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Liam Neeson’s thriller “Unknown” Tops Weekend Box Office

By Scott Mendelson

HollywoodNews.com: It was a crowded weekend at the box office for the second weekend in a row, as three major openers squared off against a surprisingly resilient animated feature from the week before. The top flick of the weekend was the Liam Neeson thriller Unknown. The film opened with $21.7 million over three-days, which is about on par with the $24 million debut of Taken (review) two-years ago over Super Bowl weekend. From a marketing point of view, Taken did have some advantages over this new thriller. The concept of Unknown (“I got into a car wreck and when I woke up someone had replaced me and no one knows who I am”) isn’t quite as relatible or compelling as Taken (“bad guys kidnapped my kid overseas, and I have to get her back”). While Warner Bros tried to sell Unknown as Taken 2, complete with the ridiculous ‘take back your life’ tagline and a trailer that climaxed with what little ass-kicking the film has to offer, anyone with a brain could tell that this was more of a goofy Hitchcockian thriller from the guy who directed the cheeky Orphan (review) than a hard action picture (there is a climactic moment of violence that is laugh-out-loud hilarious). Still, the film cost just $30 million, and this again proves Liam Neeson’s worth as an action lead. He, Jason Statham, Denzel Washington, and Angelina Jolie really need to make a movie together.

The surprise hold-over was the strong performance of Disney’s Gnomeo and Juliet, which dropped just 24% over the holiday for a $19.4 million three-day weekend. Considering that this project was basically a dump until the last month, it is beyond shocking that this second-tier cartoon is blazing past The Princess and the Frog and Meet the Robinsons with a current ten-day total of $50 million. There will be a flood of animated films over the next two months (Rango, Mars Needs Moms, Rio, Hop, Hoodwinked Too, etc), so it will be interesting to see if A) the success of Gnomeo and Juliet is purely due to the lack of family fare at the moment and B) if these far-more high-profile cartoons can actually match the impressive performance of this would-be lesser animated feature. The Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston rom-com Just Go With It grossed $18.2 million over three days (-40%). As far as Sandler comedies go, the respective eleven day total of $60 million is amongst the lowest such in Sandler’s history for a mainstream comedy. The Justin Bieber concert documentary Never Say Never dropped about 54% to $13.6 million over the three-day portion. Still, that gives the $13 million picture $48 million in ten-days, which makes this another win for Paramount.

Back to the openers: Coming it at number two for the three-day weekend and probably number three for the four-day chunk was the next big opener, the Smallville/Twilight rip-off I Am Number Four (trailer/review). The film is based on a just-recently-released teen science-fiction novel, and Disney and Dreamworks (in their first collaboration) was clearly hoping for a franchise here. Expectations were around $30 million for the four-day holiday, which clearly will not be happening. While the $19.5 million three-day opening for the $60 million production isn’t terrible, it’s well below the $31 million three-day/$38 million four-day opening of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (trailer/review). It’s actually more in line with the $19 million three-day/$24 million four-day debut of The Spiderwick Chronicles, which debuted over this weekend back in 2008 (fun trivia: Spiderwick Chronicles co-starred Sarah Bolger, who co-starred with I Am Number Four leading man Alex Pettyfer in Alex Rider: Stormbreaker back in 2006).

Point being, audiences realized they were being sold something that they could see on the CW for free. The film earned a ‘B+’ from Cinemascore, meaning that the legs will be limited. The film certainly has little replay value, so Dreamworks and Disney were hoping to cash in on the relatively dry marketplace. I kinda thought this would break out this weekend due to the absence of any ‘big’ movies, but apparently audiences are more patient than I gave them credit for. So there probably will be no sequel, which leaves us with yet-another fantasy film that fails to actually end, in the hopes of a second chapter that will never come. As for director DJ Caruso, he is certainly capable of better this this, as Disturbia and Eagle Eye were both refreshingly-solid Hitchcockian thrillers. I guess Shia LeBeouf really is a genuine movie star after all. And Alex Pettyfer is, as of yet, not. But then we knew that going into the weekend, didn’t we (it’s not like Alex Rider: Stormbreaker was, cool Three Days of the Condor ending aside, an undiscovered masterpiece)?

The third major opener was Big Mammas: Like Father Like Son. Eleven years after the first installment, Martin Lawrence returned to the one franchise that will still have him (there is no Bad Boys 3 on the horizon). The film opened with $17 million over three-days. For a $32 million comedy, this is certainly a win, although the opening is far short of the $25 million debut of the first Big Mamma’s House back in May 2000 and the $27 million debut of the sequel in January 2006. The first picture grossed $117 million while the sequel grossed $70 million, so expect this sequel to struggle to get to $50 million. It would appear that there is room for only one African-American male dressed in drag, and Tyler Perry rules that particular sub-genre. More pointless six-degrees of separation: Co-star Brandon T. Jackson co-starred in above-mentioned Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief one-year ago this weekend.

In Oscar-bait news, The King’s Speech crossed $100 million this weekend, setting the stage for a big win next Sunday. In more shocking news, the Darren Aronofsky ballet/horror/psychological thriller Black Swan (review) crossed $100 million late last week. If anyone say that coming back in November, show of hands please? In limited news, the delightful comedy Cedar Rapids (with Ed Helms, Anne Heche, and John C. Reilly) expanded to 100 screens and earned $909,000 over the weekend. This is easily the best film I’ve seen this year thus far, and it’s really worth seeking out. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s just a warm, enjoyable, character-driven comedy that damn-well should have been a wide release. That a mainstream confection such as this is now confined to the arthouse is a troubling sign of what constitutes a mainstream picture.

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