You can tell we're getting close to summer when we start to see some of the mid-major films popping up, trying to get their shots in before they're blown out of the theaters by May blockbusters. There's two such films this weekend, ones that would be out of place amidst the noise and bluster of the summer, but aren't the dogs that populate the screens through the first quarter of the year.
Weekend Forecast for April 23-25, 2004
By Reagen Sulewski
April 23, 2004
One of the latest annoying trends in Hollywood is to remake a film that's been done before but with just a sideways glance at the previous script, then give it a new title and call it a day. So Risky Business becomes The Girl Next Door, Point Break becomes The Fast and the Furious and so on. Ohay, so maybe it's not such a big deal. There are only the seven basic plots after all (nine if you count porn and wrestling). Nonetheless, it's apparently time to recycle the teen body switch formula that was so popular in the '80s, and specifically Tom Hanks's Big, the most successful of the bunch. Put a girl instead of a guy in the lead role, and hey! It's a whole new movie.
The latest TV "It Girl," Jennifer Garner, has the lead role in 13 Going on 30, which finds her sprinkled with "wishing powder" that takes her overnight from 1987 to today, where she's a successful magazine editor, and really, who hasn't had that happen? In true fish out of water style, awkward situations result out of her misunderstanding this wild adult world (and let's not forget trying to pick up 13-year-old boys -- let's see how well that would play in reverse) and trying to sort out her relationship with her childhood friend who gave her the wishing powder and just happened to grow up to be indie film star Mark Ruffalo. Wait, I don't think that's right.
After a series of second fiddle roles, 13 Going on 30 marks Garner's first real lead role, though she's of course well-known from the TV series Alias (which is surprisingly low-rated for all the hype). Though that and her biggest movie role to date in Daredevil are primarily action, it's not too hard to see her branching into romantic and/or goofy comedic roles such as this one, and is probably the best candidate to take over from Julia Roberts as America's Favorite Actress (though she's only five years younger!). I figure this one for a minor breakout, with a couple of weeks to cement into the landscape as the romantic comedy of choice, at around $24 million for opening weekend.
Angry hotheads have had their pick of revenge flicks of late, ranging from the relatively light-hearted Walking Tall to the cartoonish Kill Bill Vol. 2 to the grim and dour The Punisher. Add to the latter group this week's Man On Fire, starring Denzel Washington and directed by Tony Scott. Set in Mexico City, Denzel stars as an ex-Marine bodyguard who loses his young charge (the preternatural Dakota Fanning) to kidnappers. He then sets out on a campaign to wipe out the people that took her for both his own redemption, and perhaps personal affirmation.
This character plays as an interesting mirror to the one he portrayed in Training Day, the kind of guy who would probably pull off something like a kidnapping to serve his ends. I think we're looking at a pretty similar audience for these films; not only was Training Day a hit, it won Denzel Washington the Oscar and proved that he's got the chops to play the bad-ass role in a not-exactly-action-but-let's-not-quibble sense. Tony Scott is a bit of a step up in recognition over Antoine Fuqua, though this kind of stylistic action flick is right up his alley. Add in some Traffic-style touches and it's got all the pieces of an interesting looking film. This should hang on for second place this weekend, at about $20 million.
It's going to be interesting to see how Kill Bill Vol. 2 holds up; it's a sequel, an action film, up against a lot of similar competition and its predecessor wasn't a poster child for long legs. To my surprise, Kill Bill did manage to build an audience between films despite the fact that the original didn't hold up long in theaters. Score one for Miramax's DVD strategy, and get ready for more films that are chopped in half. There's nothing directors like better than a gimmick, and there's nothing that studios like better than gimmicks that make money. The box office will probably come close to being cut in half as well, to around $13 million.
The Punisher rolled out exactly like you'd expect a low-rent B-list starring action film to do, at around $14 million to open. Though relatively better than the Dolph Lundgren version, I don't think we're looking a franchise. Still, Marvel has at least not embarrassed itself. The Punisher will fall off pretty steeply to $7 million or less.
The rest of the top ten will be filled with films below $4 million -- leaving them ripe to be harvested for screens in a couple of weeks. The process has started already for some; The Girl Next Door loses almost 1,000 this week, The Alamo drops 570, and Hellboy and The Passion of the Christ (nearly becoming the first film to drop out of the top ten directly from first place) lose a healthy chunk of their showings. This weekend may be one of your last chances to catch these films in the theater, so chose wisely.