Weekend Forecast for January 30 - February 1, 2009
By Reagen Sulewski
January 30, 2009

Hey, if Clint can do it, why can't I?

Super Bowl weekend has often been considered one of the dead zones on the box office calendar, though some studios have countered this with clever counter-programming in recent years. This weekend, one studio takes the big game head on.

Luc Besson's action film factory comes out with Taken this weekend, starring Liam Neeson as a former spy pulled back into action when his daughter is kidnapped in Paris by a sex slave ring. With just days to rescue her before she's never seen again, he gets to flex his skills to punch, kick, shoot and otherwise something-to-death the entire gang in order to find her.

The film is in the mold of The Transporter series (a la "but they messed with the wrong man...") though somewhat more serious due to the presence of Neeson. He's not necessarily someone people associate with but-kickings, though he's an imposing guy and looks like he's able to pull this kind of role off, if the ads are any way to judge. And let's not forget Rob Roy.

Fox has been giving this one the full court press, with the first six minutes of the movie being given away as a teaser for the rest of it. It's got the look of a solid B-level genre flick that won't reinvent the wheel, but might create some passionate fans. The director is Pierre Morel, who opened several eyes with the parkour-themed District B13, which was light on plot but had world-class choreography. Opening on about 3,100 screens, Taken seems headed for about an $18 million opening weekend.

The fascination with January horror should continue this weekend as well with The Uninvited. A remake of a Korean film, it's a creepy-stepmother/ghost story, with Lemony' Snicket's Emily Browning and some other girl you've never heard of as sisters dealing with a potentially psychotic stepmother (Elizabeth Banks) and a father (David Strahairn) who doesn't really give a crap about anything other than the fact that he gets to sleep with Elizabeth Banks.

Then a bunch of creepy things happen, the details of which I'm sure are ooh-scary, although I can't really be bothered with the plot of most of these horror films – scary stuff happens, and then people die. So few have come up with truly original ideas, and we get thrown about ten of them at a time with entirely unilluminating titles starting with "The". But still, people flock to them, and they're ridiculously cheap to make, so they keep coming. Let's give this one about $12 million.

The true counter-programming of the weekend is New in Town, a romantic comedy starring Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick Jr. Sort of the reverse Sweet Home Alabama (and uncoincidentally written by the scribe of that film), Zellweger plays a Miami business woman who's sent to rural Minnesota to close a factory, but once there, learns valuable lessons about the honest hard-workin' folk – and how to pee in a snowsuit.

Essentially one long joke about the Fargo accent, it's Zellweger's attempt to get back into her romantic leading lady position, but if anything, this will have to be a transitional step. She's become a bit of a poisonous figure for a lot of people, and it's difficult to identify who her fanbase really is at this point. She's sort of a lesser Nicole Kidman – a famous actress who makes movies that no one really wants to see, and who a lot of people want to see fail. New in Town opens at a modest 1,900 venues, which doesn't show confidence from Lionsgate (or at least shows Lionsgate's weakness), and I'd say we're looking at about a $7 million weekend.

After last week's expanding Oscar-film orgy, a couple more movies enter the fray from that grouping, after missing the initial boat on their expansion. Milk, which is going for a second wind, and The Reader, the surprise Best Picture nominee, jump into wider release, with about 800 and 1,000 screens each. Neither look to have huge impacts on the box office despite their Oscar nominees, Milk, since it's already been around the block, and The Reader, which with it's Nazi ephebophilia, has kind of an off-putting subject matter for mainstream audiences. And this in comparison to the film about the gay politician. Both look to have the potential for about $3 million each this weekend.

Hopefully this all means that the reign of terror of Paul Blart is over. Two weeks in and with about $70 million in the bank, it's an unmitigated box office triumph, and announces the coming of age of Kevin James, comedy star. I know, I'm scared too. With the Super Bowl penalty, it should drop to about $12 million.

Gran Torino is still holding on strong, though I can only imagine the expression on Clint Eastwood's face after being told that his film has lost to Paul Blart two weeks in a row. Make it three, unfortunately, with about $10 million for it.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans should fall right off the table – a second sequel that removed the major star of the original film and completely changed the setting, it's playing only to diehard fans of the series, if you can imagine such a thing. I anticipate about $8 million for its second weekend.

Slumdog Millionaire was the big winner of the Oscar expansion weekend, jumping to over $10 million after receiving ten nominations. Sitting close to a remarkable $60 million so far, it's set for a big long run as a natural audience pleaser. It expands a bit more this weekend and should bring in $7 million.