This Week In Movies By Pete Hammond

by Pete Hammond Although box office was down again 30% this weekend when compared to last year,it’s clear there is one surefire commodity that works any time of year and that is the time-honored family film.

With Hop overperforming by about $15 million according to most industry pre-release estimates the success of the kiddie flick continues this year . Hop’s estimated three day figure of $38.1 million gives it the year’s best opening, just edging out another family film, Rango which collected $38 mil in its first weekend and now has crossed the $100 million mark. Hop took over the top spot from last week’s surprise Number One, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules which did $24 mil but slipped 54% this week due to increased kid flick competition. Hop , which tells the story of the Hare-apparent to the Easter Bunny , a lovable talking rabbit (voiced by Russell Brand) who hightails it to Hollywood in order to pursue his dreams of being a drummer. There he hooks up with a twentysomething slacker named Fred (James Marsden) who dreamed of becoming the Easter Bunny himself when he was a kid. With hip humor and a bright attitude this live action/animation hybrid may not challenge another famous movie rabbit, Roger, for supremacy in this genre but it works beautifully despite what those grouchy critics at Rotten Tomatoes say. With only a 24% overall fresh rating, critics pounced (not this one, though) but audiences had other ideas and gave it a very promising A- Cinemascore rating which bodes well for coming weeks, especially with spring breaks and Easter coming up. Still it’s going to have to get out of the way of yet another potential family juggernaut, 20th Century Fox’s sensational new ‘toon, Rio which hits theatres in a couple of weeks. Nevertheless Chris Meladandri and his Illumination Entertainment is clearly king of the world right now , at least at hit-starved Universal. Following their one 2010 smash hit Despicable Me , also from Meladandri’s factory, Hop is clearly putting a spring in the studio’s step. Even the aforementioned Rio is being advertised as “from the makers of Ice Age”, yet another Meladandri product. This guy has put Universal into the family / animation game in a big way with lots more in the pipeline. For Russell Brand, doing the voice of the bunny named E. B. it’s also a nice more subtle addition to his resume, certainly better than next week’s Arthur retread (but more on that in the next column). He brings a real charm to the character and is perfect counterpoint to the goofiness of Marsden. Interesting that the film’s director is Tim Hill who was behind the first Alvin and the Chipmunks flick. Clearly the live action/animated combo is something audiences are digging, especially when it works as well as this one does.

Critics choice for the week is Source Code, the sci-fi thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal that is really its own hybrid of movies like Unknown, Unstoppable and a little Twilight Zone mixed bizarrely with Groundhog Day. With a whopping 89% fresh rating at RT , critics dug the story of a guy who keeps repeatedly being thrust into a body of a person with just eight minutes to live in order to stop a terrorist bombing on a Chicago commuter train. It all is as confusing as it sounds and I’m not quite sure it deserves all the overwhelming critical hype it has been getting but it’s a reasonably engrossing, if sometimes confusing entertainment. Of course it is pure hokum but if you check your brain at the door it’s really nicely concocted hokum. There does appear to be a disconnect between audiences and critics on this though as the film only received a so-so B- Cinemascore grade which doesn’t really bode well for generating the kind of word of mouth adult-skewing movies like Limitless and The Lincoln Lawyer have been enjoying. In their third weekends both those leggy dramas have been holding remarkably well with Limitless now at $55 mil and Lawyer just hitting $40. This indicates strong positive talk among older audiences who take their time hitting the Cineplex. On the other end of that scale is Zack Snyder’s disaster, Sucker Punch which dropped a huge 68% from its already weak opening last weekend. Word of mouth is working against that bomb mercifully proving audiences can smell a stinker a mile away.

Finally, representing the first release from GK films, new company Film District, the smartly marketed , incredibly cheap-to-produce horror flick, Insidious is with its $13.5 million opening already on the way to profitability. It comes from the producers of Paranormal Activity and its sequel and they know how to squeeze a buck for maximum value. The miniscule budget for Insidious was a mere $1.5 million.The original Paranormal is legendary , costing only $15, 000 to initially produce and grossing over $100 million. Every studio is trying to emulate these quality cheapo movies that get such a high return for their investment. It proves you don’t need all the empty effects of a Sucker Punch to have a hit. You just need a good story and smart filmmakers. That’s a great lesson for 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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