Two weeks before the release of the final Star Wars movie where we finally get to see Anakin Skywalker giving over to the dark side of the Force, three new wide releases will try to tempt us into forking over our money this weekend. Orlando Bloom headlines Ridley Scott’s (“Gladiator”) epic tale about a blacksmith who goes on to achieve great fame in “Kingdom of Heaven.” Elisha Cuthbert (“24”) tries her luck in yet another horror remake, “House of Wax.” Sandra Bullock teams up with Don Cheadle and an ensemble cast in “Crash,” a drama about race relations. We’ll see which of these new releases will be able to seduce the nation’s print, online, and broadcast critics.
Billed as the first great movie event of the summer, “Kingdom of Heaven” is the first film in which Orlando Bloom receives top billing. It’ll be a good measure of Bloom’s drawing power at the box office. Of course, it helps to have the “master of the modern epic” Ridley Scott, who directed “Gladiator” to commercial and critical success, at the helm. “Kingdom of Heaven” is about a peasant (Bloom) who becomes a renowned knight, falls in love with a princess, and saves a kingdom – somewhat in that order. Critics didn’t fall in love with the film though, despite giving good marks for cinematography and technical achievements. The film’s lethargic pacing, messy and hollow story left many critics dissatisfied. “Kingdom of Heaven” scores an earth-bound 44% on the Tomatometer. Despite this, Orlando Bloom’s average Tomatometer is a still healthy 74% because of the “Lord of the Ring” films.
Horror remakes are the latest fad in Hollywood these days. Although they have generally performed well at the box office, most of them have been panned by critics. “House of Wax,” a “re-imagining” of the 1953 horror classic, doesn’t buck that trend. Elisha Cuthbert and Paris Hilton headline this remake about a group of college buddies stranded in a town with a house made entirely out of wax, populated with remarkably life-like wax sculptures. Critics think it’s a routine, albeit slick horror film where intellectually challenged college kids meet gory and bloody ends. Its Tomatometer melts to 26% – not much better than the 23% by the recent horror remake “The Amityville Horror.”
Sandra Bullock hasn’t headlined a Fresh film in almost a decade – 1996’s “A Time to Kill.” Taking a break from her romantic comedies, she finally gets good marks for her latest drama, “Crash.” It helps to have critics’ darling Don Cheadle in your film. “Crash” also features Brendan Fraser, Larenz Tate, Matt Dillon, Ryan Phillippe, Thandie Newton, and Ludacris. It explores the racial complexities of Los Angeles from the perspectives of eight racially diverse groups of people: a Brentwood housewife and her DA husband; a Persian store owner; two police detectives who are also lovers; a black television director and his wife; a Mexican locksmith; two car-jackers; a rookie cop; and a middle-aged Korean couple. Critics think it’s an intricate, provocative, and sometimes funny exploration of racial and class divisions in America. The film scored an excellent 83% on the Tomatometer, the second best reviewed film in wide release behind “Kung Fu Hustle.” Because it’s above 75% on the Tomatometer, it also earned the Certified Fresh designation. “Crash’s” Tomatometer is almost double that of Sandra Bullock’s average Tomatometer of 44% and is significantly higher than Don Cheadle’s 66% average.
In summary, don’t go into the Certified Fresh “Crash” expecting “Miss Congeniality 2,” the uneven “Kingdom of Heaven” expecting “Gladiator,” and the routine “House of Wax” expecting originality.