By David Mumpower
The May 2004 release schedule is one of the strangest in several years. There are only eight wide releases on the slate, yet four of them will be hailed as disappointments if they make less than $150 million. No pressure, eh? I think three of the four will pull this off, but the film in fourth position is going to need a bit of help. The fall from four to five is so dramatic that it's entirely possible films five through eight don't even combine to match the opening of any of the top three titles. May is high-stakes feast or famine.
1) Shrek 2
When Roger Meyer Jr., the creator of Itchy and Scratchy, relayed the cartoon food chain to Krusty the Clown, he pointed out that the order of succession was mouse, cat, then dog. Someone needs to relay this news to DreamWorks as they seem to feel it's ogre, donkey, then cat. Nuclear families are apparently not just for Cold War survivors any more.
The pertinent question is whether the Puss 'N' Boots character that is being added into the mix winds up being more readily accepted than Poochy the Dog. After all, Poochy was roundly hailed as the worst cartoon dog ever right until the moment he got in his space ship and traveled back to his home planet. Tragic though the events of his death might have been, the news of his fatal accident was met with cheers from the children of Earth. They hated that dog. If Antonio Banderas is unable to inject life into Puss, the news might be equally disheartening to the accountants at Team Spielberg/Midget/Geffen. Raise your hand if you think that will be the case. Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?
The reality is that Shrek was a monster-outta-nowhere hit that took North America by storm. Along the way, the film proved that CGI wasn't just for Pixar and that point was driven home when it beat the vastly superior Monsters, Inc. for Best Animated Picture. People have been clamoring for this film since its announcement right after the original movie's release. Shrek 2 is as bulletproof as any release this summer not starring Tobey Maguire or Daniel Radcliffe.
Ooh, boy, am I ever conflicted here. The teaser for this film had a breathtaking shot of the key concept to this story. The thousand ships launching is an awe-inspiring cinematic moment. I was so stoked to see this project. Unfortunately, soon after that, the trailer showed up and people started spouting dialogue. When Orlando Bloom tried to convey his love for a woman (*snicker*), I found myself longing for the halcyon days of last year when I had a busted eardrum that rendered me largely deaf.
Watching Brad Pitt issue an open challenge makes me more fully appreciate how impressive it is for pro wrestlers to occasionally manage to not sound ridiculous when they cut promos. Pitt's only line I would believe in this trailer is "Check, please?"
Troy wants to be the next Gladiator or the next Braveheart and from a box office perspective, I think it will certainly be able to slot somewhere comfortably in the middle of those two. What it doesn't appear likely to do is entertain. If it does, the people who have been cutting the trailers should never be allowed to work in Hollywood again. Color me surprised (in advance) if that proves to be the case. My initial reaction after watching the full length trailer still sums up my position best: "They don't have it. You can tell." Fortunately, people are going to show up in droves anyway, because the cast is good and the concept is the most historically epic possible except for that Mel Gibson one.
3) Day after Tomorrow
Roland Emmerich did something amazing once with Independence Day. He stumbled upon a formula that the creators of Godzilla had known for years but that North American filmmakers had largely ignored. Audiences like to see notable landmarks (and downtown Tokyo in particular) blown and/or trampled to bits.
Sure, it doesn't seem so revolutionary now, but anyone who was keeping up with trailers in the ID4 days remembers how stunned audiences were when that clip aired. There were hushed tones and immediate, borderline Pavlovian responses of "We -have- to see this." And they did.
Oddly enough, when Emmerich tried to dovetail the concept of the special effects-annhilated landmark with its originator from the "guy in rubber costume crushes miniature replicas" days, Godzilla failed completely. The Taco Bell chihuahua was even forced into retirement simply by being guilty by association due to a truly unfortunate marketing tie-in.
For six years, Emmerich has run away from the concept that brought him fame but now, he has reversed course. Rather than avoid the swath of the destruction as a plot device, he has done a full 180 and now fully embraces the art of CGI explosions once more. The Day after Tomorrow somehow manages to sell itself as Deep Impact, Twister and Independence Day all rolled into one. As far as disaster flicks go, it's like Airport through Airport '77 combined. Cha-ching.
4) Van Helsing
Van Helsing? More like Van Helsuck! Signed, roughly three-fourths of the movie critics who have reviewed the film thus far. When the title was originally announced, it sounded like the perfect production. A hot director follows up The Mummy franchise with the ultimate Universal film, one that combines their three most famous movie monsters.
In order to make such a film on villainous icons believable, there had to be a hero legendary enough to pull off the assignment of killing The Werewolf, Dr. Frankenstein's Monster and Count Dracula. Such a mythical adventurer existed, but in order to sell the drama, an actor had to be selected who had a reputation for being a comic book type hero. And hey, would you look at that? They picked Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman.
All the pieces were put in place for the film event of May 2004. So, how is it that this one only winds up fourth on my list? Hopefully, it's because I have made an egregious error and significantly miscalculated the audience receptions to the trailer. After all, I think it's liquid metal-level hot, so why shouldn't everyone else? Unfortunately, I don't think this is the case. Instead, I think some of the more questionable CGI effects and shaky dialogue have a lot of folks feeling the same way about this one that I do about Troy. I hope I'm wrong but currently, I expect Van Helsing to wind up with "only" about $120 million in domestic receipts. Relative to what could have been, I think that will go down as a disappointing total.
5) Soul Plane
So, does the song lyric go, "Let's Get It Started" or "Let's Get Retarded"? I ask because it sounds like the latter during this trailer but the other way during those ESPN basketball commercials. As you might have guessed, I don't keep up much with current dance music. I've heard about this Dance Dance Revolution game and am somewhat intrigued, but I am afraid it might cut into my Madden 2004 playing time. With regards to Soul Plane, there isn't much to say here. I find the trailer hilarious, and it gets great crowd reactions. While picking the film with the twins worth hundreds of millions each would be easy to do here, I smell an upset.
6) New York Minute
Uncle Jesse must be beaming with pride right about now. Well, he would be if ultra-hot, girl-kissin' Mystique hadn't just dumped him. Anyway, the Olsen Twins are finally doing a movie. The only good news I am taking from it other than that Eugene Levy is getting some exposure (albeit in an atrocious-looking movie) is that all of those lecherous, R. Kelly-esque lewd comments about them will finally go away some. Well, they'll be legal anyway, so hearing them won't make me feel vaguely ill. Is it really -that- hard to wait until a woman is of legal age to lust after her, you perverts?
The twins have been their own cottage industry since long before they were able to create complete sentences. Their introduction into film productions of the non-made-for-cable variety should prove successful enough, but the fact that this looks like complete dreck has to factor in somewhere. Twelve-to-17-year-old women are a lot more media savvy than conventional wisdom generally credits them as being. Lecherous perverts might be a more significant target demographic here. Hmm, a film that puts young girls and dirty old men in the same general vicinity. That can't be a good thing.
7) Raising Helen
Oh, Kate. What are you doing? You couldn't follow Almost Famous up with better movies than Alex & Emma and this? At least with How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, you had a chance to flaunt some box office pull. If you aren't careful and keep picking lost causes, though, you are going to wind up doing films that make your mom's outing in Wildcats look like Ti-freakin-tanic.
Signed, a concerned fan.
8) Breakin' All the Rules
Optimist's point of view: this could be another Two Can Play That Game.
Pessimist's point of view: this could be another Deliver Us from Eva.
Realist's point of view: like both of those, Gabrielle Union is in this one, so I am compelled to go. Her siren song is too powerful to resist.
Marty Doskins's May Forecast
John Seal's May Forecast
Stephanie Star Smith's May Forecast
Zach Kolkin's May Forecast