RAMBO MEETS THE SPARTANS, LOSES

The low-budget Meet the Spartans, a spoof of last year's 300 from 20th Century Fox, earned as much as it cost to produce at the domestic box office over the weekend, taking in an estimated $18.7 million and edging out Rambo, from Lionsgate and the Weinstein Co., which finished in second place with about $18.2 million, according to box-office trackers Media by Numbers. The two films knocked last week's winner, Cloverfield to fourth place. After grossing $44.3 million over the four-day Martin Luther King Day holiday, Cloverfield garnered just $12.7 million in its second weekend, a 72-percent drop. It was beaten by the film it trounced a week ago, 20th Century Fox's 27 Dresses. Debuting in fifth place was Sony's Untraceable, which took in a better-than-expected $11.2 million. Continuing to amaze was Fox Searchlight's Juno, which passed the $100-million mark an upped its gross from last week despite losing some 100 theaters.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Media by Numbers:

1. Meet the Spartans, $18.7 million; 2. Rambo, $18.2 million; 3. 27 Dresses, $13.6 million; 4. Cloverfield, $12.7 million; 5. Untraceable, $11.2 million; 6. Juno, $10.3 million; 7. The Bucket List, $10.2 million; 8. There Will be Blood, $4.9 million; 9. National Treasure:Book of Secrets, $4.7 million; 10. Mad Money, $4.6 million.

MOVIE REVIEWS: MEET THE SPARTANS

Meet the Spartans was not screened for critics, who had to shell out hard cash for it at theaters over the weekend (if they bothered to catch it at all). Jeannette Catsoulis of the New York Times saw it at a theater seated near a group of sixth graders. She noted their reactions:"As various Spartans slipped one another the tongue (Eewwww!), a nipple clamp was ripped off with the nipple still attached (Aaarghh!) and the Spartans skipped into battle singing 'I Will Survive' (Huh?), I realized the kids had said it all." Gene Seymour in Newsday made the same point as the kids, saying that the movie "panders for cheap laughs at the expense of just about every vulgar excess in present-day pop culture." Mark Feeney in the Boston Globe wrote that Spartans was a late-night comedy-show sketch "dressed up in feature-length clothing. It's way too much of an OK thing."

MOVIE REVIEWS: UNTRACEABLE

Untraceable, which had been expected to take in less than $10 million, turned out to be a pleasant surprise for Sony. So, too, possibly were the handful of solid reviews the film garnered from several critics on Friday. (Most despised it.) Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert (who wrote his review of the movie before entering the hospital last week for surgery to correct damage that had resulted from previous operations last year) described it as "a horrifying thriller, smart and tightly told, and merciless." Ann Horniday credited Diane Lane's performance for pulling it all off: "An otherwise slick, well-crafted police procedural, Untraceable dabbles in the kind of torture porn that has made movies like Saw and Hostel such hit franchises with the very teenagers Lane's career has so triumphantly defied." On the other hand, Joe Morgenstern wrote in the Wall Street Journal:"This joyless thriller runs the gamut from unconscionable through unwatchable to unendurable." Then there was Stephen Holden's curious review in the New York Times, which said, "You may view Untraceable, as I do, as a repugnant example of the voyeurism it pretends to condemn. Or you may stand back and see it as a cleverly conceived, slickly executed genre movie that ranks somewhere between Seven and the Saw movies in sadistic ingenuity."

DAY-LEWIS, CHRISTIE WIN TOP SAG AWARDS

Daniel Day-Lewis received the top award for male movie actors at the Screen Actors Guild awards ceremony Sunday night -- and dedicated it to the late Heath Ledger. "For as long as I can remember, the thing that gave me a sense of wonderment and renewal," Day-Lewis said in accepting the award, "has always been the work of other actors. Heath Ledger gave that to me." Julie Christie won the best actress award, while the best ensemble award went to the stars of the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men. On Saturday, No Country received the top award from the Directors Guild of America. The following day the DGA's board of directors voted unanimously to recommend that members ratify its negotiators' deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers.

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.