Finally! A battle royale at the box office. Will Bieber Fever prevail? Or will comedy king Adam Sandler reign supreme? Don’t rule out the lawn party of ‘Gnomeo and Juliet,’ either. But for a really good time, get off at ‘Cedar Rapids,’ which is your best policy for laughs this weekend at the movies. Get the download below in this Personalities Preview:
Yes, Flo and your machine, the dog days indeed look to be over. The first real weekend box office battle of 2011 has arrived with a wildly diverse collection of movie choices for all tastes and ages. No one can blame the weather for less than expected grosses, either. Who will rise and who will fall? Industry pundits are sure to be sharpening their knives now as a few sacred cows leave the pen. In the meantime, here’s an overview of the weekend’s leading movie contenders, beginning with the leader of the pack:
CEDAR RAPIDS (Fox Searchlight) — Ed Helms makes a break for leading man territory with fantastic results. Director Miguel Arteta and writer Phil Johnston throw a curve in delivering a winning comedy of the awkward with surprisingly nuanced results. Imagine a coming of age story with a character over 30. Helms stars Tiim Lippe, an earnest, small town insurance salesman who is enlisted to represent his firm at a convention in the big city of Cedar Rapids. Instead of a quiet weekend, Tim’s moral compass is thrown completely out of whack thanks to his encounters with a seemingly wicked bunch of folks determined to corrupt him. Instead, Tim learns to man up and is ultimately transformed by his new friendships, even is his dignity is compromised a little in the process. Helms has never been better, offering up a sincere and realistic performance that makes uncomfortable pretty darn funny. He is also surrounded by an ace group of co-stars who bring their A-game, including John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock, Jr. and Sigourney Weaver. Arteta scores with not turning the Midwesterner into a parody, as well as with infusing the film with a warm glow even when Tim’s story takes a hilariously dark-ish turn. Opening today in a limited release, Cedar Rapids is definitely worth the visit.
JUSTIN BIEBER: NEVER SAY NEVER (Paramount Pictures) — Basically the world’s most expensive promotional video, it will either solidify or compromise Justin Bieber’s status as the pop idol of the moment. Fans will get “this close” to Bieber thanks to his reaching out in 3D. While the concert footage is shot in the format of the Gods, the entire enterprise will strike you as a bit greedy given the amount of performance material in the film. What is striking about Never Say Never is that it offers proof as to what social networking can do for music artists. But will it translate into major box office results? Stay tuned. (Click here for the full Personalities review of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never.)
GNOMEO & JULIET (Walt Disney Studios) — Reaction to this Shakespeare-inspired 3D animated comedy has been decidedly mixed for being either diverting or woefully broad. Parents may like the classy voice cast that features James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Stephen Merchant, Patrick Stewart and Ozzy Osbourne, plus a dose of classic Elton John rock. Still, its fortunes may be hijacked by the Bieber as kids opt to see their idol playing next door.
THE EAGLE (Focus Features) — Fans of the sword and sandals epic — who can’t get enough of Spartacus on Starz — should make a bee line for The Eagle. This handsomely mounted production starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell has a modern urgency thanks to the keen eye of director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland). Based on Rosemary Sutcliff‘s classic 1954 novel on the Ninth Roman Legion, The Eagle chronicles a young centurion’s quest to Caledonia to discover the truth about his father and the legion’s infamous disappearance. Reviews for the film are fair at best, which may give The Eagle a bit of a struggle given the competition it is facing this weekend from other newcomers and still-playing Oscar hopefuls.
JUST GO WITH IT (Sony Pictures) — This latest zany pairing of Adam Sandler and a hot babe co-star (hello, Jennifer Aniston) dares to stare down the Bieber for number one. But, the formula may start to be wear a bit thin and critics are not exactly warming up to this comic romp. Sandler mugs his way through as a plastic surgeon pretending to be married while burning through a parade of unsuspecting women. When he encounters the devastating Brooklyn Decker, his ruse evolves into an epic production of pretending to really be married. Enlisting the aid of his nurse as his “wife” (Aniston), Sandler and company all go to Hawaii where more hi-jinks ensue. (Keep an eye out for a slumming Nicole Kidman.) It is a by the numbers Sandler romp with some nice chemistry between Sandler and Aniston (who just needs to stop saying “Yes” to these roles). Still, it all just feels like leftovers warmed up in a convenience store microwave. For a much better time, just go with the classic 1969 romp, Cactus Flower (with Walter Matthau, Ingrid Bergman and an Oscar-winning Goldie Hawn) that inspired this limp blossom from the Happy Madison folks.
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Watch James Franco & Anne Hathaway host the Oscars broadcast live on February 27, 2011 on ABC.