It looks like the Coen Brothers might have another success on their hands: Their latest film, Burn After Reading, not only landed at the top box office spot with a $19.4 million opening weekend, but it also helped the whole nation recover from last weekend's embarrassingly low take. Brad Pitt and George Clooney's presence in Burn After Reading might have helped the Coens to such a lofty opening weekend.
Welcome to today's episode of "When Keepin' It Fake Goes Bad!" News item: Using the patented New Yorker magazine "It's satire, folks!" excuse wasn't enough to keep Dreamworks from getting into hot water over its movie-within-a-movie website for Simple Jack. Simple Jack is a feature within Ben Stiller's upcoming war-and-blackface satire, Tropic Thunder, wherein Stiller's character, Tugg Speedman, attempts to win an Oscar by playing a mentally challenged man. The marketing folks at Dreamworks thought it would be a great idea to publicize the film-within-a-film by making a fake website for it. After all, it worked for their other film-within-a-film, Satan's Alley, as well as for Kirk Lazarus, the actor played by Robert Downey Jr. in Thunder. With Simple Jack, however, Dreamworks' marketing team got their pictures hung up on the jackass wall. Apparently nobody at the studio thought anyone would be offended by Simple Jack's tagline: "Once upon a time, there was a retard." They wuz WRONG! Folks got upset, and the website for Simple Jack got Simply Canned.
One of few criticisms people have about the war in Vietnam is that the war was unwinnable, a quagmire from which there was no escape. Well, Ben Stiller has proven that the war was indeed winnable... or, at least, that a movie about people making a movie about Vietnam can be a winner at the box office. For the third weekend in a row, Tropic Thunder has taken the #1 spot, pulling in another $14.3 million over the long holiday weekend for a total gross (so far) of $86.6 million. While the movie's controversy seemed to have helped it at first, the repeat business can only be from positive word-of-mouth -- or possibly the fact that the rest of the movies coming out this weekend and last looked so devastatingly boring.
If this were a movie, we could call it Ballistic: Zach vs. Odie. Last week, I successfully challenged Zach about Pineapple Express not unseating The Dark Knight at the top of the box office chart, but he refuses to pay off our bet based on some fuzzy math he borrowed from a Hollywood studio. [The movie opened on a Wednesday! Obviously, the film would require opening-night revenue to pull off the victory. - Z] Today, the movie I predict will unseat the Batman opens, and if I am right, I should get my dollar bet with interest. Our female contributors here at Movies Without Pity are probably shaking their heads at the typical exploits of male one-upmanship, but at least we're not doing mixed martial arts fighting in the lobby. Score one for us guys for restraint!
In a week of low-wattage premieres, the thrown-into-the-spotlight Tropic Thunder has topped the box office once again. Between Ben Stiller going "full retard," Robert Downey Jr. going "full blackface" and Tom Cruise going "full fat, Jewish guy," the buzz and controversy translated into another $16.1 million this weekend, racking up a total of $65.6 million since its debut on August 13th. Which left new films The House Bunny and Transporter Thr-- er, Death Race in second and third place with $15.1 million and $12.3 million, respectively (if not respectfully).
Pineapple Express underachieved on its opening weekend, causing the Watchmen-addicted Zach to incorrectly predict it would unseat The Dark Knight. I challenged him, stating that Tropic Thunder would be Batman's nemesis. He said I was crazy, and I was -- like a fox! Let's look at this logically: On one hand, you have a stoner movie. They're having a resurgence thanks to Judd Apatow and company. On the other hand, you have a movie that, in the name of satire, makes fun of Blacks, Asians, and the mentally challenged. It also has a Scientologist using more Jewish stereotypes in his performance than a Mel Brooks movie on crack. And let's not forget the gory war violence and farts! How could anybody predict that Middle America would resist this movie?! You don't need to be Miss Cleo to get this one. While I wrestle Zach for the one measly dollar I've won, which he refuses to pony up, here are this weekend's box office numbers.
Oscar-winning makeup man Rick Baker made Eddie Murphy look like a reasonably credible old Jewish man in Coming to America. Ben Stiller and company could have used his help on Tropic Thunder, the movie that reveals to the world that Robert Downey Jr. is not only a Black man, but one that couldn't have been created by the same God that gave me my permanent tan. In stills, Downey looks so unconvincing that he makes Al Jolson look like Wesley Snipes. I suppose Downey won't get the part if they remake Black Like Me. At least Downey's blackface is in service to Tropic Thunder's plot. During the studio system's heyday, White actors and actresses were constantly attempting to pass for something they were not. Remember Swede Warner Oland as Charlie Chan, Gale Sondergaard as evil Dragon Lady in Bette Davis's The Letter, and any number of white actresses playing tragic mulattoes? How about Elvis as an Indian or Mickey Rooney as an Asian? It seems like this trend is coming back in a way, though not with Tropic Thunder. 21 opens this week and the ads tell you it's "based on a true story and the novel Bringing Down the House. 21's casting, however, is as corrupt as the game show that bore its name back in the '50s. The protagonist of the novel is Asian, yet in the film, he has been recast as a white character played by Jim Sturgess. You may remember Sturgess from Across the Universe, the movie that made John Lennon spin in his grave like a propeller on crack. He played Jude, as in Hey, Jude, your movie's bad.
It's the filmmakers' right to change the race of their main character, but that should automatically cost them the "based on a true story yada yada yada." Denzel Washington and his filmmakers came under intense fire for The Hurricane and The Great Debaters for marketing those films as factually based though they had poetic license changes. Why aren't protesters bringing down the house over 21? Shouldn't we be holding Legally Blonde director Robert Luketic's feet to the fire for this, the way Washington's and Norman Jewison's were? If anything, Asians should be happy that Sturgess isn't playing the character as an Asian. After Breakfast at Tiffany's, anyone who attempts to do so should be shot anyway.
Samuel L. Jackson's creeptastic performance was enough to put Lakeview Terrace on top at the box office for its opening weekend. It took in $15.6 million on 2,464 screens, and it was the only one of four new movies in wide release that managed to beat Burn After Reading, which held tight in the second spot with another $11.295 million in its second week.