After a brief burst of originality, we're back to Hollywood being (mostly) out of ideas, with the biggest film of the weekend being an almost literal retread.
Weekend Forecast for April 3-5, 2009
By Reagen Sulewski
April 3, 2009
Fast & Furious is the confusingly titled fourth film in the The Fast and the Furious franchise, following the original, the Paul Walker-led 2 Fast 2 Furious, and the almost throwaway The Fast and the Furious 3: Tokyo Drift. Recycling the title and most of the cast, Fast & Furious teams up Vin Diesel and Paul Walker to race comically souped-up cars while committing crimes.
Well, this time, they're committing crimes to help stop other people from committing crimes. Former enemies Diesel and Walker team up again, working undercover for the feds to take down a Mexican heroin cartel, which somehow can be done by driving really fast. Plot isn't really important here, as it's all about things going really fast.
These movies, which were never all that smart to begin with, have become relentlessly stupid, with increasingly ridiculous stunts. This version seems to have added "pointless" to that equation, moving to bad CGI-rendered cars for some of the larger set pieces. For a series that's all about fetishizing absurd-but-real cars, putting fake ones in there seems like blasphemy.
But, as uniformly bad as these films have been, they've been almost as uniformly popular, with even Tokyo Drift opening to $24 million. Clearly the title has some juice in it. The hope seems to be that bringing back the original actors will pump the box office back up to what it once was.
That seems to be an accurate assumption, even if the wattage on the stars isn't quite what it once was. Diesel had a hit with Disney in The Pacifier, but his drama and action films since xXx have been rather miserable performers. Paul Walker continually gets out acted by balsa wood, and Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster are non-factors in getting people into seats. Put them all together, and put them in cars that go fast, and people will apparently show up in droves. Tracking has this one approaching the opening weekend of the first film, and I think there's good odds this stunt works. Opening in over 3,400 venues, it should see a weekend of $41 million.
Adventureland is the other wide release film for the week, covering the comedy market. Directed by Superbad's Greg Mottola, it's a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story set in 1987. Jesse Eisenberg plays a recent college grad, who takes a job at a local amusement park in order to pay for grad school. Populating the park is a cast of zany characters, but also Eisenberg's dreamgirl (Kristen Stewart, and it's too bad Eisenberg doesn't play a vampire).
Although the job at the park is a dead-end, go-nowhere one, the workplace is one of those "life experience" locations that turns Eisenberg's summer into one of "those summers you never forget" – in order that there's actually a film for us to watch. In fact, it seems to almost completely occupy the same space as some of the "classic" '80s comedies like One Crazy Summer and Better Off Dead.
Also involved in the cast are Ryan Reynolds, Martin Starr, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, though it's really Eisenberg's show here. Far from a star, but a compelling actor in films like Roger Dodger and The Squid and the Whale, he's being asked to carry a big film for the first time here. Adventureland has mild star-making potential, but this is really a smaller film that's getting to punch above its weight because of the director and his connections to the Apatow mafia. Opening on about 1,800 screens, Adventureland should come in with about $13 million on the weekend.
Monsters vs. Aliens was a huge winner last weekend, opening to $59 million, with a significant portion of that coming from 3-D showings. It's a pretty significant shot in the Pixar/DreamWorks animation battle, with DreamWorks making a hit out of a non-talking animal, non-pop-culture based story. It remains to be seen how long 3-D will continue to sell films, but for now it's proving to be a pretty popular gimmick, especially in animation. It probably won't repeat as champion this weekend, but it should come in a close second, with about $36 million.
The Haunting in Connecticut was a surprise hit last weekend, grabbing $23 million in its debut. What appeared to be a pretty generic horror film somehow broke out pretty well, and I'm inclined to believe it's due to the mysterious and unidentifiably creepy images from the commercials and trailer, which created a sense of mystery. Also, a claim of "based on true events" likely gave it some gravitas that other shlock horror wouldn't get. That aside, I don't expect this to be the rare horror film to buck the trend of massive weekend drops, and we should see about $11 million for weekend number two.
I Love You, Man should slip in for fifth spot, leapfrogging the Nic Cage FX spectacular Knowing in the charts. It's another in the group of recent films that seems to be bucking the decades-long trend of declining carryovers, with just a 30% drop in its second weekend. Audiences seem to be rediscovering word-of-mouth, for some reason. Give it $8 million for this weekend, while Knowing drops to $7 million.
Sunshine Cleaning, while not opening wide, should make it into the top ten on 479 screens this weekend, after just missing out last weekend. The film, from the producers of Little Miss Sunshine, stars Amy Adams and Emily Blunt as sisters who start a business cleaning up crime scenes. Ultimately about the troubled relationship between the two sisters, it's got quirky indie hit written all over it. I look for it to come in with about $3 million.