This Week In Movies by Pete Hammond: “Unknown”

By Pete Hammond The long President’s Day weekend brought pretty good news for studios but bad news for film fans who want to see something fresh and new and original. Only four million dollars separated the number five film, Martin Lawrence’s over-the-top Big Mommas Like Father, Like Son at an estimated $17 million for the three day Friday to Sunday period to the number one film, Unknown at about $21 million (and likely $26 million plus for the four day period). These are not to be confused with the number two film confusingly titled I Am Number Four which at a disappointing $19.5 million made only about $1 million more than Adam Sandler’s second week of Just Go With It which actually is Number Four. Whew. Stuck in the middle with all this drek is the second week of the charming Elton John animated comedy, Gnomeo & Juliet which Disney is reporting at an estimated $19.4 million , a hair shy of number two which is, of course, I Am Number Four but with Monday included it will definitely jump to Number Two with about $25 million plus. Both of the latter two films are distributed by Disney with ‘Number Four’ the first in their deal with Dreamworks. It was expected to open around $30 million for the four day weekend but will fall well short of that (around $22 mil or so) , and in fact could indeed turn out to be Number Four when all of Monday’s holiday receipts are factored in for the final official tally on Tuesday but probably will land at number three.

The number one film , Unknown is anything but what its title implies. How many times do we have to see this kind of mistaken identity drama unfold? Clearly Warner Bros execs were taken by the grosses from Taken, Neeson’s international smash from 2008 about a father who goes after his daughter’s kidnappers with a vengeance. This time it is Neeson’s identity that has been “taken” and he’s still going after those bad guys with a vengeance. The critics smiled on this a little more than they should have over at Rotten Tomatoes giving it an overall 56% positive ranking but a 62% FRESH from top critics who apparently couldn’t see all the obvious plot twists in this thing. Where, oh WHERE is Alfred Hitchcock when you need him?

Dreamworks’ I Am Number Four was supposed to be a big breakout hit with the younger crowd, particularly females who were said to be waiting to flock to see it’s newbie British star Alex Pettyfer. It is some sort of sci-fi dribble but I am intrigued because I kept hearing that this guy is “difficult” and thinks he’s Brad Pitt already. I swear if I tripped over the guy I wouldn’t know who he is so I looked up his credits over at IMDB. Other than a lot of male model jobs he hasn’t done a whole lot , but lo and behold he was the star of a movie I once saw called Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker. No wonder I don’t know who he is. That movie was a dog ( I think – I can’t remember it) and I clearly needed to erase it from my mind. Anyway Pettyfer ain’t quite the draw Dreamworks apparently thought he was. But he has another film coming on the heels of this one March 4, the trailers are up in theatres, called Beastly, a modern day take on Beauty and the Beast. That actually doesn’t look half bad. It co-stars Vanessa Hudgens of High School Musical fame and even better known as Zac Efron’s ex-girlfriend. Only problem is he is made up to look ugly as hell for most of the film. Perhaps this is his “Benjamin Button”.

Martin Lawrence’s third go round in a fat suit and drag as Big Momma wasn’t a big deal , but no embarrassment either earning about $17 million in three days. Every time the talented Lawrence needs a career boost he hauls out the dress and the prosthetics and goes all Momma on us. Some of this is undeniably funny though. It’s worth the price of admission for the art school scene in which Momma serves as the (nearly) nude model. I laughed, I am ashamed to admit.

The reason why all this stuff is sort of depressing is that on this same weekend last year we were treated to the openings of two films, Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island and Roman Polanski’s Ghost Writer that would both remain among 2010’s best BEST movies. We have nothing comparable this year and most of the coming attractions indicate more of the same kind of formulaic stuff the year has already served up and that we are seeing in the box office top five this weekend. One thing that is heartening about this week in movies is that Oscar contenders The King’s Speech and Black Swan both crossed $100 million at the domestic boxoffice – and counting. It proves if you DO offer moviegoers something not necessarily aimed at the lowest common denominator they will come , and tell their friends about it.

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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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