Joel Siegel: Comedy Is King

It's not just the war, it's the unprecedented way television is reporting the war. Movies, especially action movies, not only pale in comparison, but Hollywood heroism seems to cheapen the true heroism of Americans in Iraq. It's all reflected in the weekend box office.

Vin Diesel's first starring film, The Fast and the Furious, opened with a $40 million weekend. Last year, XXX opened at $45 million. A Man Apart, humorless and incoherent, fell apart when it opened last weekend to $11 million. Even Diesel is running on fumes.

Action films are comatose at the box office. Phone Booth was No. 1 at the box office last weekend. Colin Farrell is sharp and edgy as a paper cut and Joel Shumacher's direction is brilliant. But with a $15 million weekend gross, Phone Booth didn't sell near enough tickets to have been No. 1 at this time last year, when Panic Room, a Jodie Foster thriller, brought in more than twice that much.

Basic, starring John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson isn't a war movie. It's a rather nifty thriller set in the military. But how do you let the audiences know?

One example of Hollywood's wartime problems: I did an interview with John Travolta, taped before the war began. It was scheduled to run the Thursday before the film opened. The war began that Wednesday; the interview was shelved.

Other stars canceled press appearances. Hollywood toned down or canceled red carpet premieres. Paramount postponed the release of its new Meg Ryan movie. The free publicity stars garner was hard to come by and with networks going wall to wall with war coverage, even commercials are hard to buy.

Two weekends ago, box-office figures were down a shocking 25 percent when compared to 2002, and those figures continue to drop. Last weekend's gross was Hollywood's worst since the Super Bowl, and traditionally, that's the worst box office weekend of the year.

What kinds of movies are we going to see? Comedies.

Bringing Down the House spent three weeks at No. 1 and may do $150 million, a surprise to all concerned. Chris Rock's Head of State, more silly than satire, is also doing better than expected. Two Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

This weekend, it's Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson to the box-office rescue.

In Anger Management (great title), Sandler is a nebbishy, easygoing guy who ends up being sentenced to 30 days of intensive anger-management counseling from the guy who gets him into trouble in the first place, Jack Nicholson.

The Sandler-Nicholson pairing is the last thing you'd think of as a great comedy team, kind of like, oh, yeah, the Marx Brothers — Groucho, Harpo and Karl. But they are funny. More than funny. They complement each other perfectly.

John Turturro is hysterical, Marisa Tomei hasn't been this exquisite, this appealing since My Cousin Vinny, and she won an Oscar for that one. Be on the lookout for cameos from Bobby Knight, John McEnroe and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Very funny stuff.

The second act sags. I couldn't figure out why they were doing these things to poor Sandler, and I feared for the worst. But the ending works. The two stars have a handful of hysterical moments together. I laughed hard. Call it "Two Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest." And watch for it to break The Rock's April box-office record and open at more than $40 million. Grade: B.

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