“Green Zone” tops week of weak openers
BY KEVIN CRUST
A rundown of this week’s four wide releases — none of which pose a threat to reigning box-office champ “Alice in Wonderland.” Likewise, worldwide juggernaut and best-picture also-ran “Avatar” remains the best-reviewed film in general release.
The politically-minded action-thriller reunites Matt Damon, star of the “Bourne” films, with “Supremacy”/”Ultimatum” director Paul Greengrass. Oscar-winner Brian Helgeland (“L.A. Confidential”) adapted Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City.” Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson and Amy Ryan co-star.
Damon is a U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer whose team is charged with finding WMDs during the early days of the Iraq war in 2003. When it becomes obvious that he’s being fed faulty intelligence, he seeks answers and enters into a dangerous hunt for an Iraqi general and finds himself a pawn between CIA operative Gleeson and Pentagon honcho Kinnear.
With Greengrass at the helm, “Green Zone” figures to be the clear-cut choice for cinephiles this weekend. But critics are more divided than on any of the director’s previous features. The most fervent supporters include Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, who declares it “one hell of a thriller,” the Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan and J.Hoberman of the Village Voice. A.O. Scott of the New York Times commends the filmmakers’ ability to “deftly glean material from the historical record, and while they compress, simplify and invent according to the imperatives of the genre.” Like Ebert, Scott preemptively swats away questions about the film’s politics by emphasizing that it’s a thriller, not a documentary. Reviewing the film less favorably are the New Yorker‘s Anthony Lane and the Wall Street Journal‘s Joe Morgenstern, while David Edelstein of New York magazine labels it “ludicrous” and Todd McCarthy (in one of his final reviews as chief critic at Variety) finds it “leaking crucial credibility.” Many of the reviews continue to admire Greengrass’ grittiness and hyper-kinetic dexterity with action, but cite the film’s overtly political bent and implausibility as weaknesses.
The film should finish a comfortable number two behind “Alice” and gross more in three days than “The Hurt Locker” has in its entire run, but with most box-office prognosticators predicting it to fall short of $20 million, “Green Zone” looks to be another commercial casualty of the war.
“Twilight” heartthrob Robert Pattinson headlines this romantic drama about an unhappy college student who, despite his worst intentions, develops a tender relationship with a tragic classmate (“Lost’s” Emilie de Ravin). TV veteran Allen Coulter, who also did “Hollywoodland,” directed from Will Fetters’ script. Chris Cooper, Lena Olin and Pierce Brosnan co-star.
The movie takes some serious hits from Rolling Stone‘s Peter Travers, the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis and others, but gets enough qualified praise — including Ebert — to save it from the bottom rung. Pattinson and the rest of the cast get off relatively easy while the film’s earnest approach to the vagaries of destiny take the brunt of the criticism.
Box-office projections vary wildly, from $6 to $13 million, but everyone seems to agree that its success hinges almost entirely on how badly teen-aged girls want to see Pattinson in something without vampires or werewolves.
SHE’S OUT OF MY LEAGUE
Jay Baruchel steps out of the Judd Apatow stock company to take the lead in this romantic comedy by British director Jim Field Smith, making his pond-hopping feature debut after a career in sketch comedy and shorts. Alice Eve, T.J. Miller, Nate Torrence, Krysten Ritter, Geoff Stults and Lindsay Sloane are also in the cast. Baruchel, who looks a bit like the wayward offspring of Mongomery Clift and Billy Bob Thornton, plays a Pittsburgh airport security officer who stumbles into a rebound relationship with a successful, beautiful woman. Well, it’s all right there in the title isn’t it?
Unflattering comparisons to “There’s Something About Mary” and “The Hangover” abound, but some critics noticed enough sweetness below the requisite raunch to generate some decent reviews (including Ebert and Travers). The Chicago Tribune‘s Michael Phillips found occasional laughs but disliked what “it had to say about nerds and babes and the sliding scale of self-image” and the Washington Post‘s Michael O’Sullivan found it derivative and downright “misogynistic.” It looks to be competing with “Remember Me” in the $6-11 million range. Now, there’s a date night debate for you.
OUR FAMILY WEDDING
Forest Whitaker, America Ferrera, Carlos Mencia, Regina King, and Lance Gross (“House of Payne”) star in this culture clash comedy. Director Rick Famuyiwa (“The Wood,” “Brow Sugar”) wrote the screenplay with Malcolm Spellman and Wayne Conley. Ferrara and Grosss play a young couple from different backgrounds — she’s Mexican American, he’s African American — who spring their engagement on their folks resulting in the inevitable face-off between the prospective overbearing fathers-in-law.
The reviews are fairly evenly split between dismissive (Ebert, USA Today, LAT, EW) and scathing (NYT, Village Voice), with the tolerant citing some supporting performances as its saving grace while nearly everyone carps about the trite and overly familiar aspects. On fewer screens than the other films, “Wedding” looks to be bringing up the rear with anywhere from a $5 to $10 million opening. Fox Searchlight may be able to eke out a modest hit if it can tap into the Tyler Perry base.