Hollywood abandons the typical May strategy of “one film per week” for a triple-header this weekend, though we're likely to see the reign of The Avengers continue for at least one more week. A couple of adaptations from unusual sources aren't likely to dethrone it, nor a shock comedy from a controversial comic.
Weekend Forecast for May 18-20, 2012
By Reagen Sulewski
May 18, 2012
This week's entry in the “are they kidding us?” file is Battleship. Yes, based on the game. Following Transformers and GI Joe, this is the third Hasbro property to get the big screen treatment, and the first board game adaptation I can think of since Clue. Of course, Clue has the benefit of having something of a plot, while the grid and peg guessing game that is Battleship is about the furthest thing from that. Everyone involved seems to have realized that pretty early on, so aside from the fact that it takes place mostly on ships and that there appears to be some sort of peg-based weapony (how have we not thought of this sooner!), there's basically nothing to connect it to the game. The antagonists? Aliens, apparently. Crass capitalism on a brand name in Hollywood? Why, I never!
Taylor Kitsch, likely still licking his wounds from this spring's John Carter, takes the lead role, playing Ben Affleck in Armageddon, while Liam Neeson makes an appearance as a character who might as well be named “How Much? Okay, I'll Do It”. With all the money that's getting thrown around for actors, a little falls Alexander Skarsgard's way, as well as towards Rihanna and Brooklyn Decker. And where you might expect to find an anonymous hack in the director's chair, we have... Peter Berg? Isn't he talented?
Apparently what he really wanted to be is Michael Bay, which might explain why this looks like mini-Transformers, or if we're being generous, the Navy version of Top Gun, if they'd fought robotic-looking aliens instead of Russians. Battleship is aiming at being the first noisy, uncomplicated action movie of the summer season, which often pays off (see: Twister, The Mummy) regardless of the quality of the movie. In Battleship's case, that quality is evidently not very high, but it also is unapologetic about that fact, essentially hinging its advertising on “come watch stuff blow up! At sea!”.
While Universal is obviously hoping for something like a Transformers performance to justify a franchise, I think this might be a premise too far for most self-respecting movie-goers. It's simply too much to ask of people to get them to a movie based on guessing letters and numbers. If nothing else, we need Battleship to do poorly so that Eli Roth doesn't get handed Operation. The silliness probably puts a cap on its ultimate take, but it should manage around $42 million this weekend.
Three years after alienating basically all of his defenders with Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen is back with a lead role, in The Dictator, which opened Wednesday. Deviating from his ambush documentary style (being far too well known at this point to surprise anyone), Cohen goes more straightforward with the film, playing Admiral General Aladeen of the fictional country Wadiya, who he lovingly oppresses, until he's secretly overthrown and stranded in America, where he tries to live incognito.
Cohen, as usual, turns the offensiveness meter up to 11, playing off his petulant character's horrendous acts for laughs, as well as mining for humor among some of America's biggest cultural taboos (9/11, for example). Whatever you might say about Cohen, he's completely fearless in his targets. Unfortunately for him, he's running into the tricky part of the arc for shock comics, which usually goes “That's the funniest thing I've ever seen! That's hilarious. Now stop.” After Bruno's truly discomfiting and mean-spirited comedy, Cohen's facing a huge uphill battle with The Dictator. Stunts like pouring the “ashes” of Kim-Jong Il on Ryan Seacrest at the Oscars don't really help in this matter.
Working in its favor, then, is that it happens to look actually funny. Poking fun at the opulence and corruption of brutal dictators is never not funny, and Cohen's not-so veiled threats hit the mark for the most part. The switch to scripted comedy versus unscripted probably doesn't make a big difference here, as The Dictator still looks like it has that free-wheeling spirit that Borat and Bruno did, and people are starting to come around back to Cohen. Word-of-mouth could end up being a big factor here, and the Wednesday opening might be the rare case where it's appropriate and effective. The $4 million start isn't that impressive and would normally indicate about a $12-15 million weekend, but I feel like this has room to grow to around $18 million.
After the somewhat surprising success of the He's Just Not That Into You movie, studios started looking around for other self-help books to turn into movies. Who Moved My Cheese is a little too short even for movie standards, Rich Dad Poor Dad is a bit too smart for the room and The Secret is better classified under science-fiction. Which brings us to What to Expect When You're Expecting, the apparently desired take on the best-selling pregnancy manual, transformed into a collection of stale mommyhood and “boy, aren't dads clueless” cliches. The film follows five interconnected couples through the stages of pregnancy from conception to raising the little monsters, making sure to hit all the obvious points along the way.
They've managed to rope in some pretty significant names for this, with (most) of the the lucky female leads getting to strap on pregnancy bellies. Cameron Diaz, Elizabeth Banks, Anna Kendrick, Brooklyn Decker (who must be running ragged on the publicity circuit this week) and Jennifer Lopez take on the pregnancy/motherhood roles, while the male leads are a bit less famous as a rule. Dennis Quaid and Chris Rock are the two best known, with Matthew Morrison of Glee and Chace Crawford of Gossip Girl running a distant third and fourth. In any case, no men are going to see this movie, so what does that matter?
Reviews are pretty dismal, hammering the movie for its bad sitcom level humor and for its disjointed approach to storytelling. The basic concept is likely enough to bring in some women, though, as just depicting pregnancy is enough, regardless of whether it's good or not. Get better standards, people! I don't think we're headed for a repeat of He's Just Not That Into You and its $27 million opening weekend – the visibility of this film has been more limited, and audiences have been burned some on these omnibus films. Those poor reviews should also factor in, leading to around a $14 million opening weekend.
Not satisfied with just the records from its opening weekend, The Avengers had to go out and break a few more, including biggest second weekend and fastest film to $300 million. Biggest third weekend probably doesn't happen, but we can't totally rule it out, as it would be a realistic $68.5 million. Fastest to $400 million is a dead certainty, and will be a fact as soon as Thursday's numbers come out. This puts it at 12th or 13th all time before the weekend even happens, and with even a modest holdover shoots it up to sixth spot. Even Star Wars' $461 million total is within reach by the end of the weekend. We'll have a lot better idea of what its final total might be after this weekend, but let's just say Batman should be worried. I'll give it $64 million for this weekend.
Dark Shadows was met with a predictable “huh?” and $29 million, which is a testament to just how weird Johnny Depp can get and still draw people. Word-of-mouth for those who did bother to see it is just okay, so it should fall off the face of the earth. Instead, we're looking for a slow creep out of theaters, starting with around $19 million this weekend.