{@@@[email protected]@@}{@@@[email protected]@@}G.I. Joeinvades the multiplex this weekend, and box-office prognosticators are at odds over how successful it will be. Some insist that it will attract just about every tween boy and their fathers, but others suggest that ticket sales from such a narrow demographic are not likely to justify the movie's reported $175-million budget. Daily Varietycommented: "Box office observers suggest that G.I. Joecould open north of $50 million, but with the unpredictable nature of tracking in recent months, no one's making a firm wager." The Los Angeles Timesadded that the film is likely to take in an additional $40 million overseas. "A worldwide opening weekend of $90 million to $100 million, while solid, isn't huge for a movie the scale of G.I. Joe," the newspaper said. Nevertheless, Paramount could reap handsome profits from its deal with Hasbro, the toy manufacturer, which is likely to sell millions of action figures as a result of fan interest generated by the movie. Also opening this weekend is Sony's favorably reviewed Julie & Julia, about TV chef Julia Child, played by Meryl Streep, and a woman played by Amy Adams who keeps an online diary about preparing her recipes. The film is expected to earn about $20 million. A third film, the R-rated horror flick A Perfect Getaway,appears to be tracking off the radar and is expected to earn just $5-8 million, although it is receiving many positive reviews.


Paramount, insisting that it is putting into place an unconventional marketing campaign for G.I. Joe, has not screened it in advance for most U.S. critics, with the exception of a few that it felt it could depend on for positive reviews. And indeed it may be the first time ever that a studio has not screened a major tentpole summer release for critics. That hasn't daunted Joe Morgenstern, the critic for the Wall Street Journal, who, unlike other major critics, ordinarily doesn't bother with movies that studios don't want him to see -- ordinarily, low-budget horror flicks that his colleagues take in over the weekend and usually review on Monday. "At first I felt shut out," he writes, "but then I realized ... Paramount has spared me the pain of sitting through another military-toy epic ... and has set me free to reach my own conclusions -- not quite groundless but close -- on the basis of the G.I Joetrailer." He then goes on to review some of the scenes in the trailer, finally remarking that by doing so, he is not likely to be exposed to the condemnation he received from toy collectors who wrote to him following his scathing review of Transformers 2.They were right, he suggests. "I am no more qualified to judge the details of these toy-based monstrosities than a toy critic -- there are toy critics, aren't there? -- would be qualified to review Casablanca."


Peter Howell of the Toronto Star may be the single major North American critic who managed to get an advanced look at G.I. Joe (although he doesn't reveal how he did so). His review is as scathing as Paramount publicists had suspected reviews from critics would be. Indeed, he writes, "No wonder Paramount Pictures refused to show the film to serious critics, limiting advance screenings to drooling fanboys who would agreeably drive up the Rotten Tomatoes score in exchange for access and a bucket of popcorn." He writes that the one toy missing from the movie is one "that could magically restore the two hours lost by anyone "unlucky or foolish enough to waste money on this wretched excuse for entertainment." As for the studio execs who allegedly splurged $175 million on the movie, Howell writes: "If G.I. Joe crashes and burns the way it deserves to, there could be a few studio execs looking for their own army of Joes to protect them from angry shareholders."


Meryl Streep and Amy Adams are receiving mostly rave notices from critics for their performances in Julie & Julia, even though the script, by Nora Ephron, who also directed, is not to everyone's taste. It switches between the lives of the real-life Julie Powell, determined to prepare every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cookingin 365 days, and Childs herself. "The performances go a long way toward selling the characters," writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times."Streep plays Julia Child to perfection," says Claudia Puig in USA Today. "Adams is a consistently engaging actress." Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Timeshas additional praise for Adams. "Though a bit overshadowed by Streep (who isn't?), the gifted Adams is essential in making this two-part story work," he remarks. Of Streep's performance, A.O. Scott remarks in the New York Times: "By now this actress has exhausted every superlative that exists and to suggest that she has outdone herself is only to say that she's done it again." But he says that while Adams "is a lovely and subtle performer ... she is overmatched by her co-star and handicapped by the material." And Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journalsuggests that what is wrong with the material is telegraphed by the ampersand in the title. It becomes, he says, "a sort of linguistic duct tape holding together two stories that never really function as one." In particular, critics find the "Julie" story wanting. It "seems slightly trivial," Rafer Guzmán comments in Newsday. "Just about everything in the Julie Powell section feels forced and grating," adds Christopher Kelly in the Dallas Morning News.


Talk about an antidote to the likes of G.I. Joe: A Perfect Getawaymay be it. Manohla Dargis, a demanding critic for the New York Times,who does not bestow positive reviews on movies lightly, begins her review of Getawaythis way: "Do you suffer from blockbuster bloat? Do wisecracking guinea pigs give you the willies? Are you sick of ugly truths and icky, shticky juvenilia? Are you in the mood for mean, lean entertainment, some gratuitous R-rated nudity, totally unnecessary bloodletting and a slam-bang twist of the narrative knife? A B-movie-style throwback that's consistently diverting and blissfully free of morals and messages, A Perfect Getaway is just the thing for the summertime movie blahs: it's a genuinely satisfying cheap thrill." Cary Darling in the Dallas Morning Newscomes away with the same impression of the movie, writing: "Back in the days of movie double-bills and snack-bar food that didn't cost as much as a small car, A Perfect Getaway would have been the perfect diversion. This enjoyable and suspenseful, if ultimately disposable, thriller ... doesn't do much new and the twist is as obvious as a tornado in the Texas Panhandle. But that doesn't make it any less of an escapist joyride on a hot summer day." Jason Anderson in the Toronto Staradds: "Smart, suspenseful yet aware of its own silliness, A Perfect Getaway outwits and outpaces most of this summer's more bloated offerings." And Stephen Cole in the Toronto Globe and Mailsums it all up tersely, calling Getawaya "B-movie that knows where it's going and how to get there."


Writer-director John Hughes, whose films included Home Alone, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off,and The Breakfast Club,died Thursday of a heart attack while taking a morning walk in Manhattan. He was 59. In an interview on the Fox business Network, Ben Stein, the commentator and actor who appeared as an economics teacher in Ferris Bueller, observed that Hughes "made a better connection with young people than anyone in Hollywood had ever made before or since."