This Week In Movies By Pete Hammond

By Pete Hammond That rarity of rarities, a new animated film that isn’t in 3D still managed to top the box office, but with an estimated $38 million Johnny Depp’s Rango probably could have done a whole lot better even though it is the top opening of 2011 so far.

Compared with the $119 million haul for Depp’s Alice In Wonderland on this same weekend last year, the boxoffice was down over 30% and the depth of Depp-appeal took a tumble. Still critics loved the movie (maybe that’s the kiss of death) giving the western spoof a whopping 88% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes but Friday night audiences didn’t agree , giving it only a C+ Cinemascore ranking, unusually low for a family oriented ‘toon and that doesn’t bode well for all-important word of mouth, particularly with direct competition from Disney and Mars Needs Moms coming on Rango’s second weekend.

Part of the problem for Rango,which Roger Ebert labeled “ a miracle of a movie” may be that it is too hip for the room, full of western and movie references its target family audience might not get. Director Gore Verbinski has essentially made a ‘toon that’s likely to have more hipster adult appeal than for your average kid. Still it’s sure to be a contender for next year’s animated Oscar and it has certainly put Paramount squarely in the animation business beyond their distribution deal with Dreamworks which will offer a Kung Fu Panda sequel in May and a Shrek spin off , Puss In Boots with Antonio Banderas later this year.

Meanwhile Depp fans will look ahead to a 4th Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, On Stranger Tides for release on May 20th, a sure-fire summer blockbuster.

Meanwhile Universal continues in the Matt Damon business with The Adjustment Bureau, a twisty romantic thriller in which he stars with Emily Blunt and which was bumped from its original Fall date to March. Critics liked this one too with an overall 69% RT Fresh rating while audiences ,mostly on the adult side, give it a solid B. With an estimated $20 million it exceeded studio expectations and looks to be a solid mid-range older-skewing hit. Damon and Universal have had a hit/miss relationship. The Jason Bourne trilogy scored big numbers , but last year’s March release, Green Zone fizzled in the shadow of the similar Hurt Locker’s triumph at the Oscars. I actually liked the former better and thought Damon was terrific but timing is everything. He’s very good in Bureau too but Emily Blunt steals the show on pure charm alone. Is there anything this superior young actress cannot do? Even though the movie gets a bit convoluted and a little incredulous (sci-fi master Philip K. Dick wrote the story it’s based on) , its romantic elements and theme of love conquers all wins the day.

Rango and Adjustment Bureau were one and two at the box office respectively. In the number three position but in 2000 fewer screens than the ‘toon and 900 fewer than Bureau, CBS Films’ Beastly, a modern-day takeoff on the old Beauty and the Beast formula hit the sweet spot for young girls with an estimated and not-all-that-bad $10 million. Alex Pettyfer and High School Musical’s Vanessa Hudgens star and though critics pretty much ran in horror , audiences gave it a B+ and a shot at profitability for the fledgling CBS film division which to date has had a string of duds. Hollywood seems eager to launch Pettyfer as a new star and this could help except he’s buried under tons of gross makeup for much of the flick. His other recent film, I Am Number Four is no huge bomb but will likely struggle to get to $60 million, a disappointing result for Dreamworks.

Finally there are probably some movies that just shouldn’t come off the shelf and Relativity’s Take Me Home Tonight may be one of them. Made four years ago at Universal under the title Kids In America, this twenty-something relationship/party film with Topher Grace was shelved and only recently rescued, re-cut and re-titled . None of it did any good as its C cinemascore rating, 30% fresh RT score and a box office finish out of the top 10 in 11th position with only $3.5 million means instant death. Take Me Home Tonight, and Take Me To Netflix in two weeks!

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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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