Last weekend we learned, somewhat unsurprisingly, that audiences would rather watch a gripping, lush crime thriller more than see how many puns can pop from the words “honey,” “buzz” and “bee,” as American Gangster ruled the box office with a $46.3 million opening (setting a new record), while Jerry Seinfeld’s Bee Movie came in second. Don’t feel too bad for Mr. Seinfeld—his movie raked in almost $40 million in sales (and judging by all the little kids lined up for it outside our local movie theater on Saturday afternoon, it’s going to do just fine). This weekend we have one of those movies we expect to entertain the kiddies and charm adults just the same. Following in the grand tradition of Scrooged and Elf comes Fred Claus, a movie about Santa’s brother, doomed to live life in the shadow of his larger-than-life sibling (the press notes informed us that it was an “homage to Fredo Corleone”—take from that what you will). It really could have gone either way with material like this. (Remember Jingle All The Way? If not, you’re lucky.) But Fred Claus pulls together some A-list talent—Wedding Crashers’ David Dobkin directs; Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, Miranda Richardson, Rachel Weisz, Kathy Bates and Kevin Spacey (what the hell?) star, leading us to wonder just what kind of money-filled truck was involved in negotiations. The good news is that all the actors look to be having an excellent time, and the movie—save for the obligatory slapstick teach-the-elves-how-to-dance type scenes (one of the elves is played by Ludacris)—is actually pretty funny. Paul Giamatti’s eyes above his white beard convey the weight of the world, and for our money, there’s nothing more hilarious than watching Vince Vaughn shove his face full of cookies.
Fred Claus opens Friday at City Cinemas Village East, United Artists 64th Street and Regal E-Walk (Times Square).
NEXT UP IS another holiday movie with absolutely no fuzzy feel good-factor. P2 is set on Christmas Eve, and “Santa Baby” plays menacingly over the opening credits. It’s the most wondrous time of the year to get psychologically tortured in a parking garage, and that’s what happens to Angela Bridges (Rachel Nichols), a young workaholic type (ladies, a lesson to be learned here!) who leaves work late, goes to the basement to get her car and ends up menaced by a psycho (Wes Bentley). Ho, ho, ho! The movie is wise to cover certain implausibilities early: There’s no cellphone reception underground, the doors can only be opened with certain keys, etc. Other things remain a mystery. … Like, where did that skimpy white slip dress that just happened to fit Ms. Nichols come from? Or why is it stressed that our heroine is from Maine? Oh, well, it succeeded in making us never want to go underground again (even if that “Park Avenue” garage sure looked awfully Canadiany). Not for nothing, but is Wes Bentley at all pissed about the existence of Jake Gyllenhaal? ’Cause maybe he should be.
P2 opens Friday at Clearview 62nd Street and Regal Battery Park.
AND LASTLY THERE IS Choking Man. This is a movie that truly feels independent—except for Mandy Patinkin (!), the cast is made up of unknowns, and hopes to capture the “contemporary immigrant experience.” It’s set mainly at a diner in Jamaica, Queens, and follows the travails of Jorge (Octavio Gomez Berrios), a cripplingly shy Equadorian dishwasher with a crush on the cute Asian waitress, and a weird obsession with the—yes—choking man on the Heimlich instructional poster hanging up in the back. If you think all of that is strange enough, be warned that the movie occasionally dissolves into animation. Yeah … For all those MTV connoisseurs out there, writer-director Steve Barron was the man responsible for such ’80s classics as Michael Jackson’s “Billie-Jean,” Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing,” and A-Ha’s “Take on Me.” This movie resembles exactly none of these videos, but the little drawings of bunnies are awfully cute!
Choking Man opens Friday at Cinema Village.