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Robert Pattinson, Water for Elephants, Has Soggy Start (video)

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Robert Pattinson, Water for Elephants, Has Soggy Start (video) 1Robert Pattinson’s widely hyped new movie, “Water For Elephants” with Reese Witherspoon stumbled out of the gate, finishing third in its Easter weekend debut. The majority of top critics panned it, but it’s not all elephant dung.

The film did a respectable $17.5 million gross, which was slightly more than expected, especially since the “beautifully filmed but searing drama was considered a hard sell,” according to Deadline Hollywood.

Romantic dramas tend to have a difficult time finding footing at the box office, especially when they are period pieces, according to Hollywood Stock Exchange, which handicaps films.

The film suffers, it says, because neither lead actor has “major pull” at the box office.

Rob he has yet to successfully anchor a film outside of the Twilight vampire saga, while Witherspoon has been fading as a box office draw.

Witherspoon’s last film, “How Do You Know” was a disastrous flop.

Critics are pretty evenly split among picks and pans, but among critics at major outlets, the overall reviews have been largely negative, according to Rotten Tomatoes, a Web site that tracks reviews.

“Usually, you have to wait for the end-of-the-year awards season to see an elaborate period piece that fails as spectacularly as “Water for Elephants,” writes Lou Lumenick for The New York Post.

Peter Travers in influential Rolling Stone magazine says the picture misses the grit and pungent detail of Sara Gruen’s best selling novel and settles for “gloss.”

New York Times critic Stephen Holden also weighs in on the movie’s flaws. He writes that the movie “short-circuits the novel’s quirky charms and period atmosphere by its squeamish attitude toward gritty circus life.”

Those reviews were countered by upbeat nods from Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times and Michael O’Sullivan of the Washington Post.

“There is quite a bit to enjoy in a film that certainly qualifies as broad-based popular entertainment,” Turan writes.

But even more importantly, the movie is getting a thumbs up from theatergoers. An overwhelming 93 percent said they liked it after seeing it, according to a survey by Rotten Tomatoes.

That means word-of-mouth advertising could sustain or even lift the film in the coming weeks. Of course many early theatergoers are probably Rob fans.

Among the rest of the Easter fare, animated movie, “Rio,” led the North American and international box office for a second weekend.

“Rio” finished the weekend with a $26.8 million North American gross to bring its total to $81.3 million after 10 days in theaters. It also earned $44.2 million from 67 foreign markets, pumping up its worldwide total to $286 million.

“Madea’s Big Happy Family,” Tyler Perry’s latest endeavor also hit the spot with a $25.8 million North American opening to claim the No. 2.

But it fell short of “Madea Goes to Jail,” which opened to $41 million in 2009, and “Madea’s Family Reunion” which opened at $30 million in 2006.

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