Summer 2000: The Top 10 Hits and More

As I do every summer on the blog, I am looking back at the cinematic seasons of 30, 20, and 10 years ago and recounting the top ten hits, other notable pics, and some misfires. A week ago, I covered the summer of 1990 (when we all were “ghosted”). If you missed it, you can peruse it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/07/18/summer-1990-the-top-10-hits-and-more/

Today brings us to the dawn of the new century. What struck me is that there weren’t a whole lot of outright flops, but the ones that were are rather significant bombs. Let’s take a trip down memory lane of 2000 and were we not entertained?!?!

10. The Patriot

Domestic Gross: $113 million

Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger teamed up with disaster flick specialist Roland Emmerich for this Revolutionary War era drama that managed to just achieve blockbuster status and barely top its reported $110 million budget stateside.

9. Big Momma’s House

Domestic Gross: $117 million

Negative reviews couldn’t prevent this Martin Lawrence comedy from nearly quadrupling its $30 million budget and spawning two eventual sequels. 30% also happens to be its Rotten Tomatoes score.

8. Nutty Professor II: The Klumps

Domestic Gross: $123 million

Eddie Murphy’s sequel to his 1996 hit certainly didn’t get the reviews of its predecessor, but it fell only $5 million short of the domestic gross of part 1 and introduced superstar Janet Jackson as his new love interest. Part 2 also greatly expanded Eddie’s work as other members of the Klump brood. As you can see from numbers 8 and 9, it was a big summer for comedians in fat suits.

7. Dinosaur

Domestic Gross: $137 million

The prehistoric Disney animated adventure is not one of their most talked about titles in recent decades, but it was still a profitable venture that grossed nearly $350 million worldwide.

6. What Lies Beneath

Domestic Gross: $155 million

Despite mixed reviews, Robert Zemeckis’s Hitchcockian thriller starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer landed big with audiences. Its filming schedule is a memorable one. Zemeckis was shooting Cast Away with Tom Hanks and there was a long break in filming so its star could shed weight and grow his long beard. It was enough time for the director to fit in Beneath. 

5. Scary Movie

Domestic Gross: $157 million

The summer’s biggest comedy was a Scream spoof from filmmaker Keenan Ivory Wayans. Shot for less than $20 million, it spawned four sequels and became its own franchise.

4. X-Men

Domestic Gross: $157 million

I recently wrote about the 20th anniversary of X-Men here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/07/14/x-men-at-20-a-look-back/

That post talks about its significant impact on the comic book genre that has dominated the 21st century.

3. The Perfect Storm

Domestic Gross: $182 million

Wolfgang Peterson’s fact based disaster drama with George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg was not much of a hit with critics, but crowds were swept up in the waves.

2. Gladiator

Domestic Gross: $187 million

Ridley Scott’s historical action drama kicked off summer 2000 and made a global superstar out of Russell Crowe and provided a juicy supporting part for Joaquin Phoenix. The film became an Oscar darling – winning Best Picture and Crowe taking Best Actor. This is the rare summer popcorn pic that achieved awards glory.

1. Mission: Impossible 2

Domestic Gross: $215 million

This sequel cruised to the top spot of earners for the season. Now that there’s been six editions in the franchise, this John Woo directed experience is generally (and rightfully) considered the weakest of the bunch. Yet that didn’t prevent huge grosses.

And now for some other notable features:

Chicken Run

Domestic Gross: $106 million

This still stands as the highest grossing stop-motion animated feature of all time and it doubled its budget domestically. A sequel is in development, but it was recently announced that lead voice Mel Gibson will not be part of the proceedings.

Gone in 60 Seconds

Domestic Gross: $101 million

Despite poor reviews, Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie’s remake of the 1970s heist pic still zoomed (barely) past $100 million and was a solid performer overseas.

Me, Myself & Irene

Domestic Gross: $90 million

The Farrelly Brothers reunited with their Dumb and Dumber star Jim Carrey for this comedy that earned mixed reaction. This was nowhere near the hit that the brothers had two years earlier with their runaway success There’s Something About Mary, but it still made money.

Space Cowboys

Domestic Gross: $90 million

Clint Eastwood guided this “old guys in space” tale alongside Tommy Lee Jones to a very respectable gross and decent critical reaction.

Hollow Man

Domestic Gross: $73 million

Paul Verhoeven’s take on the H.G. Wells novel starred Kevin Bacon and earned a Visual Effects Oscar nomination (losing to Gladiator). While it didn’t make its budget back stateside, it ended up doubling its price tag when factoring in foreign markets. A direct to video sequel followed.

Shaft

Domestic Gross: $70 million

Samuel L. Jackson took over the iconic private dick role from Richard Roundtree (who costarred here) in this sequel from the late John Singleton. Christian Bale memorably plays a villain here. Another sequel followed in 2019 and it was an outright flop.

Bring It On

Domestic Gross: $68 million

Made for only $11 million, this teen cheerleading comedy was an unexpected hit that gave Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union a boost in their careers. Five direct to video sequels followed as well as a stage musical.

The Cell

Domestic Gross: $61 million

Despite so-so reviews, this twisty supernatural thriller with Jennifer Lopez easily topped its $33 million budget. It has continued to have ardent admirers including the late Roger Ebert, who awarded it four stars.

Coyote Ugly

Domestic Gross: $60 million

This tale about saloon life with Piper Perabo and John Goodman managed to take in over $100 million worldwide against a $45 million budget and has become a cult favorite since.

The Original Kings of Comedy

Domestic Gross: $38 million

A stand-up comedy pic grossing this much in theaters is notable. Spike Lee directed Bernie Mac, Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, and Cedric the Entertainer and audiences turned out.

As I mentioned, the total bombs aren’t plentiful here. However, they’re notable:

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

Domestic Gross: $26 million

A pet project of Robert De Niro, this loose take on the 1960s animated series grossed a third of its budget domestically and was quickly forgotten.

Titan A.E.

Domestic Gross: $22 million

20th Century Fox had a big failure here at the start of the 21st century with this animated sci-fi tale with Matt Damon as a leading voice. The price tag was reportedly around $90 million and it made just $36 million worldwide.

Battlefield Earth

Domestic Gross: $21 million

Based on a work from Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, audiences and critics savaged this sci-fi tale with John Travolta. It won a then record 7 Golden Raspberry Awards and was mocked relentlessly for its poor quality.

And that does it, folks! I’ll have 2010 recounted on the blog in the coming days…

Oscar Watch: Radioactive

In 2014, Rosamund Pike received her first and only Oscar nomination for David Fincher’s  Gone Girl. The British actress has since appeared in a string of Indies that have garnered some critical kudos with scant awards attention. These titles include 2016’s A United Kingdom and 2018’s A Private War.

In the biographical drama Radioactive from director Marjane Satrapi, Pike portrays Nobel prize winning physicist Marie Curie. The film originally played at last year’s Toronto Film Festival and is now available for streaming today on Amazon Prime. It’s received generally positive reviews and stands at 69% on Rotten Tomatoes. Even the write-ups gearing more toward the negative praise Pike’s performance.

Gone Girl was a blockbuster and that helped the actress nab her Academy nod. The other projects just never broke through enough with mainstream audiences to get on the awards radar screen. That may well certainly apply to Radioactive as well. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Paramount Changes

And the release dates keep shifting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier today, Disney announced sweeping changes to their future slate of projects (affecting Mulan and the Star Wars and Avatar franchises) and I covered it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/07/23/mickey-mouse-blinks/

That follows word from Warner Bros. on their shifting of Tenet, which I covered here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/07/20/tenet-falls-back/

Now it’s Paramount’s turn. There were a number of changes announced this evening, but I’ll cover the two most significant. Tom Cruise’s return to one of his signature roles was originally slated for July 12th of this year. If you think about it, it would almost surely be the #1 or #2 movie in America right now in an alternate universe. The long gestating sequel was then pushed back to December 23rd. And now its release has been delayed nearly a full year with an expected date of July 2, 2021.

A Quiet Place II was right around the corner when COVID hit with a March 18th premiere. The virus changed that plan to a Labor Day rollout. This sequel is now scheduled for April 23, 2021 – postponing its release by over a year from its intended landing.

It’s fair to say that this week has seen the most heavy hitters fall back. And as we’ve learned in 2020, expect plenty more changes and adjustments ahead.

Mickey Mouse Blinks

Today marked even more release shifting in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and it’s a lot of news of Disney. The Mouse Factory, to no one’s surprise, has moved their live-action remake of Mulan from August 21st to that date we’re all growing accustomed to… (say it together now) TBD.

That’s not all. Two of the studio’s biggest franchises saw their anticipated sequels, spin-offs, and reboots pushed back one year. The as yet untitled next episodes of Star Wars will not begin until December 2023 (with follow-up pics now slated for 2025 and 2027).

James Cameron’s four (yes, four) sequels to Avatar are delayed yet again. Part two is now pegged for December 2022 with parts 3, 4, and 5 now planned for December 2024, 2026, and 2028.

And… that’s not all. Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile (his follow-up to Murder on the Orient Express) has been pushed back two weeks from October 9th to October 23rd of this year (we’ll see it that holds). Mr. Branagh has already seen a COVID change a few weeks back when his critically reviled Artemis Fowl scrapped its theatrical bow in favor of a Disney+ debut.

Some other developments: Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel changed from Christmas 2020 to October 2021. Wes Anderson’s eagerly awaited (and potential Oscar contender) The French Dispatch saw its October 2020 premiere altered to… (say it again) TBD.

This follows the announcement from Warner Bros. earlier this week that Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (long seen as the first real COVID test for theaters) is now a TBD property after its hoped for August rollout. After the Tenet news, the ball was passed to Mulan. Not anymore.

Now the paradigm shifts again… to Disney. One could say that the MCU’s Black Widow is now the first massive blockbuster scheduled to debut on November 6th. Let’s see if it stays that way in our new cinematic universe.

Tenet Falls Back

As I’ve stated in any COVID-19 related post on this blog, the release of movies in theaters is far from the most pressing concern as it relates to the pandemic. However, this site covers the world of film and a significant development occurred today when it comes to that future.

Christopher Nolan’s Tenet has long been seen as the first real test of financial viability for theaters. For several months now, it has been the tentpole release pegged to be out of the gate before all others. With its $200 million budget and with one of the few directors behind it that guarantees an audience, a direct to streaming output has never been an option. Many other smaller budget features have already gone that route and it’s been covered here. Tenet was originally scheduled for a global bow last Friday (July 17) before shifting to July 31 and then August 12. Hours ago, Warner Bros. made an announcement that many have been anticipating. The thriller starring John David Washington and Robert Pattinson has now moved to a familiar release date… TBD.

The studio’s press release still indicates a desire for a 2020 rollout. The announcement goes on to say that Tenet may not receive a traditional release. Reading between the lines – this means it could be out in foreign markets before it hits screens stateside. This is in no doubt related to the recent surge of COVID cases in North America vs. other parts of the world.

Why is this announcement on one movie so big? Because a domino effect is sure to follow and it has already started. Rom com The Broken Hearts Gallery from Sony Pictures shifted its August 7th date to TBD shortly after. The Russell Crowe pic Unhinged is still slated to open next weekend (July 31). We will see if that holds (it could be a prime candidate for streaming).

Disney’s Mulan is currently scheduled for August 21. I would not be surprised if this changes and quickly. You may recall that it was originally supposed to come out in March when the pandemic began shutting down sectors of the economy.

Warner Bros. also revealed that The Conjuring 3 (part of their flagship horror franchise) is now moved to summer of 2021. One must wonder what other studios will do with some of their high profile product scheduled for September and October (August is pretty much wiped out at this juncture save for Mulan at the moment). That list includes A Quiet Place II (already delayed from spring) and Wonder Woman 1984 (already delayed from summer).

Bottom line: the fall back of Tenet greatly increases the probability of November being the real start of major product in the multiplexes. That’s when already delayed projects like Black Widow, No Time to Die, and Soul are scheduled. And that is, of course, tentative as well in this new cinematic reality.

Summer 1990: The Top 10 Hits and More

In what has become tradition on this here blog, I use the summertime months to reflect on the cinematic seasons that came 30, 20, and 10 years prior. So while we wait for features to hit theaters in the summer of 2020 (something that is looking less and less certain), let’s take a gander at the hits, misses, and other significant product from the past.

The format is as follows: a rundown of the top ten hits as well as other noteworthy titles and some of the flops. We begin with 1990… a summer where we all got ghosted.

10. Flatliners

Domestic Gross: $61 million

Fresh off her star making role that spring in Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts teamed with then boyfriend Kiefer Sutherland in this psychological thriller from the late director Joel Schumacher. A far less successful 2017 remake would follow.

9. Bird on a Wire

Domestic Gross: $70 million

Despite mostly poor reviews, the drawing power of Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn compelled this action comedy to a #1 debut and solid returns. Mr. Gibson wouldn’t fare as well later that summer when Air America with Robert Downey Jr. grossed less than half of Bird‘s earnings.

8. Another 48 Hrs.

Domestic Gross: $80 million

The re-teaming of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte from their 1982 hit might have earned more than the predecessor, but $80 million was considered a bit of a letdown compared to expectations. The quality left a bit to be desired as well.

7. Days of Thunder

Domestic Gross: $82 million

Another high profile reunification is this racing pic with Tom Cruise and his Top Gun maker Tony Scott back together. While it wasn’t as successful as that blockbuster, it did just fine and it cast a mostly unknown actress named Nicole Kidman alongside her future (and eventually former) husband.

6. Presumed Innocent

Domestic Gross: $86 million

Harrison Ford has had plenty of summer hits, but this adaptation of Scott Turow’s novel was a considerably more adult project that earned mostly rave reviews. The courtroom drama was a sizable earner considering its meager $20 million budget.

5. Back to the Future Part III

Domestic Gross: $87 million

The Western themed threequel arrived just six months after Part II. While it received better critical reaction, its gross of $87 million couldn’t match the $118 million of what preceded it.

4. Dick Tracy

Domestic Gross: $103 million

Warren Beatty’s long in development version of the 1930s comic strip was a visual sight to behold. However, critical reaction was mixed. It managed to just outdo its reported $100 million budget stateside. Tracy provided a showcase for Beatty’s then flame Madonna and earned Al Pacino a Best Supporting Actor nod.

3. Die Hard 2

Domestic Gross: $117 million

The goodwill brought forth by the 1988 original allowed this decent sequel to outgross its predecessor and permit Bruce Willis to return in his signature role three more times. This would be the last Die Hard pic with the Christmas Eve theme as it scorched the summer charts.

2. Total Recall

Domestic Gross: $119 million

One year before he would rule the summer of 1991, Arnold Schwarzenegger had a massive hit with this sci-fi rendering of the Philip K. Dick short story. Recall also provided the first juicy role for Sharon Stone, who would become a sensation two years later in Basic Instinct. 

1. Ghost

Domestic Gross: $217 million

At the start of the new decade, no one would have pegged Ghost to rule the summer frame. Made for $22 million, the supernatural romance ended up making over half a billion worldwide. A pottery themed love scene between stars Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore would become iconic, Whoopi Goldberg would win Best Supporting Actress for her psychic role, and it was nominated for Best Picture.

And now for some noteworthy titles from the season:

Problem Child

Domestic Gross: $53 million

Just outside the top 10 at 11, John Ritter headlined this tale of a rambunctious kid who just needs a family. Budgeted at a measly $10 million, it was a surprise performer that spawned two sequels.

Arachnophobia

Domestic Gross: $53 million

Doubling its budget, this black comedy about deadly black spiders received mostly praise from critics and had a nice showcase role for John Goodman as an exterminator.

Darkman

Domestic Gross: $33 million

Sam Raimi would eventually direct Spider-Man over a decade later and break box office records. Yet this original story (made for only $16 million) was a cult hit that introduced a lot of filmgoers to Liam Neeson. Two direct to video sequels would follow (minus Raimi behind the camera and Neeson in front of it).

Mo’ Better Blues

Domestic Gross: $16 million

This jazz infused dramedy was Spike Lee’s follow-up to his groundbreaking Do the Right Thing one year prior. Blues received solid reviews, but is best remembered as the director’s first collaboration with Denzel Washington.

And now for some pictures that didn’t match expectations either financially or critically or both (including a host of underwhelming sequels):

Robocop 2

Domestic Gross: $45 million

Irvin Kerschner made one of the greatest part two’s ever with The Empire Strikes Back. He wasn’t so lucky here. It made slightly less than its 1987 predecessor and reviews weren’t nearly as positive.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Domestic Gross: $41 million

It’s become a cult favorite since its release, but The New Batch grossed over $100 million less than the 1984 smash success.

The Exorcist III

Domestic Gross: $26 million

Following 17 years after the phenomenon that was the original, part 3 simply didn’t land with audiences or critics. This is another example of a sequel that would pick up more fans in subsequent years.

Ghost Dad

Domestic Gross: $24 million

Sidney Poitier directed this supernatural comedy starring Bill Cosby. At the time, he had a smash TV comedy named after him. Yet audiences didn’t follow him to the multiplex for this critically drubbed effort.

The Freshman

Domestic Gross: $21 million

Marlon Brando seemed to have a fun time parodying his iconic Godfather role here alongside Matthew Broderick. It wasn’t a hit, but its reputation has grown since.

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane

Domestic Gross: $21 million

Andrew Dice Clay was one of the most popular and controversial stand up comics of this era, but his anticipated breakout to the silver screen landed with a thud.

Wild at Heart

Domestic Gross: $14 million

David Lynch’s follow-up to his heralded Blue Velvet starred Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern. It garnered decidedly more mixed reaction from critics.

The Two Jakes

Domestic Gross: $10 million

Jack Nicholson went behind the camera and reprised his acclaimed role as Jake Gittes from 1974’s Chinatown. This was a year following the star’s turn as The Joker in Batman, which dominated that summer. Audiences (and many critics) simply turned a blind eye to this long gestating sequel.

And that’ll do it for now folks! I’ll have the summer of 2000 up shortly.

X-Men at 20: A Look Back

Twenty years ago today, Bryan Singer’s X-Men arrived in theaters and it’s not hyperbole to call it one of the most influential pictures of the 21st century. The 20th Century Fox release found the comic book genre at a rather low point at the end of that said century. While Blade was a nice size hit in 1998, the years prior found at a lot to be desired with the quality of the genre. 1995 brought us Judge Dredd and 1997 saw the release of Batman and Robin, which found the Caped Crusader with Bat nipples and bad reviews.

X-Men, though it’s hard to remember now, was released at a time where the idea of superhero tales was an uncertain box office prospect. This is two years before Spider-Man broke all kinds of financial records. This is five years prior to Christopher Nolan reinvigorating the Bat franchise with his Dark Knight trilogy. And this was eight years before Robert Downey Jr. was cast as Tony Stark/Iron Man, officially kicking off the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In the summer of 2000, X-Men was by no means a guaranteed hit. It did, however, have credibility with the behind the scenes talent and cast. Bryan Singer was known for his heralded The Usual Suspects. Acclaimed actors Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen (fresh off an Oscar nod for Gods and Monsters), Anna Paquin, and Halle Berry were among the onscreen players. And it was another casting decision that provided its most enduring legacy. Russell Crowe, who headlined that summer’s Oscar winner Gladiator, originally turned down the part of Wolverine. Dougray Scott was then cast in the role, but had to drop out when his role as the villain in Mission: Impossible II (also out that summer) prevented him from filming. So it was the unknown Hugh Jackman who donned the claws. He would go on to make it his signature role as he played Logan/Wolverine in numerous sequels and spin-offs (including three stand-alone projects of wildly divergent qualities).

Let’s back up. Before the 2000 release, X-Men was in development for over a decade and a half. At one point, James Cameron was slated to produce with his then wife Kathryn Bigelow attached to direct. Later on, Robert Rodriguez turned the project down. A gander at the pic’s Wikipedia page is an entertaining read (Mariah Carey was in the mix for Storm at one juncture and Angela Bassett was first choice). X-Men was rushed to make its summer release date 20 years ago today after it was originally intended for Christmas 2000.

That rushed feeling does show on up on screen a little, but the overall end result speaks for itself. What occurred two decades ago is a major mark in the comic book movie renaissance that continues to this day. The franchise has certainly had its ups and downs. X2: X-Men United was the first sequel in 2003 and it is generally considered a high point. Three years later, Brett Ratner took over directorial reigns with The Last Stand and (while a huge hit) the quality took a dip. Matthew Vaughn would reestablish critical kudos in rebooting the series in 2011 with First Class (bringing Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, and Jennifer Lawrence to the screen playing younger counterparts to key characters). Jackman’s first spin-off X-Men Origins: Wolverine faced deserved backlash while 2017’s Logan was lauded and landed an Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination. And a cheeky and R rated offshoot called Deadpool with Ryan Reynolds would dazzle audiences and critics alike. Last summer’s Dark Phoenix didn’t do any dazzling and was another low ebb in the series. Spin-off The New Mutants has seen release date changes that began in 2018 and it’s pretty much a running joke as to whether it will ever come out.

That long road began in 2000 and has shaped the cinematic universe since. And if you had to mark a spot for the comic book landscape today as it stands now on the screen, it started that day.

Last Christmas Movie Review

Last Christmas is an example of immense talent behind the scenes and blaring over the soundtrack resulting in a holiday concoction that just does not come together. It tries hard and it has attractive leads. Director Paul Feig has made rom coms successfully with Bridesmaids and shown range with 2018’s twisty humorous thriller A Simple Favor. Emma Thompson lends her writing skills and plays the over top mother to the lead character. And the film’s title is the eponymous 80s Wham! classic which plays frequently, in addition to numerous other tracks from the band and George Michael’s solo career.

This picture should work. My faith that it would did not last long. Emilia Clarke sheds her Game of Thrones image as Kate, an aimless Londoner who immigrated from Yugoslavia with her parents and sister. She spends her days working at a year round Christmas shop run by a quirky store owner who goes by Santa (Michelle Yeoh). In fact, nearly everyone is quirky in this screenplay. Even the homeless people at the shelter where Kate volunteers when she finally starts to have a heart. They’re homeless, but ya know… they’re fun homeless.

Speaking of having a heart, that’s a big plot point and I guess that’s all I can say without going into spoiler territory. Kate’s outlook on life begins to change when she meets the elusive Tom (Henry Golding of Crazy Rich Asians and the aforementioned A Simple Favor). Their potential courtship is interrupted by occasional forays into commentary on immigration, mental health, a bizarre romance between Santa and a customer, and whatever George Michael ballad or uptempo tune fits the moment.

The result is a tonal mess even with the singer’s beautifully toned voice playing. I’m not a Scrooge. Thompson appeared in Love Actually and I ate that extravagant Yuletide offering right up. Despite the heart being in the right place of the filmmakers, Last Christmas mostly left me praying for my time back.

*1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Palm Springs

Hulu gave us a nice surprise this weekend with the release of Palm Springs, a refreshingly clever take on the Groundhog Day concept from director Max Barbakow and screenwriter Andy Saria. I wrote my review of it yesterday and you can find it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/07/10/palm-springs-movie-review/

The sci-fi comedy originally debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and reviews have been impressive (to the tune of a 95% Rotten Tomatoes rating). Starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, the RT score for Springs easily eclipses that of The King of Staten Island at 72%. The latter has been mentioned for potential awards attention – albeit in a long shot fashion.

So could this even more acclaimed pic be a contender? Unlikely, but you never know in this highly unusual 2020. If Springs were to vie for any prize, I feel Original Screenplay would be its best hope. The story could be different when it comes to the Golden Globes. That’s where the genres of Drama and Musical/Comedy are divided. Depending on the competition coming in the last half of this long year, both Samberg and especially Milioti (in a breakout role) could at least be on the minds of Globes voters.

I know one thing. Based on my very positive reaction to it, I think it should at least be considered. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Palm Springs Movie Review

Maybe it’s possible that the idea of living the same day over and over again is just something that resonates during these strange COVID-19 times. Or maybe Palm Springs really is a fresh and highly satisfying take on the Groundhog Day concept. I think it’s the latter and what a pleasant surprise.

You cannot have this plot without thinking of the incomparable Bill Murray comedy. The concept has repeated itself in the action and horror genres with Edge of Tomorrow and Happy Death Day. Springs plays with the formula in unexpected ways. Another SNL alum headlines with Andy Samberg as Nyles. He’s the aimless boyfriend to younger Misty (Meredith Hagner) and he’s tagging along to her friend’s wedding in the title town. We realize quickly that something is really off with his behavior. It turns out that he’s already well along the way into his time loop and has been living this day repeatedly. This is the first realization that the screenplay from Andy Siara is playing by a different set of rules by dispensing with the origin story of Nyles’s Groundhog Day. This is a welcome change.

Sarah (Cristin Milioti, tough and sometimes vulnerable and terrific in this role) is the sister of the bride. She’s got character flaws equal to Nyles that aren’t because of the time loop. Yet that quickly changes when she joins him on the endless day. What follows is the duo attempting to figure out just what the heck is happening (the science fiction elements involve a mysterious cave and a goat).

They are occasionally joined in their adventure by another wedding guest Roy (J.K. Simmons, engaging as always) who got sucked into the vortex. It’s also possible that Nyles and Sarah are slowly – very slowly – falling in love. Or is it just that they only have each other in this untenable scenario?

The less said about how the plot rolls along the better. There are genuine revelations that I didn’t see coming, but it all fits into this clever version of a well-worn tale. This is the best Samberg has been on film and Milioti easily equals his work. We see this budding romance develop over many days, albeit the same one. As a credit to the whole team involved, it’s a lot of time well spent.

***1/2 (out of four)