After a couple of crazy weekends, things are going to settle down a little bit, at least for the rest of the month and maybe for the first couple of weeks of March, too, but that’s not stopping the release of a diverse trio of movies this weekend. These include a sequel to a comedy no one ever thought they’d ever see a sequel to, another Kevin Costner sports movie, and a snarky teen comedy.
The movie with the most potential this weekend would probably have to be Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (Paramount), a sequel to the 2010 movie starring John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Clark Duke and Craig Robinson, which opened with a modest $14 million but went on to gross $50.3 million, not huge but also not bad for a March release that cost $36 million. That movie was released during MGM’s short-lived return to distribution a few years back, but the film’s producer Matt Moore and director Steve Pink stuck to their guns and five years later, they’re back with one of the unlikeliest sequels since Anchorman 2. And it’s even being released by that movie’s distributor, Paramount Pictures, who clearly realize that there is a market for these comedies that found added life on DVD and cable.
John Cusack is gone, replaced by Adam Scott… as his son (don’t ask)… which might not help, but let’s face it, the real comedy in the original movie came from the likes of Rob Corddry, Clark Duke and Craig Robinson, all of whom have built up their fanbases in the last five years.
Corddry has built an audience through his Cartoon Network show “Childrens Hospital” and a variety of studio and indie movies including Warm Bodies and In A World… (directed by “Children’s Hospital’s” Lake Bell). Robinson had a great role in Seth Rogen’s This is the End while continuing his role on NBC’s “The Office” while Duke also appeared on the last few seasons of “The Office” and appeared in Kick-Ass and its sequel.
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is basically taking the same approach as Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and its sequel, sending the four guys to different times to meet famous people from history hoping to create laughs. Maybe some younger guys will find that funny, and it’s basically hoping to get in the teen and older college crowd who might enjoy the sophomoric humor. This does have the added marketing that comes from Paramount Pictures, who had good luck pushing Anchorman 2 years after the original movie, although that was a sequel that people actually wanted.
This probably won’t open that much bigger than the original movie with five years having passed and the original movie not being as beloved as other comedies that have attained sequels. It’s also opening into a market with plenty of stronger movies like Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman, which will probably bring in some good word-of-mouth business in its second weekend. Figure this one will end up opening under $15 million and probably won’t make more than $40 million total.
The other new comedy of the weekend is one with the unfortunate title of The DUFF (CBS Films), which is an acronym for “Designated Ugly Fat Friend.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard that term or expression before, but wait a minute… that’s me!!! Dammit. I’m not sure how they could have made a movie about me without me knowing about it, but having not seen it yet, I’m going to assume it’s absolutely hilarious (because I am).
This is the new movie from Ari Sandel, who has directed a couple of shorts including “West Bank Story” for which he won an Oscar and he also directed the Wild West Comedy Show, documenting Vince Vaughn’s comedy tour. His narrative feature is a high school comedy in the vein of Mean Girls or Clueless, which means it’s targeting teen and older girls, who are a rather finicky group who don’t always go see movies even when they’re tracking well among that demo.
The big draw for most girls will be the presence of Bella Thorne, who starred in the popular Disney Channel show “Shake It Up!” and has had roles in Adam Sandler’s Blended and Disney’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Bad Day last year, neither which did well enough to point to Thorne’s fans going to see her. The DUFF is more of her movie though and she’s joined by Mae Whitman (from “Arrested Development”) and Robbie Amell from “The Tomorrow People” who just joined “The Flash” as Ronnie Raymond, aka Firestorm. It seems like Thorne would be the biggest draw of that trio, and neither the ubiquitous Ken Jeong—no, seriously he is everywhere and he’s not going away!—or Allison Janney will do much to help get in the film’s younger audience.
It won’t help that it’s opening against Hot Tub Time Machine 2, which does have a stronger marketing campaign, although this is looking for a younger audience with its PG-13 rating, which could help against all of the R-rated fare in theaters.
That said, the marketing isn’t as strong and CBS Films does not have the best track record with their releases with only two movies that have grossed over $50 million (The Woman in Black and Last Vegas). None of their 2014 movies made much of a mark, although to be fair, only one of them, What If, received a proper wide release. The DUFF is getting a wider release into 2,600 theaters and one assumes that the young people into this sort of snarky high school comedy might give it a look.
It just doesn’t seem like something rushing to see in theaters, and it doesn’t seem to be on many radars, including critics and movie journalists, so it will probably make somewhere around $10 million or less for the weekend and less than $30 million total unless word-of-mouth is any good.
Last but not least, we have the second movie from Kevin Costner of the year, which is the oddly-titled McFarland, USA (Walt Disney), that’s about a place in California called… wait for it… McFarland. Those of you hoping this was a biopic about “Spawn” creator Todd McFarland… well, that’s not his name, dummies! No, this is about coach Jim White, who moved to this small burg in California where he started a cross-country team with a couple of kids of the local migrant workers and the rest is history! (A history that none of us have ever heard about if we don’t live in that neck of the woods, more like.)
Yeah, a movie about cross-country running is not likely to be the next American Sniper, although the movie does have some things going for it, like Costner, but also that it’s a movie that plays very well for the audiences that do see it.
This may be the fourth or fifth sport that Costner has tackled in movie form, having had the most success with baseball movies like Bull Durham and Field of Dreams, less success with the golf movie Tin Cup and last year’s Draft Day, which was about the football draft. (If Dancing with Wolves was an actual sport, it would have been Costner’s biggest sports movie to date.) Costner’s most recent movie Black or White has only grossed about $15 million since opening last month and that followed Draft Day, which only grossed $28.8 million after a $9.8 million opening. A few months earlier, Costner appeared in the action-thriller 3 Days to Kill, which opened slightly higher–you can read more about that below–but even his appearance in the rejuvenated Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit didn’t help that do well over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend a few weeks earlier.
One thing this movie has that those other movie didn’t is the Disney marketing team behind it, and let’s face it, there are few studios that are better at finding potential audiences than Disney. In this case, they’re being pretty smart and not even pretending that their primary target audience for this movie is the Latino audiences who have become a burgeoning demographic in movie theaters in recent years. Many of the posters around New York City are even in Spanish!
The movie isn’t bad, mainly thanks to the direction of Whale Rider helmer Niki Caro, making her first studio movie since 2005’s North Country, but other than Kevin Costner, there really aren’t any stars to get people into theaters. (Actress Maria Bello also appears in the movie, not that you’d know from her absence in the marketing.)
Disney released the equally unconventional baseball movie Million Dollar Arm starring Jon Hamm last May and it was able to open with more than $10.5 million in 3,000 theaters on its way to $36.5 million, and that was a similar sports movie that tried to target a specific ethnic demographic on top of the normal Disney. But McFarland, USA is about running, a subject that hasn’t been covered in a narrative film going back to 1997’s Prefontaine, which didn’t make any money. While there have been successful sports dramas including a number from Disney, this just doesn’t look like an interesting subject for mainstream audiences.
With that in mind, this may do better than the movie might do normally but it will probably still end up in the $10 million range, probably lower as it ends up with The DUFF somewhere in the bottom half of the Top 10.
This weekend last year, Kevin Costner had another movie, the action-thriller 3 Days to Kill (Relativity), directed by McG (“Charlie’s Angels). It opened with $12.2 million in 2,872 theaters, averaging $4,263 per theater, which was only enough for a distant second place behind the animated hit The LEGO Movie, which added $31.1 million to its domestic take of $183 million. Meanwhile, Resident Evil’s Paul W.S. Anderson made a biopic about “Grey’s Anatomy” star Ellen Pompeii (TriStar/Sony)—sorry, kids, the jokes don’t get better when you get to my age—which took third place with just $10.3 million in 2,658 theaters, averaging just less than $4,000. The Top 10 grossed $94.3 million and even with the weaker offerings and a big tumble on Fifty Shades of Grey, the box office should stay ahead of last year.
This Week’s Predictions –
UPDATE: Not much of a change even with increased theater counts because I didn’t take into account the Oscars on Sunday which will generally keep moviegoers at home.
1. Fifty Shades of Grey (Universal) – $26.5 million -69%
Will Smith and Margot Robbie get a headstart on their pairing in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad with the heist movie Focus (Warner Bros.) while horror fans can turn up to learn what The Lazarus Effect (Relativity) is.
This Week’s Must-Sees
It’s with mixed pride and shame I’m delighted to write about the start of Lincoln Center’s “Film Comment Selects” series on Friday, February 20, the first part because it’s one of the coolest NY film series on a yearly basis, but I’m shamed by the fact that I missed all the press screenings this year. It kicks off on Friday with the New York premiere of Mark Hartley’s doc Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, who made some of the schlockiest movies in Hollywood during the ‘80s. They’re showing a trio of movies as part of a special Cannon Films tribute. Other movies getting sneak previews during the series is David Robert Mitchell’s excellent horror film It Follows, which will be released by RADiUS-TWC on March 13, and Michael Almereyda’s Anarchy, a modernized adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline” starring Ethan Hawke, Ed Harris, Dakota Johnson, Penn Badgley and Milla Jovovich. Other interesting movies include Riley Stearns’ Faults, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, which premiered at SXSW last year, and Duane Hopkins’ Bypass. One of the movies I have seen (other than It Follows) is the German film Phoenix from director Christian Petzold starring Nina Hoss as a concentration camp survivor who has had facial reconstructive surgery who goes looking for her husband in postwar Berlin. It was one of my favorite movies at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival and it’s highly recommended. Film Comment Selects runs from Friday, February 20 to March 5 and you can see the full schedule right here.
Now let’s get to the theatrical releases.
Wild Tales (Sony Pictures Classics)
Queen and Country (BBC)
Other Limited Releases of Note:
Digging Up the Marrow (RLJE/Image Entertainment)
And then we have three very different coming-of-age dramas, none that sound particularly exciting, although I haven’t seen any of them, so what do I know?
Blackbird (RLJE/Image Entertainment)
All the Wilderness (Screen Media Films)
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Copyright 2015 Edward Douglas