Weekend Forecast for August 27-29, 2004
By Reagen Sulewski
August 27, 2004

Don't leave home without it.

So this is how the summer of 2004 ends; not with a bang, but with a whimper, as the weekend before Labor Day becomes a bit of a clearing house. Films that didn't have the pull to get a coveted mid-summer slot, films that the studio didn't know how to sell, and films that the studios were just plain tired of seeing on their shelf are the new fare for this underwhelming weekend.

Leading the way - at least in exposure - is Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, a sequel to the 1997 surprise hit. You could wonder why it took seven and a half years to make a sequel, but one thing is clear: it's not because they were doing research. While the first film won't be mistaken for a nature documentary, it did manage to get some fundamental things right, like placing the action on the right continent. Anacondas finds a group of treasure seekers hunting for a potential fountain of youth in Borneo. The group is blissfully unafraid of anaconda attacks, but for good reason - there are no anacondas outside of South America! They may as well have added in penguins.

Aside from that, it has only the most tenuous connection to the first film, with no principles back (Jennifer Lopez was apparently busy) and the focus is all on the snakes eating careless jungle adventurers. There's nothing here besides animal porn, but then again, porn is very, very popular. The original film opened to $16 million, or an inflation-adjusted $22 million, to the shock and dismay of many. That surprising result launched a bit of a renaissance in this genre (I'm waiting for the remake of Night of the Lepus), and in cheapo shlock horror in general. To make an offbeat comparison, it's like The Princess Diaries in that it stands as an iconic film of a maligned section of the film world. Additionally, horror sequels have been doing well of late, especially in the late summer (look at Jeepers Creepers 2 and the recent Exorcist prequel. Better yet, don't). This should let it grab the weekend title with around $19 million.

Hero was a film that many thought never would see screens in North America. A wuxia epic by Hong Kong legend Zhang Yimou, it was actually released over two years ago in its native China. Miramax had the film as one of their prized possessions but had their strategy knocked out from under them, as it pulled off a surprise foreign film Oscar nomination, making it ineligible for any other Oscars in other years. Suddenly the Weinsteins didn't feel so enthused about the picture and more or less buried the film, trying to cut it and bounced it around their schedule.

Starring an all-star grouping of Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Donnie Yen and Zhang Ziyi (a Chinese cast on the level of Ocean's Eleven), it tells a story of a warrior and his defeat of the three greatest threats to the current Chinese emperor. In Rashomon style, it flashes back to tell the episodes in his journey, but not all of them agree with each other.

Wuxia became mainstream with the debut of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which until this year was the highest-grossing foreign language film. As in that film, the characters in Hero defy gravity to fight their battles in the tradition of the genre. It's also stunningly gorgeous and would have walked away with the Cinematography Oscar had it been eligible. The film has gotten a boost from support by Quentin Tarantino, who threw his weight behind the title to get it to release in an uncut version. Reviews have been rapturous, though the film is denser and less action-oriented than Crouching Tiger, which may make it more difficult for it to break through with the general public. On a moderate 2,031 screens, Hero should be able to gross $11 million this weekend, justifying the excitement Miramax showed initially.

The release of Suspect Zero marks the point that Hollywood officially went up inside itself, as it releases a film about a serial killer who targets serial killers. Ben Kingsley is a former FBI agent trained in something called 'deep seeing' that, of course, drove him mad and has turned him into the title character. In a callback to Se7en, Kingsley's character decides to involve the detectives for the case in his plans, played here by Aaron Eckhart and Carrie-Anne Moss. The idea actually has a nugget of merit as a movie plot, but looks to have been executed with all the subtlety of killing a fly with a sledgehammer. The lead trio for the film are all excellent actors but - quite frankly - are not setting the box office world on fire. It doesn't help that the film is being savaged by critics. This kind of plot didn't work well for Angelina Jolie in Taking Lives earlier this year, and it's not about to work here. The weekend take should be a meager $6 million.

The final horror film of the week, Super Babies: Baby Geniuses 2... wait, it's not horror? My mistake. However, this sequel may just be the most frightening film this year. I don't think I have to explain myself here - if you've seen a trailer or a commercial you know what I'm talking about and if you haven't, I can't in good conscience subject you to that. The original version of this film opened to $5.6 million too much in 1999, something I have to believe won't happen again. It's hitting a smaller number of screens this time, down to 1,200 and change from around 1,700, meaning that there is thankfully less demand. But hey, it's good to see Scott Baio getting work. Look for $3 million maximum if the universe works as it should.

None of last week's openers look to hold on strongly. Exorcist: The Beginning has the triple whammy of being a horror film, a sequel and sucking, and should drop steeply below the $10 million mark. Without a Paddle has likely inspired many to wish that there was a crossover between this film and Anacondas and is about to join the list of ignominious script choices by Seth Green. Open Water will suffer heavily from expectations; it's an experimental film in several senses and does not contain a lot of action, despite its excellent commercials. It might fall steepest of all, as it is getting about the same word-of-mouth as The Village.

Indie films continue to perform well through the last bit of summer, though, with Garden State and Napoleon Dynamite still expanding. That's an amazing feat for the latter film since it is in its 12th weekend. That strange little film will pass $20 million this weekend, a terrific result for any platformer. Garden State should have no trouble getting past that mark eventually, after getting a successful expansion last weekend. This film could stick around throughout the fall, as it is managing to hit emotional chords among nearly everyone who sees it. It may even be able to make Oscar noise.