Winn Dixie: Matthews' tale fetches $$

After taking in more than $20 million in its first two weekends, Dave Matthews' second film effort, the girl-and-her-dog-story Because of Winn Dixie, appears to have four legs at the box office, even as some critics have panned it.

"Because of Winn-Dixie doesn't have a mean bone in its body, but it's dead in the water," predicts Roger Ebert of the movie based on the best-selling children's book by Kate DiCamillo.

"Elements that may have seemed delightfully eccentric in print take on unfortunate new tones when translated to film," writes Anita Gates in the New York Times.

But while critics have nipped, audiences seem to be lapping up the story about a lonely girl and the stray dog she befriends.

"It's doing really well," says Tiffany Ryalls, assistant manager at Carmike 6 on Seminole Trail. "Kids are loving it."

Amateur reviewers writing on the Internet Movie Database,, agree– Winn Dixie's a winner.

"Winn-Dixie is a tale rich in values with themes of forgiveness, tolerance, and hope for the future," offers one. "It is a classic story, told with imaginative eccentricity and style."

Matthews did not return the Hook's calls, but in an interview with Rebecca Murray, posted on several different websites, he expresses doubts about his own acting ability.

"I was afraid that I wasn't going to bring my share to the table, and afraid I might stink," he said. "I hope that I didn't stink too overtly."

If he did, audiences don't seem to have noticed.

"He did a wonderful job," says Carmike's Ryalls, whose favorite scene is when Matthews, playing pet-store-manager Otis, sings to the animals in his store. "It was really cute," she says.

Others agree. Matthews' performance is "understated and touching," writes one reviewer. Another says Matthews "gives the material its most tender reading."

As for the less-than-stellar national reviews, some say just ignore them.

"Hollywood movie critics won't understand it and won't like it," explains Evan Miller on the website. "The movie doesn't try to impress them. It will do better on the home DVD release," he predicts, "than it will in the theaters."

Such was the case for Matthews' first film, Where the Red Fern Grows, based on the classic tear-jerking tome by Wilson Rawls. In fact, that movie, which began filming in 1999, never even opened. After a nearly five-year struggle during which time funding dried up, actors went on strike, contractors sued, and the child star went through puberty before filming was finished. Red Fern went straight to DVD this past January.

But Winn Dixie, made for a scant $14 million and directed by Wayne Wang (Smoke, The Joy Luck Club), has already escaped that fate.

Shot over three months in fall 2003 and launched on nearly 3,200 screens the weekend of February 19, it pulled in more than $13 million. Its second weekend brought nearly $7 million more.

While those numbers may be puppy chow compared to the $260 million Shrek 2 earned in its first two weeks, they certainly trump Gigli, the 2003 Ben Affleck/Jennifer Lopez dog that cost $54 million and took in just $6 million in its two-week life.

And if Winn Dixie follows the path of 2000's My Dog Skip, it could be around for awhile.

Skip, made for around $7 million, opened on just five screens in January 2000, grossing a little more than $50,000 its first weekend. In March, when it appeared on 2,133 screens around the country, the weekend take jumped to $6 million. By its closing weekend seven months later in July 2000, Skip had grossed $35 million.

If Winn Dixie retrieves that kind of cash, it's a sure bet Matthews' tail will be wagging.

Matthews penned a new song, "Butterfly," for this scene.