The Panda Messes with the Zohan

June 06, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

Is Adam Sandler slowly losing his appeal? While the actor still has a vocal and loyal following, the passion and magnitude of that group has been on the wane in recent years. There was a time when the opening of an Adam Sandler movie was something of an event, and a weekend when other studios would avoid releasing competing fare. Sandler, however, is facing an age-old problem for comedians: as he ages so too does his fan base, and he loses his appeal for some of them. It happened to Steve Martin, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, and Jim Carrey, and it will to happen to whoever takes up Sandler's mantle.

Don't Mess with the Zohan will probably open in the $30-$35 million range - not a bad number by anyone's measure. This would be in line with the general downward trend of box office receipts for Sandler movies since he peaked the first part of this decade. If we throw out his "serious" efforts (Reign Over Me, which was largely ignored at the box office), here are the results of his last three big movies: 2005's The Longest Yard made $58 million on its opening weekend and $158 million total, 2006's Click made $50 million on its opening weekend and $137 million overall; and 2007's I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry made $34 on its opening weekend and $120 million total. These numbers tell us two things: Sandler is still a box office force to be reckoned with but he's not the behemoth he once was. In fact, this weekend he's going to get clobbered by Jack Black.

Of course, no movie featuring a live Jack Black would stand a chance against Sandler, but give him an animated panda alter-ego, and he's box office gold. Kung-Fu Panda will unquestionably emerge as this weekend's Box Office Champion. It's the kind of cute, family-oriented movie that is popular at this time of the year, and it comes out far enough in advance of Pixar's WALL-E that there's no real conflict. By the time WALL-E reaches theaters on June 27, Kung-Fu Panda will be sucking fumes. Over the years, Dreamworks has proven to be the only company capable of hanging in with Disney/Pixar. Of course, there is a third animated film this summer: Star Wars: Clone Wars. That movie's performance will be a good gauge of how much power the Star Wars brand still wields. Ten years ago, nothing was hotter. Today…? How quickly one can fall from grace.

Kung-Fu Panda is enjoyable but I'm reserving my Pick of the Week for When Did You Last See Your Father a touching drama that, predictably, is only opening in a few theaters. I saw this last year at the Toronto Film Festival and was moved by the characters and their situations. Most of the film plays like a fairly standard father-son tug-of-war, but the ending is poignant and powerful. The film asks a question that many viewers will relate to. It's a pity that Sony Classics isn't giving the movie a better roll-out. Contrary to what some distributors think, not everyone wants to see an endless line of mind-numbing blockbusters during the summer. The popcorn flick has its place but it's movies like When Did You Last See Your Father that rekindle hope that cinema has not completely transformed into a faux amusement park ride/big screen video game.