This Week In Movies – ‘The Switch,’ ‘Piranha 3D,’ ‘Vampires Suck’

By Pete Hammond The late August clearance sale began for studios this weekend when no less than five wide releases opened, some of rather dubious critical distinction, but not one of them could dislodge last week’s barn -burner winner, “The Expendables” for the top spot at the box office. It’s an unusual situation to be sure when a Sylvester Stallone action film that also features plum parts for the past-their-prime likes of Dolph Lundgren and Jet Li can grab the brass ring not just one, but two weeks in a row. Thanks to the smart distribution strategy of Lionsgate, following a pattern set by the similarly themed “Inglourious Basterds” last August, “Expendables” became a prime example of a movie filling the right “slot” in a release schedule rather than the other way around. Now it seems like studios stake a claim to a date that has worked for a certain type of film and then tailor their product to fit it. David Spitz, Executive VP of Distribution for Lionsgate says they saw an opening for “Expendables” and agressively planted their flag there seeing only the female oriented “Eat Pray Love” (which declined only 45% this weekend to 3rd place grossing an okay $43 million so far) as major competition. Spitz says he wasn’t worried about that film.

“We saw there was an opening where ‘Expendables’ could play very well and went after it. ‘Eat Pray Love’ was just alternative programming but when ‘Scott Pilgrim’ suddenly came on to our date we were a little concerned but we stuck to our guns (literally),” Spitz told me. Turns out he didn’t have to worry about the Michael Cera comedy, ‘Pilgrim’ at all which plummeted 53% from its already anemic $10 million opening last weekend to total just $20 million after 10 days. At a cost of $15 million this film could eek out a profit, but the problem is the ACTUAL production cost was more like a whopping $85 million. Ouch. On the contrary the more cost conscious “Expendables” expanded on its $35 million dollar opening last week to gross another $16 million this weekend for a sweet $65 million total so far. Sly is back pushing big explosions and nostalgia for 70’s and 80’s action stars to a certain $100 million- plus boxoffice in the weeks ahead.

Speaking of has-been action stars on the comeback trail, look for Steven Seagal to be back in action on September 3rd as one of the cast members of Robert Rodriguez’s “Machete” which Fox has high hopes for despite its ominous Labor Day weekend positioning . After a screening on the lot this week word is he steals every scene he’s in with that trademarked deadpan aplomb. Who could have predicted we’d still be talking about Stallone, Seagal et al in 2010, but here we are. Never say die, just keep killing people for a living and you’ll have a second act.

As for those five new films that are gracing theatres this week, “Vampires Suck” , the 20th Century Fox takeoff on “Twilight” and other sucky movies stunk up Rotten Tomatoes with only a 5% recommend, abysmal, but that didn’t stop twihards hard up for laughs from making it number 2 with over an estimated $12 million this weekend and over $18 milliion since its Wednesday opening. Did they think Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner were actually in this thing??? Look for a quick dive when the universe rights itself and word of mouth sends the message that ‘Vampires’ does indeed suck. A much funnier picture with a strong message behind the laughs, Warner Bros. urban entry “Lottery Ticket” didn’t exactly hit the jackpot with $11 million but did nicely enough to get a good per screen average of $5600.00 to place fourth. This “Mad Mad Mad Mad World” for a new generation provided a nice supporting role for Ice Cube and answers the burning question on everyone’s mind: yes, Bow Wow can really act.

Weinstein/ Dimension’s remake, “Piranha 3D” (it’s another sad sack 3D conversion job) somehow managed an 81% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes on its way to a middling $10 million opening. Those uninspired numbers haven’t stopped the awards-savvy Weinstein group from launching a tongue-in-cheek Oscar campaign for this horror trifle apparently taking note that there are now ten nominees. “Christopher Nolan and Leonardo DiCaprio should be quaking in their boots. The critics have spoken and ‘Piranha 3D’ is a surefire candidate for Best Picture,” said a Weinstein spokesperson in a press release that touted the film’s Oscar campaigning on the Funny Or Die video site and promised more this week from the film’s Oscar nominated star, Elisabeth Shue (“Leaving Las Vegas”) who clearly needs a new agent. If the Academy had 200 nominees for Best Picture, “Piranha” would still be a long shot but you gotta give Harvey and Bob gold stars for even enterting the thought into the pop culture consciousness.

Another newbie, the kiddie flick “Nanny McPhee Returns” with synchronized swimming pigs as its most notable attribute, came in fourth among the five freshmen in seventh place with just $8.3 million enough to just skate by the best of the five by far, Miramax’s “The Switch” which played in about one thousand fewer screens and came in 8th with $8.1 million and a higher per screen of about $4000.00. Hopefully word of mouth will help this charming and funny comedy starring Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman and a very funny Jeff Goldblum carve out a following long after the Vampires and Pirahnas have been devoured by Netflix. Disney/Miramax’s marketing campaign which seemed to make this thoroughly indie movie from “Little Miss Sunshine” producers Ron Yerxa and Albert Berger seem more “commercial” and formulaic (like the similarly themed but far inferior JLo April trifle, “Back Up Plan”) may have scared off smart filmgoers looking for the kind of sophisticated comedy “Switch” really is at heart. Or maybe that shot in all the ads showing Bateman smirking at a cup of ‘man juice’ just wasn’t a way to get the ladies lined up. Too bad because this is one terrific little film and it remains our pick this week in movies.

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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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