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'Gnomeo & Juliet' sends 'Hall Pass' back to class

The animated film takes No. 1 at the box office in its third week, beating the new Farrelly brothers comedy.

February 28, 2011|By Joe Flint, Los Angeles Times
  • The animated family film "Gnomeo & Juliet" is No. 1 at the box office in its third week in release.
The animated family film "Gnomeo & Juliet" is No. 1 at the… (Touchstone Pictures )

What's the point of getting a hall pass if no one wants to come out and play?

"Hall Pass," the latest comedy from the writer-director team of Peter and Bobby Farrelly, about a couple of married guys who are given permission by their wives to play the field for a week, took in $13.4 million on its opening weekend and finished second behind "Gnomeo & Juliet."

That was below industry estimates for the first Farrelly brothers film in three years, which stars Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate. Pre-release projections for the raunchy comedy were between $16 million and $20 million. For Wilson, "Hall Pass" is the second consecutive disappointment following December's adult drama "How Do You Know" from director James L. Brooks; that film also starred Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd.

Warner Bros. Domestic Distribution President Dan Fellman downplayed the showing for "Hall Pass," saying the idea that movie would take in $20 million in its opening weekend was "crazy."

"Hall Pass" skewed older than Warner Bros. had expected. Almost half of its audience was above 35 years old. Of course, given the subject matter, one might have expected that a comedy about marriage, even one directed by the politically incorrect Farrelly brothers, would not hold a lot of appeal for college kids and young adults.

Overall, the weekend results were again lackluster. So far, 2011 has been a disappointment for Hollywood. Box office is down almost 21%, and attendance is off 22% compared with the same period last year. That the 3-week-old "Gnomeo & Juliet" took the top spot is perhaps indicative of the lack of enthusiasm for much of Hollywood's efforts this year.

Though "Hall Pass" underdelivered, it was a hit compared with the performance of the other major opening of the weekend — Nicolas Cage's latest action movie, "Drive Angry," which was downright dismal.

The 3-D movie, produced by Nu Image Films and distributed by Summit Entertainment, generated only $5.1 million in ticket sales. It cost between $45 million and $50 million to make. The weak performance will no doubt raise questions as to whether Cage, an Oscar winner for "Leaving Las Vegas" who has anchored several commercial action hits, is played out in the genre.

For "Gnomeo & Juliet," a 3-D animated film distributed by Walt Disney Co., the first-place, $14.2-million finish over its third weekend in theaters is an achievement.

"Obviously, I wouldn't have projected us being No. 1 in our third weekend," said a gleeful Chuck Viane, who heads distribution for Walt Disney Studios. "We've had the absolute good luck of having no family competition for three weeks."

That will change next week when "Rango," from Viacom's Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures, opens.

Looks like Oscar excitement gave a boost to both "The King's Speech" and "The Fighter." The former was up 17% and the latter 2% from the previous weekend.

joe.flint@latimes.com

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