In a year full of controversy at the movies, one film is challenging to be the most controversial of the year. Leave it to the South Park crew to feature puppets in the most subversive film of the year.
Weekend Forecast for October 15-17, 2004
By Reagen Sulewski
October 15, 2004
Team America: World Police jumped onto a lot of people's must-see lists immediately after the debut of its brilliant trailer, which played like a parody of every over-adrenalized Jerry Bruckheimer film ever made... until the reveal, where we find out everything is done with Thunderbirds-style marionettes. This is the point where you got onboard with the concept (and really, no further sales job was necessary) or dismissed it entirely. I don't see much fence-sitting on this concept.
In the film, a jingoistic team of international crime fighters stumble onto a plot by Kim Jong Il of North Korea to take over the world using an army of terrorists. Hiring a rising but slightly dim Broadway actor to infiltrate this terrorist network, they try to bring it down the way any good plan evolves - with lots of explosions.
Although it has nothing to do with their longer-running-than-anyone-would-have-guessed animated series South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker's new film is certainly benefiting from the connection. Even though the film based on the series only opened to $11 million, it was an amazing crossover performance for a cable show and was funnier than anyone might have expected. The secret of what Stone and Parker can get up to when not restrained by TV standards and practices is out.
That includes potentially NC-17 sex acts involving puppets, apparently, which needed to be trimmed to satisfy the minds of the MPAA in order to get an R rating. I think I would have paid a lot of money to be present at that particular hearing. The duo (along with writing partner Pam Brady) have never been afraid to offend anyone, and there's no sign they pulled any punches here, attacking testosterone-infused blockbusters along with political and entertainment figures of all stripes. And they've thrown that North Korean box office right away.
In just a moderate 2,539 theaters, Paramount is hedging their bets a little; if the film is a hit, they can always expand, and if it doesn't hit, they can fall back on the idea that they knew the subject matter would keep people away. For its opening weekend, I expect a take of approximately $15 million; it will definitely be tough to convince too many people to see a big-screen puppet show.
Also debuting this weekend is Shall We Dance?, a remake of a 1996 Japanese film. Starring Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez, it's a story about a Chicago lawyer who livens up his life by taking dance lessons after spotting a forlorn Lopez in a dance studio on his way home one day. Missing here is the cultural context of the original, since in Japan, admitting to ennui or committing such a "reckless" act as signing up for ballroom dance lessons would be considered quite an oddball thing to do. Doing so clandestinely in America makes no sense, unless it involves an affair (it doesn't).
However, as an inoffensive romantic comedy (Susan Sarandon plays Gere's wife) with dancing as color in the film, you probably could do worse. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, sure, but then Miramax isn't really endorsing it that strongly themselvesr, giving it a release in only 1,772 theaters. It's probably not a great sign when supporting player Stanley Tucci as an effeminate stereotype is getting the bulk of the notice for the film. A mediocre $7 million start is probably what this film is due for.
Shark Tale is still the odds-on favorite to lead the box office for a third straight weekend. Despite getting savaged critically, it dropped only 35% in its second weekend, to $31 million. That passes for a precipitous drop for a family film and more or less mirrors the performance of Ice Age, another "second-tier" CGI animated film. This would put Shark Tale in line for about $19 million for its third weekend. If this pattern holds, it would still be around a final total of $160-$180 million.
Friday Night Lights had a very good first weekend, considering its only name above the title was Billy Bob Thornton. This stirring sports film about high school football in Texas clearly tapped into something, earning $20 million in its debut. Sports films are - like action films - typically fairly front-loaded, so even given this strong early reception it's probably expecting too much for it to have extended legs. Contrarily, the good reviews and word-of-mouth mean it won't fall off the face of the earth, either. Look for a second weekend of about $12 million for third place overall.
The Final Cut is the most significant limited release opening this weekend, in 117 venues. The Robin Williams sci-fi film posits a world in which implants record a person's life to be replayed after their death. Williams plays a "cutter" who assembles the films, but in doing so, discovers an alarming truth about himself. High-concept films like this one often have difficulty finding an audience without tons of action, and even then it's no piece of cake without a star. On this small number of theaters, it's likely to be stuck at under half a million for a debut.
Expanding films in limited release include I Heart Huckabees and last week's surprising entry in the top ten, The Motorcycle Diaries. The latter, based on the autobiography of the young Che Guevara, made the top ten on just 167 screens, one of the lowest totals to make it in recent memory. This weekend it goes to 250, and should stay among the top films and may even move up a spot or two, earning about $2 million for the weekend. Huckabees didn't miss out on the top ten by much, about $300,000. It was only on 44 screens, which would have been an even more remarkable feat. It jumps to 65 theaters and will test its excellent $20,000 per-venue average. A weak - but not weak enough - slate of films will still keep it just outside the top ten.