Mall Cop and Other Disreputable Pleasures

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Michael Roberts

Kerr Smith, left, and Megan Boone star in My Bloody Valentine

Yesterday Barack Obama called for a day of service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., and in keeping with the "sacrifice" theme of his new Administration, many heeded the summons, doing good deeds at soup kitchens and homeless shelters. But millions of others just went to the movies. I was one of them. I hadn't seen the three films that topped the weekend box office and was curious to know what was luring the public, in such vast numbers, out of their overmortgaged homes and into the cold. I saw a horror movie, a musical biopic and a comedy; I heard America screaming, singing and laughing.

Picture attendance often rises in hard times; what's bad for the economy is good for movies. And though employers might rue the lost work in a day off for Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, Hollywood loves long weekends, which put the public in a moviegoing mood. In the past four days the North American box office registered nearly $250 million — the highest ever for an M.L.K. weekend, and among the top 10 weekends ever — and each of the four new releases earned more than $20 million. My Bloody Valentine killed (grossing $24.2 million); Notorious was B.I.G. ($24 million); Hotel for Dogs ($22.5 million) continued the pooch pash established by Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Bolt and Marley & Me; and the Kevin James comedy Paul Blart, Mall Cop doubled industry predictions to take in a Walmart-worthy $39 million. The old man did O.K. too: in its second week of wide release, Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino did $26.2 million, for a take so far of $77 million.

Mary Pols covered Hotel for Dogs last week, and I've written about Gran Torino. From my busman's holiday, here are a few notes on the other three top films.

My Bloody Valentine

Decades ago, in the wake of Halloween and Black Christmas, exploitation filmmakers scurried for other holidays to turn into horrors. In 1981 some Canadian geniuses got the notion to add psychopathic gore to the day of romantic mush and put it all to the title of an old Rodgers and Hart song. The gaudy box-office take for My Bloody Valentine's 3-D remake will surely cue more feast-day gorefests. Expect to see The Scarin' of the Green on St. Patrick's Day and Peter Choppin'tail for Easter, as well as My Pukey Purim and, every four years, Inauguration Day: Fear Itself.

The new MBV, made near Pittsburgh, Pa., is set in an "inbred mining town" called Harmony, where, years before, a nut in a miner's suit and mask killed a bunch of high school kids with appropriate tools, mainly a pickax. Now he, or a copycat, is again bloodily reducing the population — as if the Rust Belt didn't have enough problems. The principles here are sheriff Axel Palmer (Kerr Smith), his wife Sarah (horror honey Jaime King) and the mine owner's son Tom Hanniger (Jensen Ackles), who was Sarah's beau back in the previously awful day. To secure an R rating, the film has halved corpses, a fetus eviscerated from its victim's body and, possibly a first, a major role (local party girl Irene, played by the fourth-billed Kelly Rue) that requires humping, fleeing and screaming, performed entirely in the nude except for high heels.

See pictures of movie costumes.

See the top 10 movie performances of 2008.

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