2. Prometheus, 2/3,442, Fox, $20.2 million, $88.858 million.
3. Rock of Ages, 1/3,470, Warner Bros., $15 million.
4. Snow White and the Huntsman, 3/3,701, Universal, $13.805 million, $122.602 million.
5. That’s My Boy, 1/3,030, Sony, $13 million.
6. Men in Black 3, 4/3,135, Sony, $10 million, $152.679 million.
7. The Avengers, 7/2,582, Disney/Marvel Studios, $8.848 million, $586.737 million.
8. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, 7/1,184, Fox Searchlight, $2.2 million, $35.133 million.
9. Moonrise Kingdom, 4/178, Focus, $2.181 million, $6.779 million.
10.What to Expect When You’re Expecting, 5/1,216, $1.33 million, $38.766 million.

  

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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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SXSW 2010: SATURDAY NIGHT

“Saturday Night Live” has been harshly criticized over the years for failing to deliver quality episodes each and every week, but have you ever stopped to think just how difficult that really is? In James Franco’s all-access documentary, “SATURDAY NIGHT,” audiences finally get a behind-the-scenes look at the arduous task of putting together a 90-minute live show. Capturing every step of the creative process – from the actors and writers pitching their ideas to the week’s host (in this case, John Malkovich) to putting on the final show – the film delivers an honest look at the high-stress, dog-eat-dog world of sketch comedy. With only 24 hours to conceive and write their sketches (and guys like Will Forte seemingly sleepwalking through most of it), it’s amazing that any of them can be funny at all. Perhaps more shocking, however, is that only nine of the 50 proposed ideas actually make it into the final show.

saturday_night

“SATURDAY NIGHT” focuses on just a handful of them, and it’s here that we see the evolution that each one goes through along the way, including rewrites and last-minute edits that come out of rehearsals. We also learn that while some sketches (like one lampooning the Empire Carpet commercials) bring down the house during the initial round of table reads, by the time it comes to performing it at dress rehearsal only hours before the live show, it falls flat with the audience, forcing the producers to pull it from the line-up. Franco gets some good interviews with the cast and crew, even putting himself on camera to discuss his own hosting experience, but he doesn’t really document anything that someone with the exact same access couldn’t do. “SATURDAY NIGHT” is still a fascinating study of a particular facet of the entertainment industry, and if there’s anything to take away from the documentary, it’s that these guys are only human. As one producer aptly declares when discussing future cast members: “If you’re a perfectionist, don’t come here, because nothing is ever perfect.”

  

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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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