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Waterworlds: The Wet, Hot American Summer of 2003
by Collin Souter

Hey, what’s with all the water this summer? We had fishes and pirates wetting the appetites of average-Joe filmgoers who wanted entertainment with intelligence in their multiplex excursions. Meanwhile, Whale Riders and Swimming Pools gave some food for thought for those who like to wade in the deep end. I also seem to recall some underwater shenanigans toward the end of a couple superhero movies, as well as some chase scenes through the watery canals of Venice in a couple others. Does anybody remember that animated Sinbad movie? I seem to remember a couple has-beens partying on a beach resort (now on DVD, by the way) and two cops going from a swimming pool to a lake in a matter of seconds (no doubt a lost idea from a “Police Academy” movie). So, what, we just like water now?

Okay, I promise to spare you any water metaphors to describe what hit and what missed at the box office this summer (“Finding Nemo stayed afloat, while Alex & Emma sunk faster than the Titanic. Thank you. I’m Byron Allen.”). I also promise not to say the “G” word in this entire article. Let it go, people. Yes, it sucked, but we need to put it behind us and realize that you can’t believe the hype, even if it reverses itself. “Worst movie ever”? Hardly. The reason Bennifer will break up? What do you care? You don’t have to live with them.

We live in the real world and every summer we watch movies made by people who don’t. That’s how “Alex & Emma” got made. That’s how “Le Divorce” got made. That’s how “From Justin To Kelly” got made. Every facet of Hollywood entertainment mis-calculated the interests and taste of its respective target audience (adults, intellectuals and teenagers). There is no formula for a hit, but I think if you compare this Top 10 summer movie list to last year’s list and especially 2001 and 2000, you’ll see that this year the old formulas wore thin and that star power had very little to do with why most of these movies made the money they did.

I can’t honestly give a full report card for this summer, considering I skipped “Dumb and Dumberer,” “Hollywood Homicide,” “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,” “Tomb Raider 2,” “Legally Blonde 2,” and “American Wedding.” I just didn’t make much of an effort, because frankly, who cares? I can say that this summer turned out better than most, if for no other reason than the Indies didn’t save their best stuff for the end of the year. Almost every week, either at the multiplexes or the arthouses (here in Chicago, anyway) there was something interesting to see.


(NOTE: The following numbers represent the amount taken in through the weekend of 8/23-24. The numbers from last year represent the amount of money they made at the time the last article was written and do not represent their total box office gross.)

1. FINDING NEMO ($330 million.) Just as I predicted. Everybody thought it would be “Matrix,” but I did my math a little differently. Long-awaited 140-minute Rated-R sequel + promise of a third installment later this year + one kick-ass trailer = HIT! 100-minute Rated-G Pixar + Kids out of school + Pixar’s proven track record + The numbers for “Shrek” = EVEN BIGGER HIT!!! Just seemed like a no-brainer to me. I also can’t think of a more worthy film to earn a #1 spot for the summer. Not since the double-whammy of 1994 with “The Lion King” and “Forrest Gump” has there been a box office monster worthy of its claws and fangs.

This just goes to show that Hollywood can calculate their target demographics, their opening dates and their commercial tie-ins in order to try and solidify an instant hit, but there exists a perfectly good reason why people went back again and again to see “Finding Nemo” and why the numbers dropped after opening weekend for most of the other movies that made this list and many more that didn’t: It had a great story, unforgettable characters, stunning animation, pure joy, genuine hilarity and it earned every one of our tears.
My Rating: (****)
Last year’s # 1: “Spider-Man” ($403 million. Let’s just say it. The kids LOVE Willem Dafoe!)



2. MATRIX: RELOADED ($278 million) Sometimes seeing a movie once should be enough. I initially reacted positively to “Matrix: Reloaded” and still find it to be an interesting film. I thought the craftsmanship on display with the action sequences was terrific and I felt relieved that the filmmakers trusted their audience and left in all the philosophical elements of the first film. It made me happy knowing that one of the summer’s biggest blockbusters would also force people to think about, well, anything. Yet, the second time I watched it, I kept glancing at my watch, impatiently awaiting the astounding 14-minute car chase sequence. The story just didn’t intrigue me and neither did the characters. Still, it could hold up better after the release of “Revolutions” when the whole “Matrix” odyssey will be put in context. And, no, I have not yet seen “The Ani-Matrix.” Still, this represents the only sequel this summer outside “X2” that people actually wanted to see get made.
My Rating: (***)
Last year’s #2: “Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones” ($299 million. Question: Which is dumber? The ghastly and over-long dance sequence in “Reloaded” or a reaction shot of Jar-Jar Binks? Yeah, I can’t decide either.)



3. PIRATES OF THE CARRIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL ($262 million) It’s the end of the world as we know it. Parts of Europe suffered through a heatwave epidemic that has left tens of thousands dead. Meanwhile, here in Chicago, we have seen more rain this summer than our past two springs combined. That and our Mayor has completely lost his mind and tore up one of our most important runways for “fear of terrorism.” Gary Coleman is running for Governor of California. Our President is up in arms over the idea of gay marriages but doesn’t think twice about taunting Al Queda to “bring it on,” thereby putting more of our troops in harms way. Our illegal invasion of Iraq has caused more suffering and violence than when Saddam Hussein ruled with an iron fist. Computer viruses have been running rampant. 14-year-olds having consensual sex are no longer considered unusual. “From Justin To Kelly” got a theatrical release. R. Kelly still has a career. Mars has been looking down and laughing like a hyena at us.

And Johnny Depp starred in a pirate movie—a pirate movie!—and it grossed over $200 million. There. Now I feel fine.
My Rating: (***)
Last year’s #3: “Austin Powers in Goldmember” ($194 million. I honestly don’t know how to tie these two together, so I’ll backtrack another year and just say, “Wow! Another movie with the word ‘Pearl’ in the title makes the #3 spot!”)


4. BRUCE ALMIGHTY ($240 million) I believe myself to be the most forgiving Jim Carrey fan I know. I gave “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” a good review mainly because of Carrey’s performance. I gave “The Majestic” a good review because of its unabashed sincerity and for Carrey’s willingness to play it straight. I also think his portrayal of Andy Kaufman to be one of the 10 best performances I have ever seen. In spite of these horrendously flawed films, I can’t help but root for the guy. Yet, as much as I wanted to like “Bruce Almighty,” I couldn’t get past the fact that Carrey chose to work with one of the worst directors out there, Tom Shadyac.

Can this guy do a scene without the assistance of a music track? Didn’t anybody see that the movie’s premise lent so much more to the story than jokes about dog piss? Was Shadyac actually trying for a dark sensibility when that riot broke out? As much as Carrey made me laugh in this movie, I just couldn’t go along with it. Still, it put him back on the map with most other American filmgoers who didn’t mind seeing Rubberface back in action. On the other hand, this represents yet another step backwards for Jennifer Aniston, again forced to play the straight woman.
My Rating: (**1/2)
Last Years #4: “Men In Black II” ($190 million. This is the kind of movie “Bruce Almighty 2” will end up being, I guarantee it.)



5. X2: X-MEN UNITED ($214 million) Proof that just because your movie has the whole comic book angle going for it and you open it on the first week of May, it does not mean you will automatically be awarded the #1 slot. Still, its ranking on this list is nothing to scoff at and it certainly delivered the goods for good, fun summertime entertainment. It also proves that if you have a bunch of interesting main characters instead of just one pretty face (see "Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" or "Legally Blonde 2: Red White and Blonde"), you have a better chance of sustaining an interesting storyline, or two. Here’s hoping Bryan Singer can get his cast together for one last installment so that we can see all the X-Men (and women) fight the great fight on the same playing field. I’d pay good money to see that. See what I mean? I’m hooked. Did anybody see that Lara Croft movie? What was that about? Oh, you skipped it too?
My Rating: (***)
Last years #5: “Signs” ($173 million. This is why the Mutants hate us, by the way.)



6. TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES ($148 million) Question: If this movie had bombed, would Schwarzee have run for Governor? Do you think he would dive into politics on the heels of, say, “End of Days”? “The Sixth Day”? “Collateral Damage”? I’m not saying he has insincere intentions. I’m just wondering how much of his political career hung on the outcome of T3’s box office clout.

Whatever, the movie was a blast and it blew away most people’s expectations, including mine. This could easily have bombed and maybe Warner Brothers will never make its money back, but the entertainment value should give it a long life on video/DVD. The opening chase scene exceeded the 14-minute stunner in “Matrix: Reloaded,” if for no other reason than it actually took place on the streets and didn’t resort to CGI effects to enhance the excitement or excess. True, the movie remains a pointless endeavor in terms of story, but that great, dark ending practically wins the movie this summer’s Big Brass Balls award, an award that almost never goes to a sequel.
My Rating: (***1/2)
Last Year’s # 6: “Scooby-Doo” ($151 million. Well, I do seem to remember wishing the world would end when I watched this movie last summer…)



7. BAD BOYS II (…wait for it…wait for it…brace yourselves…are you sitting down?… $132 million!!!) And we were doing so well. I actually broke three rules as a film reviewer when I saw this film: 1) Don’t see a Part 2 if you haven’t seen Part 1. 2) Don’t write a review for a sequel if you haven’t seen the original. 3) Don’t make any cell phone calls while sitting in the theater watching a movie. Seriously, at about the 1hour/45-minute mark, I turned on my cell and called my colleague Erik Childress (who knew where I was) and said three words: “Kill Me Now.”

Look, I know we can’t have a full-fledged Top 10 summer movie list without at least one Will Smith flick, but I would much rather have a sequel to ID4 than another movie directed by a guy who wouldn’t think twice before making a $130 million 3-D movie about 9/11.

Michael Bay hates his audience, that much is obvious. In fact, attending this movie felt like attending a concert for the underground gross-out rock legend G.G. Allen. Long since dead, Allen’s hatred, unlike Bay’s, wasn’t masked behind vanity projects that wasted millions of dollars of other people’s money. Allen literally and figuratively beat the hell out of his audience on a nightly basis. He pissed on the crowd, he threw feces at them, and he slammed their heads against telephone polls outside the venue. His death has not left a void. Mr. Bay has continued the legacy.
My Rating: (WELL BEYOND ZERO STARS!!!)
Last Year’s #7: “Lilo & Stitch” ($140 million. I imagine Bay slobbering a lot like Stitch when he directs, which probably explains why his movies turn out the way they do.)



8. HULK ($131 million) Most people saw this movie out of obligation, but not too many felt jazzed-up about it to return for seconds. I remember seeing it at a midnight showing the day before it officially opened and hearing the impatience from the audience growing in multitudes during the film’s first half. The movie turned people into Hulks because there didn’t seem to be any on screen. Then, once the green-ness kicked in, everybody complained—again, out of obligation—that it looked too fake. And, sure, parts of it did, but director Ang Lee constructed the film in such a way that it didn’t seem to matter, at least for those of us who came for the story and not the spectacle. “The Hulk” challenged audiences and in the summer, that can be a tall order for those who helped put “Bad Boys II” on this list. That, and the kids just don’t care about psychology. They want guns-a-blazing and cars-a-crashing.
My Rating: (***1/2)
Last Year’s #8: “Minority Report” ($130 million. See what I mean?)



9. 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS ($126 million) As I did with the first “Fast and the Furious,” I decided to watch this at the drive-in so that the pure stinkiness of it wouldn’t bother me as much. This time around, I didn’t feel as though I had been watching a good/bad drive-in movie, but a bad movie at the drive-in. The fact that it placed on the top 10 has to be doing wonders for Vin Dooseldorf, who turned down the offer to star in the sequel so he could pursue other endeavors, like swinging from a tire.

Yes, Vin, it seems nobody cared who starred in the first film. The cars raced good, the chase scenes rocked and everybody looked nice and pretty. The same might be said for this one, but gone is the whole Roger Corman-esque feel that made the first film a great drive-in flick. I don’t know. Maybe I would have to sit in an actual theater full of people to get an idea of why this franchise maintained its appeal for the masses, but I’m certainly not sorry I skipped it.
My Rating: (*1/2)
Last Year’s #9: “Mr. Deeds” ($124 million. The first #9 movie in years not driven by comedic star power…but still not much of an improvement.)



10. SPY KIDS 3-D: GAME OVER! ($103 million) Granted, if it weren’t for the gimmick, this movie probably wouldn’t have made this much coin, but “Spy Kids 3-D” made for one of the most memorable film going experiences I’ve ever had and one that I hope to repeat before the season fades. I saw it again, but this time at a drive-in. Being a summertime drive-in nut, I just had to see if 3-D could work. Sitting outside my car in the second row on a beautiful and cloudy evening, the movie’s 3-D effects looked spectacular, maybe even better than in a theater. Considering that most of the shots have clouds in the background, it makes perfect sense to show it at a drive-in. I don’t know how it looked to the people 10 or 20 rows behind us. I meant to walk back and take a look, but I felt too happy where I sat.

I also remember seeing it in a theater full of kids who had never seen a 3-D movie in their lives. Something tells me it won’t be the last time. All those Oooooooos and aaaaaaahhhs and Oh, that is so cooools are telling Hollywood that kids love this silly gimmick. I guess it also helps to have a likable director and franchise as its backing, but of course no one in Hollywood will take that into consideration. So…who’s up for another “Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared Syn”?
My Rating: (***)
Last Year’s # 10: “The Sum of All Fears” ($118 million. I’ll be so happy next year when I don’t have to tie this movie in with a goofy sequel.)



LUCKIEST MOVIE OF THE SUMMER: “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” ($64 million) A Godawful, laborious chore of a movie. The reviews equaled that of you-know-what…but, man, that trailer!

UNLUCKIEST FILM OF THE SUMMER: “Down With Love.” ($20 million) Opening a pitch-perfect throwback to Doris Day/Rock Hudson comedies against “Matrix: Reloaded” proved to be the counter-programming fiasco so far this year.


Finally, my mid-year Top 10:

1.All The Real Girls…
2.Finding Nemo
3.May
4.Whale Rider
5.American Splendor
6.City of God
7.Winged Migration
8.Stevie
9.The Hulk
10.Spellbound


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=782
originally posted: 08/29/03 14:28:36
last updated: 01/15/04 12:53:42
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