Well, in the long, sad history of me being wrong about stuff on this blog, I couldn’t be wronger or sadder to report that the king of the box office castle this week is none other than Sly Stallone’s action movie starring a bunch of dudes on Viagra (both literal and metaphor), ‘The Expendables.’ Ick. I was certain that Ryan Murphy’s ‘Eat Pray Love,’ based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s best selling self help memoir-y thing – and the first female-centric summer movie since ‘Sex & the City 2’ came out in May – would win the prize. Nope, Stallone and the boys took home the top honors. As the saying goes: some people’s taste is relegated to their tongue.
‘The Expendables,’ a brain-numbingly dumb action extravaganza that I really, really hated, made $35 million over the weekend. Congratulations, America, you love terrible movies. If the movie maintains any kind of box office momentum, we can probably expect ‘Even More Expendable’ or whatever they’ll call the sequel. Maybe, in a nice twist on the first one, they’ll actually explain what’s going on. Either that or we can just pronounce that everyone has died from too much testosterone.
‘Eat Pray Love,’ the other big weekend opening and the one I mistakenly predicted would be the biggest box office draw, came in at #2. The movie made $23.7 million, which wouldn’t be too bad if it had only cost $30 or $40 million. But it didn’t. It cost $60 million. Supposedly, the film was put into turnaround when it was set up at Paramount, because the studio brass worried that the budget was too high and the appeal too limited. Sony scooped it up, made it for the budget that director Ryan Murphy wanted and, well, it looks like Paramount might have been right. Given the various back-end deals, the movie has to make $150 million to earn any kind of profit. That looks to be a distant possibility.
I saw the picture over the weekend, and I’ve got to say, as a food porn travelogue, it works well enough. The movie is all surface, though. If anyone tries to tell you that it’s deeper or more spiritual than, say, ‘The Expendables,’ they’re talking out of their ass. One of the chief problems is that it’s forced to take Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, which is structured as three separate pieces with three different locations, and tries to make those three distinctions the movie’s three “acts.” But there’s nothing in the way of narrative drive in the book, and there’s nothing like that going on in the movie. Julia Roberts’ year-long expedition to find herself seems like an arbitrary amount of time. Why not six months or a year-and-a-half? There’s no rising or falling action, there’s no real conflict, and the climax seems like the kind of forced, romantic comedy contrivance we see week in, week out. All of this, plus the fact that Roberts is trying to escape her bad relationships while each new experience is defined by her relationship with a man, leads to a very conflicted movie. And not an especially good one. It just lacks the tactile sensuality of this summer’s ‘I Am Love.’ Director Ryan Murphy, creator of ‘Glee,’ often feels like he’s treading water as he waits for the next time he can snappily edit a sequence set to some familiar pop song.
Landing at #3 was last week’s champ, ‘The Other Guys.’ This reminds me that I really need to see it again, if only for Michael Keaton’s jaw-dropping performance. ‘Inception‘ came in at fourth place. Its new domestic total is $248.5 milion – pretty good for a movie that industry insiders predicted that nobody would understand.
Rounding out the top 5 was Edgar Wright’s hellzapoppin’ ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,’ a movie I went gaga over for its bold stylization and emotional depth. Sadly, audiences didn’t find it nearly as charming as I did. Really, can you picture this playing well in a mall in northern Kentucky? Probably not. The movie was expensive – supposedly, it cost around $60 million. But it’s not “somebody’s going to lose their job over this thing” expensive. Also, I predict a long life for it on DVD and Blu-ray in the coming months and years. (It certainly shot up to the top of my “Most Anticipated Blu-Ray Releases for the Rest of the Year” list that I’m keeping in my head.)
The only other big news, and one that offsets some of the sting of ‘The Expendables’ big haul, is the fact that sometime over the weekend ‘Toy Story 3‘ became the second most successful animated movie of all time, and is gaining fast on current champ ‘Shrek 2.’ (That’s assuming that you don’t consider ‘Avatar‘ to be an animated movie, anyway.) Yes, you can bitch and moan about the extra charges that go along with 3-D tickets, but this is still terribly impressive. The animated masterpiece, released in June, has grossed $400 million domestically. That, folks, is a whole bunch of money. And you know what? It deserves it. Yes, it has the extra cache of being the third film in a lucratively popular series, but it’s also a movie that challenges audiences, makes them think and, of course, makes them feel. The final numbers haven’t come back in terms of how many grown men the movie made cry…
The Top 10:
01 ‘The Expendables’ (Lionsgate) – $35 million
02 ‘Eat Pray Love’ (Sony) – $23.7 million
03 ‘The Other Guys’ (Sony) – $18 million
04 ‘Inception’ (Warner Bros) – $11.3 million
05 ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ (Universal) – $10.5 million
06 ‘Despicable Me’ (Universal) – $6.7 million
07 ‘Step Up 3D’ (Disney) – $6.6 million
08 ‘Salt’ (Sony) – $6.3 million
09 ‘Dinner for Schmucks’ (Paramount) – $6.3 million
10 ‘Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore’ (Warner Bros) – $4 million