It's a hodgepodge trio of films for this first weekend of February, united only by their total lack of things in common. It's the proverbial “something for everyone” weekend, and while only one of the films stands to be a real hit, at least the other two aren't likely to be total bombs.
Weekend Forecast for February 7-9, 2014
By Reagen Sulewski
February 7, 2014
By far and away, the leader of the pack will be The Lego Movie, directed by Chris Miller and Phil Lord of Clone High fame... and oh yeah, of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street (I chose that order deliberately!). While basing a movie around a construction toy seems like an exercise in selling out, that ignores the shift that's occurred in Lego over the last 20 years or so. While the basic idea of building whatever you want (usually buildings or spaceships) has remained in the sets, they've also engaged in an aggressive campaign of cross branding with movies, TV and other pop culture, including DTV movies and video games, which play with the logical absurdities that would happen if the world was made of Lego. See, for instance, the Star Wars and Indiana Jones connections (among others). So the groundwork for this has been laid over a long time.
Into this step Miller and Lord, who have a penchant for blending pop culture into smart scripts about real ideas. Excitingly, the “build whatever” vs. “complete sets” debate among Lego enthusiasts appears to be the actual running throughline of the movie. The film centers around a Lego mini-fig voiced by Chris Pratt (playing up the lovable doofus angle) who is mistaken for one of the famed “Master Builders”, who can create anything in the Lego universe. He's drafted into service to battle Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) who has invented something to fix the entire Lego universe into place as it is, permanently. Like, this is a legitimately great idea for a plot in this scenario and it's hard to imagine someone coming up with a better idea.
Guiding Pratt's character are a host of pop culture icons including Batman, Superman (take that, Zack Snyder!), Abe Lincoln, a wizard, and a mysterious female character that's part action hero, part guru (voiced by Elizabeth Banks). Also in the strong voice cast are Morgan Freeman, Will Arnett, Will Forte, Allison Brie, Jonah Hill, Dave Franco, Liam Neeson, Nick Offerman, Channing Tatum... I could go on. Another bright spot for the film is its animation style, which while computer generated, has a neat faux-stop motion style and offers something quite different to family audiences.
And that's yet another point in the film's favor, as it definitely seems to offer messages and jokes to all age groups, and the numerous jokes featured in commercials appear to hit the mark perfectly. Connecting with so many various elements of pop culture might just make it this generation's Roger Rabbit, and lest you think I've overstated my case, reviews for the film are near rapturous. As of the time of this writing, the movie is sitting at an astounding *99%* fresh rating in reviews. I know, I'm scared too. This has the feeling of one of those times where something builds on its own momentum, and I'm feeling quite bullish at its prospects. Based on the track record of the creators, the fantastic reviews and commercials which hit all targets, I believe this will win the weekend with an opening figure of around $52 million.
Perhaps featuring more overall star power, but with much more troubling signs in production and in marketing, is The Monuments Men, the latest directorial effort from George Clooney. He tells here the true story of a special military mission during World War II, when a team of experts in art, architecture and antiquities were tasked with finding, protecting and recovering the great works of art looted by the Nazis, and threatened with destruction by their impending defeat. In this ragtag group of commandos are Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban and Cate Blanchett. Insert your own derisive Dirty Dozen joke here.
The film was originally scheduled for a late 2013 release into awards contention, but was withdrawn relatively close to release for some tweaking, which is never a great sign. It appears not to have helped all that much as reviews are not kind to it, indicating that the heist film element never quite meshes with the somber tone of the war film it aspires to be. As a director, Clooney has a fairly underwhelming record, with only one of his films cracking the $40 million mark, and just barely at that. This looks to be another in that vein, and should open to around $13 million based on star power, but not much else.
Lastly, we have the eyebrow raising title of Vampire Academy, which brings to mind the idea that there might be similar such institutions for other legendary creatures. I understand that Wolfman University is a legendary party school. Based on a series of Young Adult novels, the latest land rush by Hollywood studios, it centers around some sort of mythos that I can't really be bothered to figure out, but suffice to say, there's good vampires, there's bad ones, and they fight at some point. Also, high school politics suck even when you're undead.
Directed by Mark Waters, who helmed Mean Girls, and written by his brother Daniel, who also wrote Heathers, it at least has some pedigree of talent (lest it be all positive, these two also have Hudson Hawk, Just Like Heaven and Mr. Popper's Penguins on their collective resume). The lead role goes to Zoey Deutch in what amounts to her first big break, though she had a minor role in last year's similarly themed Beautiful Creatures, though one hopes this film can aim above that in quality. At the very least, this film seems to be deliberately attempting to be funny, and not in a campy way (OK, a little campy. You can't do anything with vampires without being at least a little campy). On the whole, this appears to be something of a female focused (the other two highlighted roles go to Lucy Fry and Modern Family's Sarah Hyland) Harry Potter, but bridges the gap between it and Twilight. Unscreened for critics, and without a fervor anything like other young adult novel adaptations, one should probably not get all that hopeful, and I'd be looking for about $9 million this weekend for it.
Returning films are led yet again by Ride Along, which will hit the $100 million mark, the first official 2014 film to do so, this weekend. Give it $8 million for the strong buddy-cop (sort of) performer.
What else can be written about the performance of Frozen at this point? The singalong added a couple of million over and above what it should have earned last weekend, which isn't a lot in the bottom line, but certainly paid a dividend for Disney as a proof of concept, and couldn't possibly have cost that much to produce. There'll be a relatively high drop off this weekend in compensation, but that should still leave it with about $5 million.