This Week In Movies – ‘The American,’ ‘Machete,’ ‘Going the Distance’

By Pete Hammond Does this week in movies symbolize the industry’s fond farewell to its megabuck summer blockbuster season or the first blast of the more prestigious and thoughtful Fall movies? Seems it was a little of both with George Clooney’s euro-centric , deliberately paced “thriller”, The American taking the top spot at the Box Office and repping the kind of movie Hollywood is more likely to turn out in the Fall, and Warner Bros. dumping New Line’s rather raunchy Drew Barrymore/Justin Long chick flick, Going The Distance into the Labor Day slot trying to eek out whatever juice is left for mindless fare in the dying season. In the middle of it all was Robert Rodriguez’s lively but violent ode to his previous work on the Grindhouse flop, Machete which with its concurrent presence at the Venice Film Festival is a classic in-betweener. On the surface it’s surefire, young male-skewing summer stuff but look below and you see a genre sendup with a cool cast (any film with both Robert DeNiro AND Lindsay Lohan can’t be all bad) and hip indie credentials wanting to have its box office cake and critical acclaim too.

Interestingly the hardest of all these movies to see pre-opening for critics was the Clooney flick. The American from director Anton Corbijn whose previous film Control was a critics darling. Focus in a somewhat unusual strategy only had one screening in LA at the Harmony Gold room in Hollywood for reviewers and that was basically just a day and a half before the Wednesday Sept 1 release. The late review date created some pre-buzz among certain bloggers that this might be a problematic picture but it’s subsequent 61% Rotten Tomatoes rating and decent reviews including Roger Ebert’s four star rave that said, “it is so rare to see a film this carefully crafted”, makes the distributor’s decision curious. Or does it? Focus is in the business of making money and my guess is they weren’t consciously trying to hide a movie they thought was bad (they weren’t and it isn’t), but one they wanted to sell as a pure action thriller. Knowing the reviews were all going to contain the phrase “slow paced European style” was not in the marketing plan. Of course when you bring the wrong crowd into the tent the word of mouth can be lethal and that’s predictably what happened here. Focus has to be thrilled with its strong $16.4 million start (nearly $20 million since Wednesday) but apparently it all came from fans expecting a kick-ass action flick with a major movie star. Instead they got cinematic molasses and an internal character study that registered a D minus, the lowest Cinemascore audience rating this year. Opening wide in 2800+ screens they essentially took an art house–style movie and gave it an Expendables launch. While it doesn’t bode well for the film’s box office future, Focus did get weekend bragging rights and Clooney got one of his best openings outside of the Oceans franchise so who’s complaining except the poor schlubby moviegoers actually lured in by the ads?

Machete managed a 71% positive Rotten Tomatoes fresh score and a $14 million opening driven by latino-friendly markets. This is pretty good for a movie that didn’t cost distributor 20th Century Fox much to pick up in the first place. The movie was inspired by the hilarious chop house trailer send up that played between director Robert Rodriguez’s and Quentin Tarantino’s “features” in the exploitation take-off Grindhouse, a 2007 flop that earned only $25 million total at the domestic boxoffice. Many thought that trailer was the best thing in the whole three hour film and now the irony is that Rodriguez’s fully-realized movie of it opened better than Grindhouse’s disappointing $11.5.

The less said the better about this week’s other new movie, Going The Distance, which with just a 48% positive RT rating and a weak estimated $8.6 million dollar opening in 5th place will be going the distance to Netflix in no time flat. Warners made a late–inning switch from August 27th to the Labor Day date but to no avail.

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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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