Expectations can be dangerous. This past weekend three major films duked it out: One an animated adventure about a seemingly cranky old man who flies his house to South America via balloons to take the journey his late wife longed for (Up), one a comedy about four buddies whose Vegas bachelor party goes horribly awry (The Hangover) and one a comedy/fantasy hybrid about a loony scientist, his assistant and a survivalist who somehow travel to a prehistoric land in an alternate universe (Land of the Lost). Conventional wisdom would dictate that …Lost, propelled by comedy kingpin Will Ferrell and rising star Anna Friel, would have decimated the competition simply based on its high concept. Instead, the underdog Hangover took the #1 slot with $45 million, Up was a very close second with $44 million in its second weekend and the dinosaur pic trailed with a slim $19 million.
So what happened? Moviegoers evidently decided that in a spring and upcoming summer slate crammed with sequels, remakes and reboots that they wanted something fresh and different. Up is a decidely adult-oriented and sentimental film with family appeal. The Hangover is a totally raunchy, very adult buddy comedy with an unpredictable storyline and characters that are surprisingly not total asses. (It also generates laughs without any nudity; at least not until the still photos in the end credits.) And while I admittedly haven’t seen Land of the Lost, the trailers look awful. I loved the original series as a kid — as low-tech and goofy as it was — and the characters used their combined brainpower to get out of tricky situations. Ferrell’s modernized “hero” looks totally daft.
The true irony of The Hangover squashing Land of the Lost comes from the fact that when Ferrell made the transition from television to movie star, he did so with vehicles that featured original characters and wacky premises, like Elf, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Old School. Now the similarly-minded Hangover (ironically, from Todd Phillips, the director of Old School) is raking in the green and boosting the careers of its comedic cast — including Bradley Cooper, Daily Show alum Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis — in much the same way. That’s a sobering thought.