This Week In Movies – ‘The Other Guys,’ ‘Step Up 3D,’ ‘Middle Men’

By Pete Hammond Can Sony Pictures do no wrong this summer? Clearly it is the studio with the midas touch for the season. With no “Spider Man” in the lineup they have managed to deliver solid triples every time at bat even if they haven’t come near to a $200 or $300 + million dollar grosser like a “Toy Story 3”, “Twilight Saga: Eclipse” or “Iron Man” , all solid franchise blockbusters. Who needs only one giant hit when you can have five big ones instead to fill the pipeline. This weekend with the strong showing by the Will Ferrell comedy, “The Other Guys” which opened with a very sweet $35 million estimate, Sony continues a streak that began in June with the reboot of “The Karate Kid” ($150 ml and counting), Adam Sandler’s “Grown Ups” (ditto) and the action thriller , “Salt” (nearing $100 mil after just three weeks). Next Friday brings, “Eat Pray Love” , the must-see-Oprah-endorsed chick flick of the moment which is sure to continue the good times in Culver City. For every other studio it’s been hit and miss. Sure Universal had “Despicable Me” but it also has “Charlie St. Cloud”. Disney has “Toy Story 3” but there’s also “Prince Of Persia” and “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” underperforming. Warner Bros has “Inception” but the writedown has begun on “Jonah Hex” (Jonah who???) Paramount has done well worldwide with “Shrek Forever After” and opened “Dinner For Schmucks” nicely last weekend but suffered an OUCH 55% decline this weekend despite adding 93 screens, the same kind of steep drops “Last Airbender” also experienced. On the other hand Sony would appear to have diffused the inevitability of bombs by taking no risks. “Karate Kid” was based on a series of hit films, “Grown Ups” had Sandler and his star comedian buddies to bank on, “Salt” returned Angelina Jolie to the action genre , “The Other Guys” teamed Ferrell with Adam McKay his collaborator on hits like “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights” and “Eat Pray Love” has a built in Best Seller and Julia Roberts back in the kind of female-friendly role that made her a star and is being released one year later on the same weekend as Sony opened another popular chick flick, Meryl Streep’s “Julie And Julia”.

A surefire smash formula for commercial success, right? Not really.

The last money-making “Karate Kid” movie was released over 20 years ago and the most recent one was a bomb unleashed in 1994 with Hillary Swank in the title role, hardly a guarantee anyone would still care now, even with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan taking over. Sandler’s most recent big studio effort was last summer’s dreary B.O. disappointment, “Funny People” released around the same time as Ferrell’s all-time stinker “Land Of The Lost” (both were Universal’s flops, not Sony’s). “Salt” certainly had Jolie in a genre audiences like to see her do but still she’s a woman in male territory and its director Phillip Noyce had been slumming in more serious art films recently (he hadn’t had a major hit since the mid-90’s). Roberts’ last starring role was the brainy but unloved B.O dud, “Duplicity” and in the meantime Sandra Bullock took away her box office crown.

In other words it all could have gone terribly wrong but a combination of the right creative teamings, strong marketing and smart distribution has paid off making Sony the only major this summer with nothing tricky to gloss over at the next shareholders meeting.

The weekend’s number three movie, “Step Up 3D” delivered the expected female fans with $15 million (lower than the first two installments opened at but okay anyway) and actually did something even more impressive, it used 3D so effectively that I actually can’t wait for “Step Up 4D”. Dance has not seemed as lively on screen since Fred hoofed with Ginger and Gene Kelly splashed around ‘Singin’ (and dancing) In The Rain’. Who knew?

Director George Gallo’s fascinating and funny tale of the beginnings of the internet porn business, “Middle Men” had a middling to weak opening on 250 screens with $300,000 and mixed reviews, but with the dour track record of many indie movies even getting released these days the filmmakers of this 99% true story should be happy Paramount Vantage came to the rescue and got it out of the gate at all. They picked it up after its closing night screening opposite the Super Bowl at the Santa Barbara Film Festival in February and quickly got it on the schedule. Check it out, but hurry.

Joel Schumacher’s Sundance pickup , “Twelve” , about disaffected drug-addled teens on New York’s Upper East Side died a horrible death earning an abysmal $100,000 + on 231 screens this weekend. Prediction: this thing’s gone by Thursday. On the flip side, Rob Reiner’s wonderfully affectionate companion piece to his 1986 Oscar nominated smash, “Stand By Me” called “Flipped” is actually a coming of age relationship tale about twelve year olds set in 1963 that did more than double the dollars of “Twelve” (title refers to a designer drug) in one sixth as many theatres. Hmmm. Perhaps if “Flipped” was called “Twelve” and “Twelve” was named “Flipped” things would have turned out differently? Maybe not. No matter what you call it Warner Bros. opted only to open Reiner’s picture in L.A. , Sacramento and San Antonio skipping New York for the time being. The plan is to expand at the end of the month. One of the producers told me it plays best in the middle of the country so why risk getting killed by those pesky N.Y critics. Take that, Manohla! As it turns out it currently stands at just 57% positive on Rotten Tomatoes but only 14 reviews have been counted to date. I’m one of those fresh tomatoes and this beautifully acted and crafted gem deserves many more before it hits Netflix.

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About Pete Hammond

Pete Hammond is a writer, producer, movie critic and film expert whose commentary on the entertainment industry has appeared in numerous publications and on air interviews including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine, OK Magazine, NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw, Evening News With Brian Williams on MSNBC, the CBC, BBC, Bravo, E!, AMC, Canada AM and the KTLA Morning Show.

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