A band of CGI elves had the last laugh as Disney’s Gnomeo & Juliet stole the box office with $14.2 million, kicking former marquee champs, the Farrelly Brothers and Nicolas Cage, in the groin. The Farrelly’s Hall Pass, distributed by Warner Bros./New Line, slid to second with a $13.4 million three-day after showing signs of a No. 1 win on Friday with $4.6 million. Summit Entertainment’s Cage headliner Drive Angry 3D from Nu Image Pictures crashed and burned in ninth with $5.1 million – the lowest opening for a 3D live-action feature after Gulliver’s Travels ($6.3 million bow) and another sign in Nicolas Cage’s apocalyptic career.
The success of Gnomeo proves that when there’s crap at the box office, family titles flourish, a pattern seen last April when the fourth frame of How to Train Your Dragon bested the bows of Jennifer Lopez’s The Back-up Plan and DC comics also-ran The Losers. After filing fourth on Friday with $3.16 million, Gnomeo climbed 101% yesterday to $6.3 million.
Despite Warners' widespread print/outdoor campaign, the biggest problem in selling Hall Pass was its title. Hall Pass immediately implies that it’s a high school comedy, much like easily branded Easy A or Mean Girls. Look closely at the fine print on Hall Pass promo materials and you find it’s a romantic comedy about married men getting a week off to sleep around. Also, it’s not a good sign when a studio trims its genre label’s staff just as a film is about to open.
Owen Wilson, who is supposed to carry Hall Pass, is a box office wild card. He can churn out a hit Marley & Me ($36.4 million, $143.2 million) and a bomb, Drillbit Taylor ($10.3 million, $32.9 million) in the same year (2008). Hall Pass doesn’t make Wilson look any more reliable following the disastrous How Do You Know ($7.5 million, $30.2 million), but the good news is that his filmography doesn’t boast as many bombs as Cage.
Eventually even top comedy directors and stars fall out of their connection with audiences (James L. Brooks, Robin Williams). It's hard to reclaim that love. Checking into comedy rehab are the Farrelly brothers, whose high gross-out concepts are not playing. Hall Pass marks their fourth misfire after Stuck on You ($33.8 million domestic total), Fever Pitch ($42.1 million) and The Heartbreak Kid ($36.8 million). Meanwhile other comedy-meisters such as Adam McKay and Adam Sandler co. are still inside the comedy zone. Critics sucked on lemons while watching Hall Pass: it scored 36% Rotten on the Tomatometer. 55% of males enjoyed Hall Pass; 52% were under the age of 35. The comedy cost $36 million; its chances of having legs are slim with a B- Cinemascore.
Is Cage’s career in the crapper? This programmer is just another one of his low-budget B-action titles, intended to profit globally. Even the $40-million Season of the Witch weathered black magic stateside with a $24.5 million gross to bring in a worldwide total of $71.6 million. Drive Angry 3D could follow a similar trajectory abroad, recouping Nu Image’s $45-50 million investment. Cage’s star will continue to fall as long as he “inextricably links himself with garbage” His asking price per film has dropped from $20 million (2004’s National Treasure) to $10 million (Sorcerer’s Apprentice) to $7 million (Joel Schumacher’s upcoming thriller Trespass). The Drive Angry 3D has a ‘been there done that’ feel, following Cage’s former B.O. auto high mark Gone in 60 Seconds ($101.6 million). Perhaps the film would have had a better bow if it had been promoted more like other misfires this season such as The Rite, but audiences won’t be taking this joy ride, which critics found formulaic at 45% Rotten, and audiences gave a C+ Cinemascore. 69% of the crowd were males and like many films this winter, the younger demo didn’t show up: only 43% were under 30. Consider Cage’s star status officially at The Wicker Man threat level.
Elsewhere on the charts, flowers bloomed: Oscar contender The King’s Speech surged 17% due to Weinstein Co.’s 300 venue expansion. Sandler’s Just Go With It held with a decent 40% decline in its third sesh. The one week director’s cut of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never also kept its third weekend grosses afloat, marking just a 31% dip.