Weekend Forecast for February 6-8, 2009
By Reagen Sulewski
February 6, 2009

Way to go, E!

The first weekend of February gives us the typical variety pack of mid-level blockbusters, but with no real potential for a breakout hit, the top spot is up for grabs.

Potentially leading the way in the romantic comedy market is He's Just Not That Into You, based on the self-help book that broke the news to women that, hey, we guys aren't that complicated and we mean what we say. It's sort of incredible that someone turned this into a money-making idea, but then again, it's not that thick of a book.

In turn, we now have it becoming a movie, with an inter-connected series of women dealing with unnecessarily complicated relationships, mostly by not realizing the truth of the title. A star-studded cast of Jennifer Aniston, Scarlett Johansson, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connolly and Ginnifer Goodwin make up the leads in these stories as they deal with problems ranging from infidelity (their own and that of others), online dating, and the "friend zone". Significant (vestigial?) male roles go to Ben Affleck, Kevin Connolly, Justin Long and Bradley Cooper. The film is directed by Ken Kwapis, one of the directors of The Office, obviously an expert in this kind of comedy of embarrassment.

A sort of anti-Love, Actually, it has some potential as the rom-com equivalent of a blockbuster, especially with that cast. Reviews are pretty awful, as far as those go, but aside from horror films, it's one of the more review-proof genres out there. What matters here is the concept and the cast, and it's one of the more solid ones to come around in some time, even if it's probably yet another one of these films that's mortifying to women. Opening in 3,175 venues, it should be good for about $23 million and a weekend crown.

Steve Martin seems not to be content just to try and make us forget why we loved him so, but also to try and bring down the very genre of comedy with him. The Pink Panther 2 is the latest evidence of that, as he brings us a sequel to the surprisingly successful remake/reimagining of the Peter Sellers classic series about the bumbling French detective Jacques Clouseau.

I say surprisingly, because it appeared to have all the hallmarks of the comedy bomb – a remake, starring an actor who's been out of the comedy A-list for awhile, filled with pratfalls. Somehow, this opened to $20 million two years ago, so we're back for round two. The producers seem to have realized that the funniest thing about the first film was Martin's fevered attempts to pronounce the word "hamburger" in an outrageous French accent, and have decided to repeat that gag as much as possible, throwing it in the ads and riding it all the way into the ground. And more power to them (admittedly, it still gets me. Every time. I can't explain it).

The sequel could probably be subtitled "More of the Same", and would probably seem like a positive to a lot of people. Martin as Clouseau joins up with an international task force to try and stop an art thief, largely getting in the way of himself and succeeding despite his own incompetence. Jean Reno and Emily Mortimer are back, and the cast has ballooned, with John Cleese, Andy Garcia, Alfred Molina, Jeremy Irons and Bollywood superstar Aishwarya Rai signing on. Martin is at least trying his best, but I predict a little bit of bleed off on this, though not too much. What sort of worked last time ought to sort of work again (and really, after Paul Blart, people have no room to talk about bad comedy). Give it $17 million for an opening weekend.

Action is handled this week by Push, whose producers are desperately hoping you don't watch NBC on Monday nights. A ragtag group of young people with special powers like telekinesis and clairvoyance (hmm...) are hunted down by a secretive government organization (HMMM...) for use in a sinister plan to change the world (I said HMMM!). Okay, so it's pretty much Heroes: The Movie, but then, the way the show is going, maybe the concept could use another hand steering the ship.

Notable cast members include Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Djimon Hounsou (playing the role of "accented Samuel L. Jackson") and Camilla Belle and a bunch of CGI. Which is what you're really here for, right? But without the ability to let characters develop, essentially compressing the first season of Heroes into two hours, it's undoubtedly going to suffer in comparison. Opening in a suspiciously low number of 2,300 or so venues, I'd look for this to come in with about $13 million.

Coraline is probably the best new movie of the weekend, so of course, I'm talking about it last. A stop-motion animated film from the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas and based on a Neil Gaiman book, it tells the story of a girl (voiced by Dakota Fanning, in her second role of the week) as a girl who discovers a secret portal to a parallel world where everything seems mostly the same...except people have buttons for eyes. And then things start getting creepy.

Visually inventive, and with Gaiman's able storytelling behind it, it's one of those kids films that will have a lot to offer adults as well as kids, although it's likely too intense for some of the younger tykes. But it's got cult appeal written all over it, and should start out with about $10 million.

Last week's winner, Taken, should cede top spot after earning $24 million last weekend. Although it resulted in the birth of Liam Neeson, Action Hero, it's not about to start a phenomenon of any kind. A solid second weekend of $15 million seems in the cards.

Paul Blart resists pretty much all sense and good taste to remain a strong earner, and is closing in on the $100 million mark, leading the 2009 pack. It should get pushed out of the top five this weekend, but will still bring in around $8 million in its fourth frame.

Of the rest of the films, only Slumdog Millionaire seems able to make a significant impact on the box office. Still expanding slightly on the basis of what seems its inevitable march to a Best Picture Oscar, it's also proving to be an audience favourite, with about $70 million in the bank right now. Look for another $5-6 million. The Uninvited, Hotel For Dogs, and Gran Torino (a strange grouping of films if there ever was one) should all fall below this mark.