This Week In Movies by Pete Hammond – Transformers: Dark of the Moon

By Pete Hammond The toys are back in town and everything else this week clearly took a backseat to Michael Bay’s pyrotechnic display in Transformers: Dark Of The Moon , a movie that generated more fireworks in its last hour than any fourth of July celebration you are likely to find. The third installment in the action series clocked in at over two and a half hours with the last third totally devoted to the mother of all screen battles between the nice-guy Autobots and the evil Decepticons. Quite frankly I didn’t hold out much hope for this flick but Bay delivered exactly what you would hope these films can be , the perfect summer brain blast. On top of that he attempted to improve the fading 3D experience by insisting theatre owners show the film in a heightened format called High Light which on Paramount’s special prints delivers almost double the clarity and brightness of regular 3D. If anyone can save this 3D fad from extinction it’s Bay and the exceptional action scenes he has pulled off here. Audiences seemed to respond this holiday weekend giving the film and ‘A’ Cinemascore rating (showing they liked what they saw) and the highest July 4th weekend opening ever with a three day total of $94 million and a likely four day estimate of about $115 million (the 4th is never a big movie going day itself). Add in the numbers from its midweek opening along with the international break and you have a first week total soaring well over $400 million worldwide. Wow. The problem for Bay is going to be ‘how do you top this’ in the inevitable Transformers 4 .

Daring to open against the ‘Transformers’ juggernaut in an attempt to counterprogram to adult audiences, the Tom Hanks-Julie Roberts combo in Larry Crowne failed to produce many sparks at the boxoffice with only a sub-par $13 million for three days and an estimate of around $16 for the entire holiday period. Now that would be okay for some films but one directed and co-written (with MY Big Fat Greek Wedding’s Nia Vardalos) by superstar and super likeable Hanks and co-starring superstar Roberts should have been more of a draw. The film itself also didn’t seem to impress those who did show up at the multi-plex gathering only a not-very-promising B Cinemascore (and an even more ominous C+ if you just count those under 35). The film’s critical score at Rotten Tomatoes was in the mid-30’s fresh zone which wasn’t helping matters either since adult audiences (to which this was aimed) are the one group that actually uses reviews to make moviegoing decisions. What went wrong? I think expectations may have been way too high here. This is the nice, optimistic, very slight kind of character study that studios turned out all the time in the 50’s and 60’s , a star driven vehicle that normally could be expected to deliver. These days the STAR is actually the concept and audiences seem to want more bang for their buck. It’s too bad since Roberts, in particular has not been better in a while and Hanks playing a recently fired employee gains our sympathy throughout. Maybe movie goers feeling the economic pinch themselves just did not want to escape to a film about a guy going through the same thing. Earlier in the week co-writer Vardalos, who with “Big Fat Greek Wedding” scored the biggest romantic comedy hit of all time (it was produced by Hanks and his Playtone Film company) , told me Larry Crowne had been in the works for six years, long before the economy went bust. Originally she says Hanks came up with an idea about a guy who loses his job and goes back to community college to start over. The 50 year old goes to college angle was the hook. They added the more timely stuff once people started losing their jobs in droves. She said the film was going to be titled “Harry Brown” but then during the course of pre-production a Michael Caine movie by that name came out and Hanks came up with the rhyming “Larry Crowne” on the spot. The film’s lukewarm response is bad news for stars and movies aimed at grown ups, particularly during the summer months when every week seems to bring one comic book flick after another.

The only other wide opening for the July 4th holiday , “Monte Carlo”, a Selena Gomez teen romance set in Europe met 20th Century Fox’s modest expectations with about $9 million for the four days but drew an impressive ‘A’ cinemascore .

Interesting timing for this film’s release as the big royal wedding this weekend in Monte Carlo was making headlines of its own giving this little comedy some unexpected publicity opportunities. I doubt that was the initial plan unless Fox is full of savvy marketing geniuses and picked the date with Prince Albert’s nuptials in mind, but still is was a happy accident and the film could thrive in July if word of mouth takes hold.

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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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