Weekend Forecast for March 28-30, 2008
By Reagen Sulewski
March 28, 2008

We go together like whamalamalama a dingity dingado.

We're now officially into spring, typically one of the busiest seasons at the box office in terms of the number of films in release, though not in terms of dollars generated. This weekend is a case in point, with four new films in wide release, but no real potential blockbusters in the bunch.

Sadly, the highest grossing of the bunch is likely to be Superhero Movie, another of the lowest common denominator pop-culture regurgitations that passes for parody these days. Oh, ZAZ, where are you now when we most need you?

As the oh so descriptive title tells us, this film is going after the recent spate of comic book based films, like Spider-Man, the X-Men movies, etc. etc. Of course, these have already been covered to some extent in the Scary Movie films (why?) and Epic Movie and the umpteen other of these cheaply and hastily produced films, the first movies in history with planned obsolescence. I see the end game of these films and it's not pretty. It's called Movie Movie, and it will just be clips from every film released in the prior six months with farts edited in on the soundtrack.

For its cast, Superhero Movie features some of the requisite recognizable actors to make it a little respectable, in this case Leslie Nielsen, Chris MacDonald, Tracy Morgan and Brent Spiner, among others, but it's more about how many cheap jokes they can make. Although it's not related to this year's inexplicably popular Meet the Spartans, it's connected in spirit. It's yet to be seen how bad one of these films will have to be before it bombs, and this one actually has the tiniest bit better germ of an idea than some of the other spoofs lately, so I see no reason to predict an end to this trend yet. Give it about $19 million to win the weekend.

Several years back, some students at MIT came up with one of the most audacious gambling schemes ever. As a bunch of math whizzes, they figured out that they could soak the casinos for all they were worth by counting cards at blackjack. While counting cards is nothing new and known to casinos, the scale of the MIT operation was unprecedented, with teams of counters and decoys and false identities.

After the MIT team broke up, their efforts were recounted in a book called Bringing Down the House (its title tragically taken by that Queen Latifah/Steve Martin abomination), which is the basis of this weekend's 21. A highly fictionalized take on the scheme, it follows one of team members from his recruitment to a Boogie Nights-esque seduction by the world of gambling and money. Relative newcomer Jim Sturgess plays the central figure, with Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, and Laurence Fishburne in other roles.

The story is one of the most fascinating nuts-and-bolts Vegas stories ever, but those kinds of things rarely transition well to the big screen - hence the sexed-up job we have here with 21. It ultimately rings a little false to me since it didn't really go down like the film seems to show, but for the movie's sake it's probably better.

Gambling movies are a little hit or miss at the box office, with even the hits usually only becoming so after the fact (a la Rounders). This one's been heavily promoted and focuses less on the mechanics of the game and more on the people and the intrigue, which will help it. A star in the lead could probably given that extra boost, but then keeping this cheap was probably the right idea. Look for $14 million in its debut weekend.

Stop-Loss is the first film from Boys Don't Cry director Kimberly Peirce since tackling gender politics in 1999. No stranger to controversial issues, in this film she's turning to the biggest issue going - the Iraq War. As the title implies, it's less about the war itself than about Army policies regarding its soldiers tours of duty, and the effect it has one them.

Ryan Phillipe stars as a solider who after returning from his tour in Iraq, tries to settle back into his life, thinking he's done with the Army. However, on the day he's supposed to be getting his release, he's "stop-lossed", a designation that means the Army can extend his service indefinitely, sending him back to the front lines. The film follows him after he tries to deal with the designation, as it disrupts his plans and his life and tests his beliefs.

Iraq War films have proven, with basically no exceptions, to be extremely unpopular with moviegoers, regardless of their real or perceived politics. Stop-Loss appears to mostly avoid the political angle of the war and deals with it as it affects the soldiers on the ground. Even taking that into account, it's a subject matter that has people staying away in droves and I don't see this essentially depressing film changing that. Debuting on 1,291 screens, it's due for about $6 million in its opening weekend.

Run Fatboy Run is a film that we here at BOP have been awaiting for some time. The directorial debut of David Schwimmer, it� wait, come back! OK, so the director's name doesn't exactly inspire confidence, but we're just getting to the good part. Simon Pegg stars as a layabout who has spent five years trying to make up for leaving his pregnant fiancee at the altar. Since said fiancee is Thandie Newton, one wonders what Pegg was thinking in running away, but there you have it.

When he discovers that Newton has gotten engaged to a successful American businessman, who also happens to be a hardcore runner, he decides that the way to get back into Newton's heart is by taking up running himself. The broad plot is fairly sitcom-y, I'll admit, but what's promising here is that the script is by Pegg and Michael Ian Black (who you may or may not remember as Phil Stubbs from the TV show Ed).

Even with the cult success of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Pegg's following is still relatively limited, if fairly dedicated. This doesn't have quite the innate geek hook of zombie or action-parody of Pegg's last two films, nor is it a collaboration with Edgar Wright, but it does appear amusing enough as a relationship comedy. Reflecting Pegg's status, it's premiering at around 1,100 theaters and should see about $4 million this weekend.

Horton Hears a Who! is set to give up the top spot at the box office after two weekends and nearly $100 million so far. It's the clubhouse leader for 2008 box office, passing Cloverfield on Saturday. Obviously, this isn't going to hold up for the rest of the year, but it's still something to be happy about at this early date in the year. With another $14 million or so this weekend, it should stay in the top three, and is headed for a total of about $140 million.

Second place went to another film with the Tyler Perry brand, Meet the Browns. Since 2005's Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Perry has been more or less unstoppable, directing or producing five (and honestly, it feels like more) of his plays for the big screen and hauling in wheelbarrows full of cash. Hey, we get it Tyler, you have a lot of crazy relatives! Meet the Browns opened to $20 million, an opening that's about par for the course at this point. As strong as his films have opened, they've also seen some pretty hefty drops in following weekends. I see no reason to deviate from that here, and I see a second weekend of $10 million in the cards.

Shutter and Drillbit Taylor both earned a near identical total at the box office, $10.4 and $10.3 million respectively, but those totals tell a different story for the two films. Shutter was a cheapo horror film, barely promoted and pretty much already assured a profit. Taylor, while not a bloated budget film by any means, came from Judd Apatow's production house, was co-written by Knocked Up's Seth Rogen, and starred Owen Wilson. Clearly expectations were higher for this one, along the lines of The Pacifier. Both should see only about $5 million this weekend.