Nicolas Cage in National Treasure: Book of Secrets

The weekend U.S. box office totals once again show American audiences as having a strong preference for escapism and likeable, well-meaning protagonists.

That is actually the natural position for U.S. audiences, although most critics would very much prefer the masses to support more "edgy," arty fare that distrurbs them and questions bourgeois values.

Given that audiences are bourgeois, of course, it is absurd to expect them to want to pay to have their values questioned and denigrated, but most mainstream media denizens are sure they know what people should want, and that the hoi polloi should just line up and take it.

That’s not happening. Quite the contrary, in fact.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets captured the top U.S. box office slot last weekend with a very strong showing, taking in $45.5 million dollars. That’s about $5 million than most analysts had expected, and about $10 million more than the popular and entertaining adventure film National Treasure, to which it is a sequel, took in during its first weekend in 2004.

Coming in second with $34.2 million was I Am Legend, registering a 56 percent drop from its previous week’s total. Alvin and the Chipmunks, which had a surprisingly strong opening the previous weekend, finished third, taking in $29 million with just a 29 percent dropoff from its first weekend. Apparently the appeal of Jason Scott Lee, star of the NBC TV series My Name Is Earl, is helping the film greatly.

Charlie Wilson’s War, a comedy-drama about how the United States surreptitiously helped Afghan rebels defeat the Soviet Union during the 1980s, finished fourth with $9.6 million, about what it was expected to do. The Mike Nichols-directed film benefits from the star power of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. Its future performance will depend on whether audiences enjoy the performances, plust that of Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a cynical CIA agent, more than they are annoyed by Nichols’ occasional tendency in the film to press political points in a rather too obvious and tendentious way, especially at the end.

The bloody musical adaptation Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, starring Johnny Depp, finished fifth with a fairly strong showing.

The sudden influx of films featuring popular stars seems to have seriously damaged the performance of Walk Hard, the new comedy parodying musical biopics such as Walk the Line and Ray. Parodies often have strong commercial prospects—as in the popular horror movie spoofs of the Scary Movie series—but initial installments don’t usually open during big weekends such as this. Walk Hard was co-written and produced by comedy hitmaker Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, Superbad), but lead actor John C. Reilly has spent his career as a character actor and sidekick and has never had to carry a major movie before.

However much sense the choice of Reilly may have made in aesthetic and comic terms, it was certainly a disaster financially.