HEARTBREAKS AT THE BOX OFFICE

The box-office turned out to be a heartbreaker on many levels over the weekend. First of all, the DreamWorks/Paramount release The Heartbreak Kid, which analysts had predicted would trounce the competition with ticket sales of $24-28 million, took in only $14 million. The fantasy film The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising, from 20th Century Fox and Walden Entertainment, which critics had compared (mostly unfavorably) with the Harry Potter movies, bombed in its debut with just $3.75 million, averaging just $1,186 per theater. Analysts had predicted it would earn $9-12 million. Theaters showing Sony TriStar's Feel the Noise felt mostly silence as the movie tanked with just $3.4 million. Overall, revenue for the top-12 movies added up to just $65.7 million, down 35 percent from the comparable weekend a year ago. There were a couple of bright spots obvious in the weekend tally. The Duane "The Rock" Johnson movie The Game Plan fell just 29 percent and remained the box-office leader with an estimated take of $16.3 million. The art houses continued to boom. Michael Clayton, starring George Clooney, opened with $704,000 in 15 theaters, averaging $47,000 per theater. (It is due to open wide next weekend.) Fox Searchlight expanded The Darjeeling Limited to 19 theaters, where it grossed a solid $552,000 -- or $29,100 per theater. Focus Films moved Ang Lee's NC-17-rated Lust, Caution into 17 theaters, where it grossed a strong $368,831 -- or $21,700 per theater. And Warner Bros.' put a digitally remastered "director's cut" of the classic Blade Runner into one theater in New York and another in Los Angeles, where it took in a surprising $95,000 -- or $47,500 per theater.

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

1. The Game Plan, $16.3 million; 2. The Heartbreak Kid, $14 million; 3. The Kingdom, $9.3 million; 4. Resident Evil: Extinction, $4.3 million; 5. The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising, $3.7 million; 6. Good Luck Chuck, $3.5 million; 7. Feel the Noise, $3.4 million; 8. 3:10 to Yuma, $3 million; 9. The Brave One, $2.3 million; 10. Mr. Woodcock, $2 million.

FRENCH RAT REIGNS IN GERMANY

Franco-German relations improved over the weekend as a German-language version of Disney/Pixar's Ratatouille opened at No. 1 in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The film earned $12.2 million in Germany alone. David Kornblum, who heads Disney's international sales and distribution, told Reuters that the animated film, whose plot takes place at a French restaurant, was "like a vacuum cleaner in Germany," sucking up most of the business there. The Bourne Ultimatum, which had led the overseas box office for six of the seven previous weeks, dropped to third place with about $5.7 million, edged out of second place by I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, which grossed $6.7 million.

MOVIE REVIEWS: MICHAEL CLAYTON

Not only did Michael Clayton, starring George Clooney,outperform at the box office over the weekend in its limited release, it also garnered the strongest reviews of the season in the cities where it opened. Roger Ebert gave it a four-star review in the Chicago Sun-Times, writing "It is just about perfect as an exercise in the [legal/business thriller] genre. I've seen it twice, and the second time, knowing everything that would happen, I found it just as fascinating because of how well it was all shown happening. It's not about the destination but the journey." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times wrote that writer-director Tony Gilroy hasn't really attempted to reinvent the legal thriller with Clayton. Rather, she said, "At its best and most ambitious, the film plays less like a variation on a Hollywood standard than a reappraisal. It's a modest reappraisal, adult, sincere, intelligent, absorbing; it entertains without shame." Noting that Clooney has appeared in films with the New York Post's highest ratings since 1999, the Post's Lou Lumenick noted that Clayton is no exception. The film, he said, offers "some of the best dialogue in a recent movie and a gallery of unforgettable performances." He added: "This is a movie that thrives not on cheap melodramatics but on ideas and a more deliberate pace than most contemporary mainstream movies." A handful of critics have registered their dissent. Jan Stuart in Newsday commented: "It's invigorating and impressive on a formal level, but ultimately wearying. Midway through, one wants to hand all the characters a Valium and tell them to take the rest of the day off."

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.