HOW GREEN IS SHREK?

If, as it is said, it's not easy being green, the producers of the third animated movie about a green ogre suspect that it's especially not easy being greener than the third movie about a superhero that opened two weeks ago. DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg told reporters at the Cannes Film Festival Thursday that he doubts that Shrek the Third will exceed the record ticket sales of Spider-Man 3, which opened with $151 million at the domestic box office. "I hope we have a very, very good weekend, but I don't expect us to set any records," Katzenberg said. Most box-office analysts are predicting that the latest installment will earn about the same as the last one did in its debut -- that is, in the neighborhood of $100-110 million. Online ticket sellers Movietickets.com told Reuters that presales have been about the same as those for Shrek 2, while rival Fandango.com claims that the latest movie is outselling its predecessor by more than 2-1. Although the film is regarded as critic-proof -- the initial reviews were mostly atrocious -- it has other factors working against it, not the least of which is the fact that it is likely to attract a greater number of families buying discounted children's tickets than Spider-Man 3. Moreover it is opening on 4,122 theaters -- a huge number, except when one considers that Spider-Man 3, which had already set a record for the widest North American release, will be expanding to 4,324 theaters this weekend. Spidey is expected to continue to perform strongly and draw moviegoers away from Shrek. Finally, there is the worrisome issue of Shrek 2's DVD sales, which failed to fulfill expectations, resulted in a huge fall in the company's stock, and raised questions about the continued appeal of the Shrek franchise.

MOVIE REVIEWS: SHREK THE THIRD PT. 2

Following Thursday's flood of critical complaints, a second wave of Shrek the Third criticism swept into daily newspapers today (Friday), some of it meaner than the original. For example, here's Dallas Morning News's Chris Vognar's appraisal of the movie: "The franchise that began as a sendup of classic fairy tales and all things Disney has become an all-purpose pop meat grinder, mashing in as many references as possible to mask the meager tracings of a story." "Three times ain't no charm," remarks Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail. On the other hand, unlike Thursday's notices, which were almost universally green-eyed, quite a number of rather mixed reviews are appearing today. Several critics concede that while they found the movie a disappointment they laughed a lot anyway. Stephen Hunter in the Washington Post says that it represents a paradox: "It contains two theoretically self-canceling polarities. It's (a) quite funny and (b) quite bad. ... The end result is that you laugh a lot and you go home grumpy." Gene Seymour in Newsday likes at least part of the movie, writing, "For roughly its first half-hour ... Shrek the Third behaves the way a funny cartoon should; letting the gags do the work of getting laughs from the audience instead of leaning heavily on pop-culture references." A.O. Scott in the New York Times writes that compared with the earlier installments, this one "seems at once more energetic and more relaxed, less desperate to prove its cleverness and therefore to some extent smarter." Rob Salem in the Toronto Star concludes: "As it turns out, Shrek the Third is just fine." And Michael Sragow of the Baltimore Sun concludes his review with the words: "Shrek the Third rules."

MUSEUM REMAINS ATOP DVD RENTAL CHART FOR THIRD WEEK

20th Century Fox's Night at the Museum, which, with a total gross of $250.6 million, currently remains just ahead of Spider-Man 3 ($250.4 million) as the biggest moneymaker of the year (it opened on Dec. 20, 2006), has turned out to be a huge hit on home video as well. The studio's home entertainment division reported Thursday that it remained the top-renting DVD for the third consecutive week, while slipping to fourth place in sales. Meanwhile, Universal's romantic comedy Because I Said So took over the top spot on the Nielsen VideoScan First Alert sales chart, as it grossed $42.7 million -- almost as much as the $50.6 million it took in during its entire theatrical release.

MOORE DEFENDS TRIP TO CUBA

Michael Moore says he isn't "trumpeting Castro or his regime" in his film Sicko, about the American health system. He told Time magazine that he took a group of 9/11 responders to the island nation for treatment to show why the World Health Organization ranks their health-care system highly and why Cubans live on average a month longer than Americans. (The visit has triggered a probe by the Treasury Department, which has banned travel to Cuba.) "I just want to say to fellow Americans, 'C'mon, we're the United States! If they can do this, we can do it.'" Asked whether he expects the accuracy of the movie to be effectively challenged, Moore replied that he offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who could find a single fact in Fahrenheit 9/11 that was wrong -- and so far,he hasn't had to pay anything. He did not indicate whether he intends to make a similar offer concerning the contents of Sicko. Meanwhile, today's "Rush & Molloy" column in the New York Daily News reveals that Moore anonymously sent a $12,000 check to one of his major critics, Jim Kenefick, who operates the Moorewatch.com website, when he heard that Kenefick was having difficulty paying his wife's medical bills. Kenefick hardly sounded grateful when he learned that Moore was the source of the funds. "Moore is going to try to make me into one of his little puppets," he told the columnists. However, he added, "I'm not an idiot. I know when to say yes to something, even if the string attached is obvious. What kind of moron turns down a free 12 grand?"

Brian B.