LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Big-budget "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" hits U.S. movie theaters on Wednesday, aiming to recharge box offices in a summer season that has lost momentum after 2009's strong start.
Early reviews are mixed for director Michael Bay's effects-filled story of an alien vs. robot war on Earth that follows 2007 smash hit "Transformers," which raked in more than $700 million worldwide for its backers at DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures, a unit of media giant Viacom Inc.
But movies like "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" are widely considered to be immune from negative criticism in their first weekend at box offices because, generally speaking, their core audience of mostly young men rarely read reviews.
In fact on Monday, movie ticket site Fandango.com reported that hundreds of midnight showings ahead of Wednesday's debut already are sold out, and advance sales on Fandango are double what they were at this same time ahead of "Transformers."
That is good news for Hollywood and for DreamWorks and Paramount. The movie cost $195 million to make, Bay told reporters at a news conference last week.
"Year-to-date box office is great, but summer-to-date we're actually down in attendance ... I don't think there is anything wrong with movies, it's a typical summer season, but the first quarter was so strong," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Hollywood.com Box Office.
Hollywood's summer films, which can make up as much as 40 percent of overall annual box office tallies in the United States and Canada, started the first weekend of May with the launch of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine."
Since then, about $1.68 billion worth of tickets have been sold, which is roughly equal to the same point one year ago. Attendance, however, is off 2.1 percent and the average ticket price is up to $7.35 compared to $7.18 last year.
Year-to-date, U.S. and Canadian ticket sales remain up a strong 10 percent at $4.8 billion compared to $4.3 billion at the same point last year and attendance is up about 8 percent.
The difference, box office watchers said, was 2009's first quarter, which was exceptionally strong with surprise hits such as "Paul Blart: Mall Cop." May and June saw a few key films like "Angels & Demons" fail to make a big mark with fans.
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" features toy cars that transform into robots and battle aliens who are looking to control Earth. Shia LaBeouf returns to his starring role as Sam Witwicky, a geeky boy with a sexy girlfriend (Megan Fox) and an otherworldly Camaro that shifts into an alien-fighting robot.
Critics say LaBeouf does an able job, but with a dizzying array of alien robots loudly morphing into military hardware and blasting away at enemies, he's given too little to do.
Variety called the movie "longer, louder and perhaps 'more than your eye can meet,'" compared to its 2007 predecessor.
Others blasted the story. "Characters and comedy are in short supply in a plot that's basically an Indiana Jones-style search for a buried treasure," the Hollywood Reporter said.
A few reviewers noted that movies like "Transformers" were made to emphasize action more than acting.
"It's a thrill ride, plain and simple. And it delivers," TotalFilm.com's Mark Samuels said.