Weekend Forecast for January 25-27, 2007
By Reagen Sulewski
January 25, 2008

I saw this in Halo 3!

While nothing new this weekend will challenge the figures put up by Cloverfield last frame, this unusually strong January at the box office should keep going with a deeper slate of films.

After causing heads to shake around the world by making a sixth Rocky film, and getting even more heads moving by it actually being not that bad, Sylvester Stallone is trying again for some career nostalgia. Rambo is the fourth movie in the... uh... Rambo series, coming 20 years after he singlehandedly defeated communism in Afghanistan. Yeah, thanks a lot for that, by the way.

Now, an aging John Rambo lives like a warrior monk in the hills of northern Thailand, hoping to be left alone to live out the rest of his life with the memories of all the stuff he did and people he killed to keep him going. He is, however, really close to the border of Burma, which, if you've been following the news at all in the last little while, is one of the most repressive regimes in the world that isn't North Korea. When some missionary/activists come up his way hoping to sneak into the country to try and help out resistance fighters in that country, then promptly get captured – well, Rambo gets that old righteous killing feeling again, and a bunch of people are gonna die.

Although the idea of the 62-year-old Stallone taking on the entire Burmese army might seem a little silly, it's not that much sillier than the second or third movies (leaving First Blood alone, since it was almost realistic in comparison). And although straight-up gun-fueled action has mostly gone out of style, giving way to martial arts battles, with the right concept, gun battles could come back as a bit of a "novelty".

Rambo might be that concept, especially the way it's being sold as an ultra hard-R blood and guts film. A notorious red-banded trailer upped the ante for that, with one particularly gruesome close range encounter of a Burmese soldier with a .50 machine gun. It's this kind of thing that action junkies have been missing for a long time, and you can either join them or just smile, nod, and slowly back away from them.

Rocky Balboa opened to $17 million two Christmases ago, which seems like a pretty good baseline for this film – Rocky served as a "proof of concept", if you will, that Stallone's old franchises still had some life left in them. I see about $21 million for Rambo this weekend, and for him to get started on that Demolition Man sequel for next summer. I'm just saying.

Do you remember that kid in high school who just went around repeating catchphrases from TV shows and movies, only four months later than everyone, and getting them kind of wrong, just completely draining them of all humor and making you retroactively hate the thing they came from, even if you did like it in the first place? Apparently, those kids grew up to be filmmakers, if Meet the Spartans is any judge.

The duo behind Epic Movie, itself a knockoff of the Scary Movie franchise, are back with yet another exceedingly lame "parody" of the previous year's hit movies, sort of a year-in-review aimed at the "I get jokes" crowd. Targets this time include 300, Spider-Man 3, Shrek 3, The Apprentice, and probably a bunch of other really obvious jokes that took about 30 seconds to write. Epic Movie opened to $18 million for some reason, and had one of the steepest falls in box office history, ending up with just barely twice that total and a spot in the IMDb's all-time bottom 100. My guess is that striking "Movie" from the title is going to hurt this film a bit, as the yokels that like these films might be unsure if it's really connected to that series and worried that they might not be able to follow the plot. I give it about $13 million for the weekend, but really people, stop hurting movies. You have blood on your hands if you see this film.

Untraceable must be thankful that Meet the Spartans is out this weekend, since it saves it from being hands down the worst film of the weekend. Threatening to make The Net look like a computer science lecture, it stars Diane Lane as a government cyber-cop of some kind who tracks down hackers and other computer related bad guys. Enter the villain, who gets Lane's attention with a Web site that's designed to kill a man after it reaches a certain number of hits. Trying to catch him... actually, just wait a minute.

Before I go any further with this, I'd like to say a few words about how fundamentally stupid the idea for this movie is. Not just the premise, mind you, but the casting. I have nothing against Diane Lane, and I think she's a fine actress. However, hardcore female computer experts do not look like Diane Lane. Don't think you've caught me in some sort of "smart women can't be beautiful" or "women don't use computers" trap either – considering the male compatriot of Lane in the film is played by Colin Hanks. I realize we're trying to sell tickets here, and there are no real "ugly" women in Hollywood, but this is like trying to sell Orlando Bloom as, oh, say a badass pirate, and... what? They did? Oh for the love of...

Anyway, despite it being the equivalent of saying to a eight-year-old, "don't you eat these cookies I put on the table", the government agency tells the public not to visit this Web site, because, you know, it'll kill the guy. Predictably it does, and the cat and mouse game between the anonymous computer dude and Lane goes forward, with him doing impossible things like hacking into things that aren't connected to networks. He's just that good!

With the casting of Lane and the blatant disregard for reality, Untraceable's demographic is your elderly relative who's still not comfortable using her "e-mail machine" and that slightly loopy dude who thought Y2K meant his microwave was going to stop working. I'll give it a little potential for being able to wrench some suspense out of its premise, but this is a bit like staging a World War II movie on the moon, without spacesuits, and the Nazis are all lizards. Let's say $8 million for this can call it a day.

Finally there's How She Move, yet another movie about dancing and the street that will drive grammaticists crazy. This probably doesn't star anyone you've heard of, and seems utterly generic. It even goes for that old trope of the big dance contest, which I thought went out of vogue with '70s sitcoms. It's hard to discount this completely since every once in awhile one of these breaks out, but I only see this one coming with about $5 million.

The big winner of last weekend was Cloverfield, which pulled in an impressive $40 million over its first three days. The rethought monster movie, told from first-person perspective, seized on a savvy viral marketing campaign and its gimmick to pack in the younger demographic, despite its total lack of stars or even recognizable actors.

In the end, it's really just an above average "big thing eats people" movie, but there's often a hunger in the marketplace for a new idea. I don't see this having huge legs, especially because of its gimmick, but I don't see it cratering either. I'll say $23 million for the second weekend, with a very good chance at winning two weekends in a row.

27 Dresses had a strong showing in the romantic comedy department, coming in second with $23 million. This makes a really strong case for Katherine Heigl as a top female box office draw, since she shared the billing in Knocked Up, and this film was almost all her. Romantic comedies typically have pretty good legs, although reviews were not kind to this one, and it's got quite the male repellent built right into it. I see this coming in with about $14 million for weekend number two.

Oscar nominations came out this week, with several of the heavy hitters still in theaters and able to take advantage of them. Among that list is There Will Be Blood, which jumps to about 900 screens, as well as re-expanding films like No Country for Old Men and Michael Clayton. Atonement also continues its expansion after bringing in a handful of nods. Typically, nominations do a lot more for films that are in the first go in the theaters than those that are getting a second kick at the can, but it depends a lot on where films got their nominations.

No Country for Old Men should see the biggest benefit of all the nominees, since it's one of the two big front runners, along with There Will Be Blood. Atonement should stay about par for the course, and I think the Michael Clayton release will be met with a bit of a yawn. However, we're talking about a range here of between $2 and $5 million for these films. The tales will be told on these films in the coming weeks, not necessarily this one.