08/01/2010 04:53 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Weekend Box Office Review: Inception 3-peats, Dinner For Schmucks and Charlie St. Cloud Open Well

Inception was number one for the third straight weekend, as it fended off three challengers and neared the $200 million mark. Dropping just 35%, the Chris Nolan thriller grossed another $27.4 million for a new total of $193.3 million. It will likely cross the $200 million mark on Tuesday, its nineteenth day of release. By Wednesday, it will surpass the $205 million gross of Batman Begins to become Nolan's second-highest grossing domestic grosser, behind the $533 million earned by The Dark Knight. At this point, Inception is having a slightly leggier run than Star Trek, with smaller drops to compensate for a lower opening weekend (it too ended weekend three with $191 million). So it would appear that the audience-pleasing mind-bender should finished between $260-300 million, depending on how well it handles the direct demo competition in the next few weekends. Ironically, it will lose at least some of its IMAX screens a little earlier than expected, as Avatar has a planned re-release on August 27th in IMAX and 3-D theaters. There's not really much more to say aside from repeating the fact that the film has already recouped its budget in domestic numbers and is slowly expanding overseas (it's worldwide total is now $363 million). So of course, in order to cash in on this audience-pleasing original, Sony is now set to remake Total Recall. Brilliant.

The big new release was Paramount's Dinner For Schmucks, which had an unusually low screen count of just 2,911 screens. While the reviews were decidedly mixed and the marketing was almost low-key, the picture still proved the drawing power of Steve Carell and/or Paul Rudd, as the film opened with $23.5 million anyway. This remake, of a French comedy, underwent a bit of a makeover following disappointing test screenings, apparently to add more heart and compassion to an inherently mean-spirited story. We won't know whether the changes had an effect until next weekend (opening weekends are about marketing, second weekends are about audience reaction), but my dad didn't care for it one bit ('a movie for schmucks'). Regardless, this proves that star power is not completely dead, as pretty much anyone who saw this went because of one of the big names involved (I'm sure the appearance of Zach Galifianakis didn't hurt).Regardless, the film cost a somewhat reasonable $69 million (remember when only big-budget action films cost more than $50 million?), but it's probably going to get hammered next weekend, when the all-star (Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes, etc.) cop satire The Other Guys opens.

The next major opener was a financial disaster. Warner Bros unwanted/unneeded/much too late sequel to the 2001 hit Cats and Dogs opened with just $12.2 million. Subtitled 'The Revenge of Kitty Galore', this $85 million-picture seemed green-lit purely to convert it into 3-D after the fact, and even audiences could smell the desperation (I'm assuming this was a film rushed into production just before or after the 2007 writer's strike). The original film cost $60 million, opening to $21 million over the July 4th holiday, and ended up with $93 million domestic and $200 million worldwide. The marketing failed to answer a question of 'why' a sequel to a forgotten kids flick was released nine years later, and the novelty of seeing dogs and cats partaking in spy games was no longer there. Quality wises, even my two-year old got a little restless, and frankly the film makes G-Force look like Babe. The only thing the picture has going for it is the genuinely inspired three-minute Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote short that proceeds it. I laughed my butt off, even if my daughter apparently has no appreciation of the arts ('I don't like this', she snidely commented as it was ending). Anyway, audiences gave this stinker a B-, so expect it to lose many of its 3-D screens when Step Up 3-D opens next weekend.

The last major opener was the slightly supernatural drama Charlie St. Cloud. While the film ended up being severely frontloaded ($12.2 million weekend off a $5.6 million Friday = 2.19x multiplier), it still proved that Zac Efron is a genuine movie star. This $44 million (too expensive!) Nicolas Sparks-wannabe was sold 100% on the would-be drawing power of Mr. Efron, and the kid pulled in a $5 million opening day on his name alone. The film pulled a B+ from Cinema Score, with an A- from the under-18 crowd (the film played 59% under-25 and 79% female). I still say it was a mistake not to release Me and Orson Welles wide late last year, and this opening number seems to bear that out. Point being, combine Efron with a marketable premise and you get 17 Again ($23 million opening weekend, $64 million finish). Combine Efron with... absolutely nothing else of marketing value, and you still get a $12 million opening weekend. While some of his High School Musical alumni like Ashley Tisdale, Olesya Rulin, Monique Coleman, and Lucas Grabel have yet to break out following the third picture (Tisdale may spend the rest of her life playing Sharpay, be it in Sharpey's Fabulous Adventure or High School Musical 4: East Meets West), Efron has successfully left the franchise in his wake.

This article continues, with info on indie films and holdovers, at Mendelson's Memos.