BETTING DOLLARS TO DOUGHNUTS

Several box-office analysts are predicting that The Simpsons Movie will take in plenty of d'oh over the weekend -- perhaps as much as $60 million. The film is expected to trounce last week's winner, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, and the previous week's winner, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Three other movies will be opening wide this weekend: Warner Bros.' No Reservations, aimed at women; Who's Your Caddy?, aimed at urban blacks; and I Know Who Killed Me, starring Lindsay Lohan, aimed at teens. (The latter two were not screened for critics.) Analysts were divided over how Lohan's recent DUI arrest might affect ticket sales of her movie. On the one hand, they noted, the movie was mentioned in virtually every news article about the arrest; on the other hand, it prevented her from fulfilling commitments to promote the movie. Today's (Friday) New York Post quoted Chad Hartigan of Exhibitor Relations as predicting that the arrest "will double weekend ticket sales from what they would have been to the still feeble range of $4 million to $7 million."

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE SIMPSONS MOVIE

Film critics are of two minds about The Simpsons Movie. Sure, it's funny, most of them agree, as funny as the best episodes of the TV Simpsons. But, they seem to ask, as if the voice of Peggy Lee were playing in their minds, "Is that all there is?" Roger Ebert puts it this way in the Chicago Sun-Times: "The most unexpected thing about The Simpsons Movie is that although it expands its view to include panoramic Alaskan vistas and a more panoptic view of Springfield than we've seen, it doesn't push the boundaries of the TV show in a narrative sense. Unlike South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut, The Simpsons Movie doesn't venture anything more transgressive than it usually does; it doesn't take the gloves off." Kyle Smith in the New York Post similarly suggests that the movie version "takes no chances," then asks, "Why is it worth $11? Because a supersized Simpsons episode is funnier than 90 percent of movie comedies." A.O. Scott concludes his review in the New York Times by remarking, "Ten or 15 years ago, The Simpsons Movie ... might have felt riskier and wilder. But The Simpsons, for all its mischief and iconoclasm, has become an institution, and that status has kept this film from taking too many chances. Why mess with the formula when you can extend the brand? Do I sound disappointed? I'm not, really. Or only a little. The Simpsons Movie, in the end, is as good as an average episode of The Simpsons. In other words, I'd be willing to watch it only -- excuse me while I crunch some numbers here -- 20 or 30 more times." Geoff Pevere in the Toronto Star actually applauds the movie's producers for sticking with the tried and true. He writes: "The Simpsons Movie couldn't give a doodle in a doughnut hole about expectations anyway. It may deliver what we've already got, but it leaves no doubt why we got it in the first place." And Liam Lacey in the Toronto Globe and Mail concedes that he feels ambivalent about the movie. "It's often clever and silly, but rarely inspired and there is nothing remotely necessary about it," he comments. Yet, on the other hand, he says, "This isn't supposed to be a typical contemporary family movie, in which the narrative serves as the centre of a cross-promotional campaign with TV, theme park, fast food and toy corporations. This is The Simpsons which, with its first big-screen effort, is underachieving and proud of it, man."

MOVIE REVIEWS: NO RESERVATIONS

No Reservations, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart,is the third movie of the summer set primarily in the kitchen of a restaurant -- the first two being Waitress and Ratatouille. But compared to those two, Joanne Kaufman writes in the Wall Street Journal, "No Reservations is strictly cordon blah." Likewise, Lou Lumenick in the New York Post calls it "terminally bland ... neither totally inedible nor especially appetizing." John Anderson in Newsday suggests that the film "should come with bicarbonate." Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune opines that the real star of the movie may be the "salacious" food, shot by cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh. He remarks, "After seeing No Reservations you'll be hungry for a really top-flight meal. And, to go with it, a better film." But several critics find the film quite tasty in its own right. Amy Biancolli of the Houston Chronicle is one of them. She writes: "It has the smooth, caramelized sheen of a confection that goes down easy -- but won't be too hard to forget."

MOVIE REVIEWS: MOLIÈRE

Opening in limited release, Molière, Kyle Smith suggests in the New York Post, is probably directed at literary snobs who profess to be familiar with the work of the French dramatist. "Very little of [the plot] is funny in 2007," he writes, "but you chuckle to show that you're sophisticated enough to understand that it was funny 300 years ago, or to indicate recognition of the name Tartuffe." Jan Stuart in Newsday puts it this way: "Molière is the sort of slightly naughty but literate frolic that congratulates the audience for its good taste; in other words, it's a bit of a snooze." Virtually every critic compares it to Shakespeare in Love, with Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune in particular noting that such comparisons are inevitable. "Molière," he writes, "is comparatively even-toned and less antic. It's also duller." "This handsome French production obviously bears similarities to Shakespeare in Love, but it is not as thoroughly successful," says Bob Strauss in the Los Angeles Daily News. A.O. Scott in the New York Times applauds several of the supporting actors for occasionally bringing the movie to life. "Like any French actor with stage experience," he observes,"they have no doubt been thoroughly schooled in Molière. They could play these parts in their sleep. Or, as may be the case with Molière, in yours." But Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News gives the actors far greater credit, writing that they "elevate what might have been fluff into a genuinely moving tale, and the action is so much fun that it doesn't even matter if you've seen Molière's plays before. Although if you haven't, you'll certainly want to now."

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.