F9 Review

Make no mistake. We don’t watch the Fast and Furious movies because they have any resemblance to the real world. For a franchise that I cannot imagine was envisioned to reach nine entries deep, we can park our logic immediately and settle in for a thrill ride. Surprisingly it’s a formula that’s usually worked (certainly at the box office and often with the quality of the product). In F9, the luster has gathered rust. This is the first Fast feature since part 4 that I wouldn’t recommend as a guilty pleasure. We’ve reached the long-lost brother stage of the storyline. We also have characters blasting into outer space. So it’s time to stop being polite about what’s going on in this fading fantasy world.

Returning director Justin Lin (who made parts III-VI) and his cowriter Daniel Casey have swapped out ex-wrestlers turned thespians. Gone is Dwayne Johnson (a result of a feud with Vin Diesel), who brought a jolt starting in Fast Five. Tagging in is John Cena as the aforementioned and previously never mentioned sibling Jakob Toretto. As we are told in overdramatic and overlong flashbacks, he played a role in the late 80s racing death of his father. This doesn’t sit well with brother Dom (Diesel) and the two haven’t been on speaking terms since. Jakob reacts as most would with the family estrangement by becoming an international mercenary and obtaining a deadly computer system that will wreak global havoc. His employer is the son of a dictator (Thue Erstad Rasmussen) who’s working with part 8’s hacker bad girl Cipher (Charlize Theron).

The return of the banished brother causes Dom to interrupt his farm life seclusion with wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and their 5-year-old son. The band, including Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris Bridges), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) reassemble for the forthcoming sequences where automobiles do things they have no earthly business doing. Also back are the thought to be dead Han (Sung Kang) and a trio of street racers from Tokyo Drift who are now (somehow) rocket scientists. Jordana Brewster (as Dom and Jakob’s sister Mia) hops a flight home. This is where I’ll address a sensitive issue. When Paul Walker died in 2013, the filmmakers were faced with the unenviable task of dealing with his character Brian who served as co-lead for the previous entries. They handled it deftly in Furious 7. However, in a saga that constantly beats the drum of helping your teammates, the explanation of Brian simply being retired and not taking part in the action strains credibility. We’re told he’s babysitting while wife Mia is away. I know it might seem silly to discuss credibility in a Fast flick, but it is an unfortunate minor distraction.

F9 takes too long to get its motor running. The 143 minute runtime (bogged down by those flashbacks of young Dom and Jakob) is a momentum stopper. Part of the intrigue involves a super powerful magnate (think more than fridge quality grade) that whips anything in its path towards it. It’s cool the first time we see the hurling. And then we witness it again and again. Cena has shown considerable comedic chops elsewhere. That magnetism is nowhere to be found here. Dwayne Johnson is missed as is Jason Statham as sparring partner Shaw. Theron, Kurt Russell as government agent Mr. Nobody, and Helen Mirren as Shaw’s mum are barely seen (though the latter’s brief appearance is kind of a hoot).

What we’re left with is a mopey family dynamic that the franchise didn’t need. Roman’s character brings self-reference to the screenplay, often commenting on the ridiculousness of everything – how come no one ever gets a scratch on them? As I said, that doesn’t matter much when we can mindlessly settle in and enjoy it. F9 doesn’t achieve that like the bulk of its predecessors. Put another way, my tank was half full for parts V-VIII and now it’s half empty. By the time Roman and Tej enter moonwalking territory, it should feel ludicrous in a positive way. Instead we’ve had to slog through over two hours of make it up as you go along nonsense to get there.

** (out of four)

Summer 2001: The Top 10 Hits and More

My annual recounting of the cinematic seasons that preceded 30, 20, and 10 years prior continues on the blog today with the summer of 2001! It was a frame dominated by an animated jolly green giant that kicked off a massive franchise for its studio.

As is tradition, I’ll run through the top 10 domestic grossers as well as other notables pics and some flops. If you missed my post covering 1991’s May-August output, you can find it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/06/26/summer-1991-the-top-10-hits-and-more/

Let’s get to it!

10. Dr. Dolittle 2

Domestic Gross: $112 million

Eddie Murphy returned as the doc who talks to animals in this sequel that managed to cross the century mark, but failed to approach the $144 million earned by its 1998 predecessor. This would mark the end of Eddie’s involvement in the franchise, but a direct to DVD third helping came in 2006.

9. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Domestic Gross: $131 million

Angelina Jolie (fresh off an Oscar for Girl, Interrupted) headlined the video game adaptation that, despite weak reviews, spawned a sequel and an eventual reboot with Alicia Vikander that will soon get its own follow-up.

8. The Fast and the Furious

Domestic Gross: $144 million

We first saw Vin Diesel and Paul Walker and those souped up whips 20 years ago. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or haven’t heard of The Rock), this begat a franchise which is still running strong today. F9 is currently the #1 movie in America in this series that has topped a billion bucks.

7. American Pie 2

Domestic Gross: $145 million

Universal quickly green lighted this sequel to 1999’s smash hit comedy. The gross out gags in part 2 (which resulted in another theatrical effort in 2003 and numerous direct to DVD entries) stands as the largest worldwide earner of the bunch.

6. Planet of the Apes

Domestic Gross: $180 million

Tim Burton’s reimagining of the 1968 classic didn’t result in the new franchise that 20th Century Fox hoped for. Critics had their knives out for Mark Wahlberg’s lead performance and the surprise ending that didn’t pack the wallop of Charlton Heston’s encounter with the Statue of Liberty. The studio would get their successful trilogy a decade later beginning with Rise of the Planet of the Apes (which will be covered in 2011’s blog post).

5. Jurassic Park III

Domestic Gross: $181 million

Joe Johnston took over directorial duties from Steven Spielberg is this threequel. Sam Neill was back in this dino-tale that (while profitable) failed to reach the heights of the first two commercially. A reboot 14 years later would get the series back in billion dollar good standing.

4. Pearl Harbor

Domestic Gross: $198 million

Michael Bay’s romantic war epic failed with reviewers but still approached $200 million domestically and $450 million worldwide. Its six Golden Raspberry nominations topped its four Oscar nods.

3. The Mummy Returns

Domestic Gross: $202 million

Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz returned for this adventure sequel to the 1999 hit that topped part 1 domestically by nearly $50 million. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would join the fun here and was rewarded with his spin-off (The Scorpion King) the next year. A third Mummy landed with disappointing results in 2008.

2. Rush Hour 2

Domestic Gross: $226 million

It was the best of times for director Brett Ratner and stars Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan as this action comedy built upon the grosses of the 1998 original. A third would follow six years later.

1. Shrek

Mike Myers as the title character ogre, Eddie Murphy stealing scenes with his voice work as Donkey, and Cameron Diaz as Princess Fiona proved that Disney wasn’t the only animation game in town. Shrek even competed for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in this DreamWorks game changer that resulted in three sequels and a stage musical.

And now for some other notables flicks from the summer that was:

The Princess Diaries

Domestic Gross: $108 million

Disney’s live-action fairy tale served as a breakout role for Anne Hathaway and a return to the studio for Julie Andrews for the first time since Mary Poppins. A 2004 sequel followed.

The Others

Domestic Gross: $96 million

With its own Sixth Sense style twist ending, this gothic horror pic with Nicole Kidman earned solid reviews and got genre fans to turn out.

Legally Blonde

Domestic Gross: $96 million

Shrek isn’t the only feature to spawn a Broadway treatment. So did this Reese Witherspoon hit which also resulted in a sequel and a third Blonde that is slated for May 2022.

Cats & Dogs

Domestic Gross: $93 million

Dr. Dolittle wasn’t the only animal game in town. This kiddie pic featuring featuring talking creatures also began a franchise.

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

Domestic Gross: $78 million

Long planned as a project for Stanley Kubrick (who passed away in 1999), Steven Spielberg directed this sci-fi visual feast with Haley Joel Osment. The film elicited strong reactions from critics and crowds (both positively and negatively). It may not have reached $100 million domestic, but it’s still a picture people like to debate about today and that’s more that can be said for most titles on this list.

Swordfish

Domestic Gross: $69 million

Hugh Jackman and John Travolta headlined this action pic which somewhat underperformed expectations. This is mostly known as the film that paid Halle Berry an extra $500,000 to go topless during a few seconds of screen time.

Moulin Rouge!

Domestic Gross: $57 million

Baz Luhrmann’s postmodern musical with Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor scored 8 Oscar nominations and has its legions of fans that have endured over the past two decades.

Sexy Beast

Domestic Gross: $6 million

This crime drama is mostly known for its menacing supporting turn from Sir Ben Kingsley, who was rewarded with an Oscar nod.

Ghost World

Domestic Gross: $6 million

Terry Zwigoff’s dark comedy (based on a late 90s comic book) earned raves for its screenplay and for costars Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, and Steve Buscemi.

And now for some pictures that did not meet expectations:

America’s Sweethearts

Domestic Gross: $93 million

Yes, it may have approached $100 million, but this rom com starring Julia Roberts and featuring John Cusack, Billy Crystal (who cowrote), and Catherine Zeta-Jones didn’t come near what her previous blockbusters like My Best Friend’s Wedding, Notting Hill, and Runaway Bride managed.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Domestic Gross: $84 million

Disney’s animated sci-fi adventure was a letdown that didn’t recoup its reported $100 million budget domestically. A hoped for franchise with TV spin-offs and Disneyland ride attraction never rose to the surface.

Scary Movie 2

Domestic Gross: $71 million

This rushed horror spoof follow-up to the 2000 surprise smash couldn’t get close to the $157 million of the original. However, this didn’t stop several sequels from following that achieved greater success.

Evolution

Domestic Gross: $38 million

Director Ivan Reitman and supernatural comedy sure worked well in 1984 with Ghostbusters. Not so much here in this DreamWorks flop with David Duchovny which earned less than half its budget in North America.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Domestic Gross: $32 million

Tomb Raider was an example of a video game adaptation that made money. Not so here with this rendering of the popular role playing fantasy series that didn’t score with audiences.

Ghosts of Mars

Domestic Gross: $8 million

It wasn’t a good day at the box office for this science fiction flop from director John Carpenter and Ice Cube.

Pootie Tang

Domestic Gross: $3 million

Moviegoers didn’t turn out for this comedy written and directed by Louis C.K. that originated from a sketch on The Chris Rock Show (who costars). Despite the failed run at the box office, it has since become a cult hit.

And that does it for 2001, folks! Look for my post about summer 2011 in the coming days…

Hobbs & Shaw Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (07/31): My estimate has dropped from $82.6 million to $72.6 million

Two of the most popular characters from the venerable Fast and Furious franchise get their  own spin-off (the first of the long running series) with Hobbs & Shaw next weekend. The action extravaganza comes with a reported $200 million budget and is headlined by the title characters respectively portrayed by Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. David Leitch (co-director of John Wick and sole director of Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2) is behind the camera. Costars include Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby, and Helen Mirren (reprising her maternal role from 2017’s last entry The Fate of the Furious).

Despite the absence of Vin Diesel and other actors associated with the franchise that started 18 years ago, Hobbs & Shaw is likely to perform similarly to other pics in the canon. The largest opening was accomplished in 2015 with Furious 7 with a gross of $147 million. Tragically, part of the reason its start was significantly more than the others was due to the untimely death of Paul Walker and that picture representing his swan song. Follow-up Fate of the Furious two years later landed the second highest start of the eight features at $98 million.

This might fall a bit under those gaudy numbers and I think low to mid 80s is most feasible. That would put it in line or a just bit below the $86 million accomplished by Fast Five in 2011.

Hobbs & Shaw opening weekend prediction: $72.6 million

The Fate of the Furious Movie Review

The Fate of the Furious is our eighth – yes, eighth – installment of a franchise that it would have been ridiculous to imagine there being that many entries. We’re a long way from the original 16 years ago that was sort of a drag racing rip-off of Point Break, or Point Brake as I deemed it in my review. That said, a common thread among the series is its willingness to be knowingly ridiculous while weaving in endless monologues about the importance of family.

The formula took on a different tone in predecessor Furious 7, which admirably managed to deal with the death of franchise stalwart Paul Walker in its conclusion. In that sense, Fate ushers in a new chapter. New characters are introduced, old ones are rehashed, and the level of silliness is brought to a level not quite seen before. Yes, cars go fast here. However, part 8 owes more to James Bond flicks when they were less grim (think Roger Moore era with a quarter billion dollar budget).

As I’ve written in previous Furious critiques, plot is secondary but here’s what you need to know: Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has turned on his team. Sort of. He’s being forced to team up with criminal mastermind Cipher (Charlize Theron), who evades authorities in the air on an invisible plane. See what I mean? Isn’t that the kind of villain 007 might battle in the late seventies? Now on the wrong side of justice, Dominic and Cipher must go against Dom’s “family”, including wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and the familiar players played by Dwayne Johnson (whose goofy character is still good for some funny and bizarre moments), Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Kurt Russell, and more. Part 7’s main villain Jason Statham is more of a team player this time around and even Oscar winner Helen Mirren turns up as his mum. Statham is granted a fight scene towards the end where he has to be delicate with some cargo he’s carrying (you’ll see what I mean). The scene is genuinely humorous and quite well choreographed.

The plot is all an excuse for the massive action spectacles and globe trotting we’ve become accustomed to and we have it here in Cuba, New York City, and Russia. The climactic sequence set on Russian frozen tundra employs the usual expensive vehicles, but we also are treated to tanks and submarines. Remember the ice action in Pierce Brosnan’s Bond flick Die Another Day? Think that, but it’s not embarrassingly awful.

Our Furious sagas rise and fall on the ability for us to check our brains at the Universal logo. By the third act, I’d succumbed once again to its cheesy charms. Maybe one day this series will truly stall like it briefly did in 2006’s Tokyo Drift. Not yet though and that’s some kind of testament to its durability.

*** (out of four)

The Fate of the Furious Box Office Prediction

Universal Pictures’ billion dollar franchise keeps rolling along as The Fate of the Furious
parks into multiplexes on Easter Weekend. The eighth (yes, eighth) street racing action spectacle finds Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray taking over behind the camera. Fate finds the majority of thespians associated with the series returning – Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacis, Jason Statham, Kurt Russell, and Nathalie Emmanuel. We also have a pair of Oscar winners joining the mix with Charlize Theron and Helen Mirren, as well as Scott Eastwood (whose dad has won some Oscars). Of course, this is the first picture (excluding 2006’s Tokyo Drift) without Paul Walker, who died during the filming of Furious 7.

When Diesel and Walker returned to the franchise in 2009’s Fast and Furious, it sparked a box office resurgence that’s never let up. That fourth entry debuted to $70 million with an overall $155M domestic haul. Follow-up Fast Five in 2011 opened to $86 million ($209M eventual tally). 2013’s Fast & Furious 6 made $97 million out of the gate and $238M eventually. And 2015’s Furious 7 easily set the high mark with a $147 million premiere and $353M overall.

The grosses of Furious 7 were likely (and sadly) expanded due to it being Walker’s last on-screen appearance. Therefore it stands to reason that Fate probably won’t reach the heights of that predecessor. That said, this looks to be a franchise that is still going strong and it would be surprising if it didn’t post the second largest bow thus far.

I’ll predict the fate of this is an opening gross in the low to mid $120M range.

The Fate of the Furious opening weekend prediction: $122.7 million

For my Gifted prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/04/09/gifted-box-office-prediction/

Furious 7 Movie Review

The adrenaline fused junk food soap opera that is the Fast and Furious franchise has met with real life in its seventh installment, Furious 7. The pic faced the unenviable task of addressing the death of one its signature stars Paul Walker, who lost his life in a car accident in 2013. The filmmakers handle it in a delicate and touching way at the conclusion and manage to give fans of the franchise what they’ve come to anticipate from this multicultural action fest. It’s got everything you’d expect: ridiculous and often cringe inducing one liners, incredibly choreographed sequences with cars doing things they have no business doing, beautiful scenery on both the human and geographical scale, and lots of dialogue about family (which hits closer than normal considering the events with Walker).

The plot of these proceedings is always secondary, of course. Furious 7 actually picks up after the events of Tokyo Drift, the series third entry and its weakest. This would be after the death of team member Han and our new villain is Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the older brother of part 6’s dearly departed villain Owen. Deckard is out for revenge and that means he’s targeting the whole crew, led by Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Walker), and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), who’s still suffering from her amnesia as a result of her near death in part 4. The other usual suspects return including Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, and Jordana Brewster. And there’s Dwayne Johnson back as Hobbs, the gloriously over the top federal agent who is responsible for some of the silliest bits of dialogue. One notable newcomer is Kurt Russell as a shadowy government agent and the veteran performer seems to be having a lot of fun.

Where the Furious movies succeed or fail depends mostly on the action set pieces and 7 has some dandies. The whole midsection set in Abu Dhabi gives us some real thrills, particularly a sequence involving a multi million dollar car crashing through multiple buildings. The eventual climax back in the homeland of Los Angeles involves predator drones, a pretty far cry from a franchise that used to be concerned with just car tricks. When part 5 was released, the Onion newspaper hilariously pontificated that its screenwriter Chris Morgan was actually a kindergartner. He continues to write these pictures and by my math, he’d be in fourth grade now. Sometimes it still feels as if an elementary student is writing the words here, but that’s not really the point. In Furious world, what counts is the adventure on the screen. And there’s plenty of excitement that James Wan (a new director to the series) conjures up here. It’s pretty simple. If you like this franchise, you’ll like what you see the seventh time around. And you might be a little surprised at how just a completely unsubtle series handles the loss of one its biggest stars with a subtle touch.

*** (out of four)

Hitman: Agent 47 Box Office Prediction

Based on a video game series, the action spectacle Hitman: Agent 47 hits theaters next Friday and it may be a prime example of a late August summer release that gets lost in the shuffle. The pic was originally meant to be a starring vehicle for Paul Walker before his death in 2013.

Stepping into the lead role is Rupert Friend, one of the stars of Showtime’s “Homeland”. The supporting cast includes Hannah Ware, Zachary Quinto, and Ciaran Hinds. While 20th Century Fox has been promoting Hitman with plenty of TV spots, I’m just not sure how this breaks through with other action fare like Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. out there.

As I see it, Hitman: Agent 47 would be very lucky to top double digits out of the gate and I don’t really think it gets too close to that.

Hitman: Agent 47 opening weekend prediction: $6 million

For my Sinister 2 prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/08/13/sinister-2-box-office-prediction/

For my American Ultra prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2015/08/13/american-ultra-box-office-prediction/

Furious 7 Box Office Prediction

This Friday, the eagerly awaited Furious 7 looks to pass a number of box office milestones: biggest opening so far in 2o15 and highest debut of the fourteen year old franchise. Conjuring director James Wan takes over the series from Justin Lin.

The last two entries of the Fast and Furious series have brought the franchise to new heights. 2011’s Fast Five opened to $86.1 million with a final domestic tally of $209 million. Two years ago, Fast & Furious 6 topped that with a $97.3 million premiere and a $238 million eventual haul.

As tragic as it is, there is little doubt that star Paul Walker’s untimely death contributes to a curiosity factor here. This will be the last screen appearance of the actor as series regulars Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, and Ludacris return. Kurt Russell and Jason Statham also join the party. Reviews have been quite strong and it sits at 86% currently on Rotten Tomatoes.

Furious 7 needs to surpass the $95 million that Captain America: The Winter Soldier made last year to post the largest April opening of all time. As I see it, it will blast past that mark with relative ease to earn that designation and set the franchise record in the meantime.

Furious 7 opening weekend prediction: $117.4 million

Brick Mansions Box Office Prediction

The late Paul Walker headlines the action thriller Brick Mansions which debuts this Friday. This is one of the star’s final roles before his tragic auto accident that claimed his life in the fall of 2013 and it features a script from Luc Besson and costars Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA.

The marketing for Mansions has ramped up a bit in the last couple of weeks and it will be interesting to see how Walker’s presence translates into box office dollars. Truth be told, Mr. Walker was never much of a box office draw outside of the massive Fast and Furious franchise and there’s nothing much about this film’s TV spots that make it look noteworthy.

My gut feeling is that audiences will, for the most part, wait until the seventh Fast flick in 2015 to bid farewell to the late actor and Brick Mansions should have a debut in the low double digits.

Brick Mansions opening weekend prediction: $12.3 million

For my The Other Woman prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2014/04/21/the-other-woman-box-office-prediction/

For my The Quiet Ones prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2014/04/21/the-quiet-ones-box-office-prediction/

Box Office Results: May 31-June 2

It’s certainly not every weekend that you can describe the box office results as truly shocking. However, this weekend… they were truly shocking. 

This is for two reasons: the over performance of Now You See Me and the under performance of After Earth. No one figured the caper flick Now You See Me had a chance of making more than Will Smith’s sci-fi pic After Earth. That’s precisely what happened.

We begin where we should though and that’s with Fast and Furious 6 remaining in the top spot with $35.1 million, a tad below my $36M projection. The sixth F+F installment experienced a sophomore weekend decline right in line with other entries in the franchise.

This brings us to #2… Now You See Me. And that would be an epic failure of predicting on my part. I grossly underestimated the picture and predicted it’d open sixth with $14.2 million. Boy, was I wrong. Garnering a rock solid A- Cinemascore average, See Me took the runner-up spot with an impressive $29.3 million. Audiences clearly were in the mood for something original and different and this seemed to be just the ticket.

And now to the enormous failure of After Earth. The M. Night Shyamalan directed sci-fi pic starring Will and Jaden Smith earned brutal reviews and, as it turns out, audience ambivalence. I incorrectly figured Smith’s star power would propel the film to a #1 opening and a $39.1 million opening weekend. Again… boy, was I wrong! Placing third, Earth debuted with a very weak $27.5 million. Earning a tepid B Cinemascore grade, expect Earth to fade fast in subsequent weekends.

Star Trek Into Darkness took fourth with $16.7 million, edging out fifth place Epic at $16.6 million. I predicted a bit more for each at $18.5M and $17.7M, respectively. And continuing its disappointing results in sixth place was The Hangover Part III, which made $16.3 million in its sophomore weekend (I predicted $17.1M).

RECAP

Fast and Furious 6

Gross: $35.1 million. Todd’s Prediction: $36 million.

Now You See Me

Gross: $29.3 million. Todd’s Prediction: $14.2 million.

After Earth

Gross: $27.5 million. Todd’s Prediction: $39.1 million.

Epic

Gross: $16.6 million. Todd’s Prediction: $17.7 million.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Gross: $16.7 million. Todd’s Prediction: $18.5 million.

The Hangover Part III

Gross: $16.3 million. Todd’s Prediction: $17.1 million.

So there you have it – not a great weekend for me predicting the new openers at all. I’ll try to do better next weekend. Tomorrow on the blog, I’ll have my opening weekend prediction for the Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson comedy The Internship. Tuesday, my opening prediction for The Purge starring Ethan Hawke. And Wednesday, my usual Top Five predictions. Stay tuned!