Box Office: Cage and Witherspoon Enter the Presidential Race

It’s Presidents’ Day weekend, another great time to catch-up on movies, though after the record-setting weekend that just passed and the terrific showing for two movies over Super Bowl weekend, one has to wonder whether what’s normally a strong weekend can deliver one that stacks up to the month so far. Of note is that seven of the Top 10 Presidents’ Day openers came out when the weekend happened on the 14th of February or earlier, helped by a boost from Valentine’s Day (probably why the movie Valentine’s Day holds the record for the holiday weekend with $63.1 million over four days).

Oddly enough, we’re getting the sequel to the second-highest grossing President’s Day movie this weekend, as Crank directors Neveldine/Taylor take on Nicolas Cage’s flame-headed cyclist with Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance (Sony). It’s the first superhero movie of the year and probably the one with the lowest profile, which is surprising since the original Ghost Rider movie opened with $52 million almost exactly five years ago. It went on to gross $115 million, a little over double its opening, which does not show strong legs or support and some fans’ dislike of the movie may keep the sequel from opening as well. Like the earlier movie, the sequel isn’t being screened in advance for critics so regular moviegoers will probably expect the worst (enhanced by the critics who’ll complain about the movie not screening) and the film already has quite a bit of negative buzz after its screening at Butt-Numb-A-Thon in December that led to a lot of early negative buzz. Even though this is taking on Denzel Washington’s hit Safe House, we still think there’s enough of a fanbase for the character and the superhero genre, enough that should allow it to gross somewhere in the mid-$30 million range over the four-day weekend but we’re not expecting word of mouth to be very good, so we think it will end up making less than $70 million total.

Interview with Neveldine/Taylor

Review (Held Until Friday)

By the way, if you missed it, you can read our thoughts on some of the other superhero movies coming out this summer right here.

Offered as counter-programming is the latest Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy This Means War (20th Century Fox), this one co-starring CIA agents played by Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, who are fighting over her. It’s directed by McG of Charlie’s Angels and Terminator Salvation, which probably won’t make that big a difference to women but they probably won’t want to mention that fact to any guy they’re hoping to drag to see this. The movie tries to mix action with romance to try to create something akin to Mr. & Mrs. Smith – it’s written by one of the writers of that movie if it isn’t too obvious. It’s been awhile since Witherspoon has opened a movie big and unlike Four Christmases, she’s going to have to carry this one on her own, unlike the last love triangle comedy she starred in, James Brooks’ How Do You Know? which bombed with roughly $30 million total. The commercials have mostly been based around the raunchy comedy of popular Chelsea Handler, but this is still facing quite a bit of competition for women from last week’s mega-hit The Vow. Originally, 20th Century Fox were going to release the movie on Valentine’s Day proper, but instead decided just to do sneak previews with hopes that will build word of mouth for the weekend and that strategy should work just fine. We think this one should score in the low-to-mid $20 million range over the four-day weekend and possibly have enough strong word of mouth to make roughly $60 million total even with abysmal reviews like the one below.

Mini-Review: As this shallow, poorly developed attempt at mixing action, comedy and romance opens, we meet FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy), two CIA field agents who are both partners and best friends, but when they both happen to meet Reese Witherspoon’s Lauren within minutes of each other, the game is on for who she’ll end up picking.

Though women may thrill at the idea of a woman having to decide between two hunky men, it’s a fairly terrible premise with an awful screenplay to match. There probably aren’t many guys on this planet who find Ms. Witherspoon sexy enough to fight over her, which immediately makes the whole idea of two guys fighting over her pretty silly, but who knows what we’re supposed to think of the country’s security being in the hands of agents who are using all of the agency’s resources to win over a woman.

That aside, this is a fairly obvious three-hander where the focus isn’t necessarily always on Witherspoon’s character and yet, this is essentially the status quo for her, on par with her usually awful romcoms only with a bit more action and some higher tech. While one can understand why Chris Pine would want to play up his hunky romantic lead status and help build an audience among women, one may spend much of the film wondering why Tom Hardy would ruin his streak of solid movies with this one unless he just wanted to soften up his tough guy image by playing a romantic role or playing a divorced father.

There are some funny moments between Hardy and Pine as they’re finding ways of sabotaging each other’s dates, but most other attempts at laughs just fall flat, which mostly includes all the time Lauren spends going over her dates with her foul-mouthed best friend, played by Chelsea Handler, scenes that quickly grow tiring as Handler goes overboard to push the PG-13 rating with her graphic jokes about sex.

The whole thing just isn’t very believable, from the way all three of them meet to the idea of two guys fighting over a woman–most guys would work it out or be more covert about their double dealings–and it’s not even that believable her character would let things go so far. Essentially, it’s all very predictable and full of meet-cute romcom clichés and even when it resorts back to an action movie in the last 20 minutes, it’s not enough to make one forget all of the awfulness that preceded it. I’ve often given McG more credit as director than others but there’s only so many lazy decisions one can accept, particularly when it comes to his dated musical taste, which is as uninspired as the rest of the film.

“This Means War” is embarrassing for everyone involved, an insulting mess that expects the IQ and taste of all women to be so easy to manipulate they’ll accept or laugh at anything if it involves men humiliating themselves on their behalf.

Rating: 4.5/10

Hoping to bring in the kids over the holiday weekend is the Japanese animated The Secret World of Arrietty (Disney) from Studio Ghibli with Oscar winning animated filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki co-writing its screenplay, essentially an adaptation of the children’s book “The Borrowers.” Disney are doing their best to disguise the fact this is a Japanese movie with a separate English screenwriter and director as well as an all-American voice cast including Amy Poehler and Will Arnett and Carol Burnett. It’s a strange decision since Miyazaki has quite a strong fanbase in the States, although Disney has a strong enough reputation for their own animation and family films, they’ll be able to market this one to parents with small kids based on its G rating. For what it’s worth, Miyazaki’s last film Ponyo opened with $3.5 million in 927 theaters in mid-August 2009 and went on to make $15 million. We think this could bring in roughly $5 million this weekend and probably will end up with $12 to 13 million by the time it leaves theaters.

This weekend last year, Liam Neeson starred in the action-thriller Unknown (Warner Bros.) which brought in $25.4 million over the four-day Presidents’ Day weekend, while D.J. Caruso’s sci-fi action-adventure I Am Number Four (DreamWorks) opened in third place with $22.7 million and Martin Lawrence’s comedy sequel Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son (20th Century Fox) opened in fifth place with $18.7 million over the four-day weekend. In between the three new movies was Disney’s Gnomeo & Juliet with $25.4 million and Adam Sandler’s Just Go With It with $21.6 million, making it another weekend with four movies grossing over $20 million. Not bad for a February and we’re likely to see it duplicated this weekend. Last year’s Top 10 grossed $150 million and we should surpass it this weekend.

This Week’s Predictions -

(Four day predictions)

1. Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance (Sony) – $37.2 million N/A

2. The Vow (Screen Gems/Sony) – $25 million -39%

3. Safe House (Universal) – $24.5 million -36%

4. This Means War (20th Century Fox) – $23.5 million N/A

5. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (New Line/WB) – $23 million -16%

6. Star Wars Episode 1 3D (20th Century Fox) – $13.5 million -40%

7. Chronicle (20th Century Fox) – $8 million -34%

8. The Woman in Black (CBS Films) – $5.8 million -43%

9. The Secret World of Arrietty (Disney) – $5 million N/A

10. Big Miracle (Universal) – $3.2 million -19%

Before we get to the limited releases, we want to note that starting on Friday is the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s 12th Annual Film Comment Selects, which you can read more about here.

We also have two more Oscar-nominated films this week, the first one being the documentary Undefeated (The Weinstein Company) from Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin, which chronicles the 2009 season of the Manassas Tigers from out of Memphis, Tennessee and the struggles they have to face as they try to overcome their long losing streak with the help of coach Bill Bourney, who takes them to their first playoff game in 110 years.

Michael R. Roskam’s crime thriller Bullhead (Drafthouse Films) is the Oscar-nominated Belgian entry into the Foreign Language category starring Matthias Schenaerts as a cattle farmer pumped up on steroids who gets involved with a shady meat trader and the repercussions when a federal agent is killed. Both of these open in select cities on Friday and we hope to have reviews very soon.

Greg Kinnear stars in Thin Ice (ATO Pictures), the new dark comedy from Karen Sprecher (Clockwatchers), as Wisconsin insurance salesman Mickey Prohaska, who thinks he’s come upon a sure-fire get-rich scheme when he meets a retired farmer (Alan Arkin) who has in his possession a valuable violin. His plan backfires when an erratic locksmith (Billy Crudup) discovers his plan and wants in.

Cirkus Columbia (Strand Releasing) is the new drama from Danis Tanovic, whose No Man’s Land won the Foreign Language Oscar ten years ago, this one taking place after the fall of Communism in Bosnia as it follows a man who returns home from Germany with everything going his way until his cat goes missing and things start going wrong.

Opening on Wednesday at the Film Forum is the disturbing thriller Michael (Strand Releasing), the directorial debut by Markus Schleinzer, Michael Haneke’s casting director. It stars Michael Fuith as the title character, a shy insurance agent who has been keeping a secret in his basement, having captured a ten-year old boy who he treats like a slave.

Timed to coincide with the Grammy Awards this past weekend, Re: Generation Music Project (D&E Entertainment) is a documentary from Amir Bar-Lev (The Tillman Story, My Kid Could Paint That), which follows a group of electronic DJs including Skrillex, Crystal Method and Mark Ronson as they experiment in other musical genres by collaborating with veteran musicians and artists to reinvent the genre.

Shot entirely in Alaska, Andrew Okpeaha MacLean’s On the Ice is the story of two teenage boys who are like brothers, who have to hide a secret with a web of lies when a seal hunt leads to an accident. It opens in New York at Lincoln Center and the Village East, as well as in Fairbanks and Anchorage, Alaska.

Next week, the shortened month of February comes to a close with four new movies including the return of Tyler Perry with Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds (Lionsgate), the Paul Rudd-Jennifer Aniston comedy Wanderlust (Universal), the modern war movie Act of Valor (Relativity Media), starring real-life Navy Seals, and Amanda Seyfried’s thriller Gone (Summit Entertainment).

You can read stuff like this and regular box office, awards and festival coverage on the new Weekend Warrior Blog and to keep up with the latest articles and posts, you can follow us on Twitter.

Copyright 2012 Edward Douglas

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