Weekend Forecast for May 9-11, 2008
By Reagen Sulewski
May 9, 2008

Strange, he doesn't *look* like a demon on wheels.

After getting off to a brilliant start, the summer movie season takes a weekend to exhale a little. That isn't to say it's not without blockbuster aspirants, but they just won't be able to hit the early high water mark of Iron Man.

Although it doesn't quite seem like it, Speed Racer is the first film the Wachowskis have directed since 2003 brought the end of the Matrix trilogy. They've had their share of projects come out, most notably V For Vendetta, but this is the first time they've officially been behind the camera. For their return, they've chosen to bring their unique visual style to bear with an adaptation of the Japanese anime Speed Racer.

A legendary animated series that debuted in the '60s, and lived on in ubiquity in North America in syndicated reruns, Speed Racer follows the exploits of one, uh, Speed Racer, who races speedily. This isn't NASCAR or Formula 1 though, with tracks going in three dimensions, and active weapons systems on each car. So really, think Mario Kart writ large. Emile Hirsch plays Speed, a brash young driver in a custom built car named the Mach 5, who is offered a choice in his driving career – drive for the top team or be run out of the circuit. Speed picks Door Number 3, continuing to drive on his own, but with a target on his back. His only help – the mysterious Racer X (Matthew Fox).

It's pretty straightforward stuff, but what's special about this film is its style – a candy coated, neon techno future design that could induce epilepsy if you're not careful. Filmed almost entirely in front of green screen, it's being hailed by some as a revolution in film making, although Sin City is mostly the same idea. The movie itself looks a bit shaky, and it's more or less a live action cartoon (appropriate) and kind of ridiculous looking. Then again, it is an adaptation of a kids show, and seems to be pitched directly at them, with the PG rating to match. It's tracking fairly poorly, but it's not unusual for kids films to outperform their tracking. Also debuting in IMAX, which should add a few million, it should bring in about $35 million this weekend.

For the second straight week, a romantic comedy will be running in second place for new films, though it will be significantly closer in margin. What Happens in Vegas stars Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz as accidental newlyweds after a wild night in Las Vegas, forced to stay together after a random slot machine win. Oh, the wacky adventures this mismatched couple of boor and priss will have!

This is something pretty much straight out of sitcom world, though both the leads have shown themselves pretty capable of carrying this type of film, with Kutcher playing almost exactly this role in Just Married opposite Brittany Murphy to the tune of a $17 million opening. Vegas is proving to be a pretty fertile and hip ground for movies, as shown by the otherwise unremarkable 21 earning almost $80 million so far. This also has the advantage of being a romantic comedy that at least some men would be willing to see, as opposed to the emasculating Made of Honor, and also isn't debuting against one of the big comic book movies of the summer. Look for around $24 million for this.

Expanding into wide release is Redbelt, which jumps to 1,300 plus screens from a debut in six. An MMA-themed film from David Mamet – apparently he's into ju-jitsu himself, so it's not that incongruous – it stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as a instructor coerced into a prize fight that he discovered is fixed. In typical Mametian fashion, twists and turns multiply like rabbits, and unnatural speech patterns abound. While MMA is one of the hottest things out there in the sporting world, making it pretty obvious how he got the funds to make this film, Ejiofor isn't what you'd call a top name, though he's a perfectly fine actor. On its six screens last week, it earned just $63,000, which is a pretty pathetic amount per theater. I'd say we're looking at an opening weekend of just around $4 million here.

These numbers leave it wide open for Iron Man to take the top spot once again. Earning $102 million including the Thursday night previews, Iron Man had the third highest non-sequel opening weekend ever, and the tenth highest overall - a pretty remarkable feat for what is essentially a B-List comic character. It's a triumph of both film making and marketing, and a director knowing the strength of the title character and his lead actor, Robert Downey, Jr. Word-of-mouth is pretty rapturous, and while it's hard to imagine any film opening to this much having a good second weekend comparatively, if any film can do it, it's probably this one. And don't forget, Spider-Man followed up its $114 million weekend with a $71 million one. I'm not looking for that here, but $60 million seems possible.

The train of comedies follows these films, starting with Made of Honor, which opened to just under $15 million. Hands up, everyone who thought Patrick Dempsey would be a movie star again – not so fast, Patrick. Anyway, we'll see if he has any particular staying power if he tries something other than a romantic comedy, but for now he's back. Let's say around $9 million for its second weekend.

Baby Mama had decent holdover, earning $10 million in its second weekend, as it sits at just over $30 million so far. That's about average for a gross-out pregnancy comedy these days (oh, it's a genre now), and this looks headed for about $60 million total, with another $6 million coming this week. Following it will be Forgetting Sarah Marshall, with around $3 million in its fourth week, a pretty respectable total for a Jason Segel film, while stoners pretty much forgot about Harold and Kumar after its excellent opening weekend. Give that a little under $3 million as well.