An unusually busy Labor Day weekend kicks off the fall season, giving us quantity for a change, if not necessarily quality. While a couple of successes have made studios more willing to put releases on this oft-ignored weekend, it'll be some time before an actual blockbuster makes its debut in this slot.
Weekend Forecast for September 3-6, 2004
By Reagen Sulewski
September 1, 2004
Starting this business off early is Vanity Fair, by opening on Wednesday. Based on the classic 19th century novel about class and privilege in English high society, it follows a young woman from poverty to her climb to the top of the social ladder. Its biggest asset, aside from a lush period setting, is one Reese Witherspoon. She is growing somewhat adept at this sort of thing, having done a very good job in The Importance of Being Earnest a couple of years ago. Hey, anything that leads to fewer Legally Blonde films is A-OK by me.
The influence of Bollywood back onto Hollywood in the past few years has been growing steadily more visible (though ironically enough, not in the films of the best known Indian director, M. Night Shyamalan). Moulin Rouge might be the best example of this phenomenon, but it's also showing in period films such as this one, which is directed by Mira Nair. Nair was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for Salaam Bombay! in 1988. Indian film is well known for its use of opulent scenery, so the costume dramas of England in the latter half of the last millennium are a natural genre for directors of this style to tackle (see also: Elizabeth, directed by Shekhar Kapur). As a satire, the subject matter is probably not as famous as it should be (and overshadowed by the magazine that took its name), which might explain the release schedule laid out by Focus features. The number of screens hover somewhere between modest and ambitious. At just a little over 1,000 locations, they are clearly not expecting a breakout hit, but the presence of Witherspoon gives the film some hope. And with a reported budget of $23 million, it doesn't have to be that large a hit. A take of around $5 million isn't unreasonable for the full four days of the holiday period.
Obviously intending to be the choice for stalkers and stalkees, Wicker Park is the largest new release of this frame. A remake of a French film, it stars Josh Hartnett as a banker who thinks he's spotted a long-lost love that vanished without a trace (as femme fatales are want to do). Descending further into the mystery of what happened to his love and whether he's found her again, he may be the recipient of some scary love himself, from a woman who may or may not have a Single White Female sort of connection to her.
It can't help but draw comparisons from another stalker-centric film from September two years ago, Swimfan, though this has less Fatal Attraction and more arthouse credibility (as much as Hartnett and the rest of the cast have) due to the acclaim that the original brings with it. The question always is whether the film has stayed true to its roots, or if the makers and studio decided to 'dumb it down' or 'jazz it up' for North American audiences. I think we know what the answer probably is to that, don't we?
Hartnett has been in more or less a holding pattern as far as his opening weekend for his films have gone; not even co-starring with Harrison Ford was about to break him out of the low double-digit millions. This film isn't going to be the one to do it (he'll probably have to wait until Sin City), as he won't get a ton of help from his cast again. Diane Kruger (as Hartnett's object of affection) popped onto our radar screens in Troy, but that film didn't break anyone unless you're a history professor and we're talking about your will to live. Rose Byrne as the female stalker (standing in here for all the 16-year-old girls in the audience) seems to have been chosen for her resemblance to an amalgam of young Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh. She may be someone to watch for the future but it's too soon to tell if this will cast a wide enough net to bring her notice. Look for this film to duplicate the performance of Hartnett's last few films, earning about $12 million in the extended opening weekend.
There's been a great deal of success lately in black-targeted films in the 'day in the life of' genre first displayed by films like Friday through to Barbershop, which keyed in to the potential of the genre. The Cookout isn't quite just one day, but it's close enough to be a cousin to this kind of story. After a young basketball star gets drafted to the NBA and signs his multi-million dollar contract, it's clearly a cause for celebration. But, as the new shiny sports star, everyone wants a piece of you, and it can't be that simple just to celebrate with your friends and family and "keep it real". There's no one like Ice Cube or Chris Tucker in a lead role, but even though the actual lead is a newcomer (rapper Quran Pender), the cast is pretty impressive, including Danny Glover, Tim Meadows, Eve, Ja Rule and one of the film's producers, who happens to go by Queen Latifah. It looks to be a pretty engaging and lighthearted story that should find an audience, though won't approach the successes of Barbershop. Give it $9 million for Labor Day Weekend.
Apparently if you stick around long enough in Hollywood, you'll get the chance to direct your own feature. Paul Abscal, a long time Hollywood hairdresser(!) - and to be fair -- a TV director - brings Paparazzi to the screen. Possibly the first film guaranteed to appeal only to people in Hollywood, it centers on a newly-minted action star (Cole Hauser) hassled to ridiculous extents by a group of tabloid photographers (led by Tom Sizemore) to the point of endangering his life. While I'm sure this might have started off with noble intentions, attempting to invoke a bit of the situation with Princess Diana (maybe I'm giving them too much credit), it has at some point morphed into a sick revenge fantasy featuring not a single likable character. This is about to bomb, and bomb big; my prediction is just $3 million for its debut frame. But at least they have great hair.
Giving Wicker Park a run for first place on the weekend will be the second frame of Hero, which won last weekend with $18 million. Though those who saw and loved the film really love the film, it's still a tough sell as a subtitled kung-fu film, not to mention that Jet Li's films have almost never displayed significant legs. Lush visuals and engaging action may tell a different story, but for now I suspect that it will fall to second place with approximately $11 million over four days. Should Wicker Park fail out of the gate however, Hero will almost certainly step up to hold the number one spot again.
The remaining films in the top ten are a typical mix of late summer leftovers; among them, only The Bourne Supremacy and Collateral are showing any kind of resilience. In fact, many of them seem to be trying to leave the top ten as fast as they can, including the simply ridiculous 60% drops of Exorcist: The Beginning, Alien vs. Predator and Open Water. It's not a good time to be any kind of horror film. September overall looks to be a strong month, but you certainly wouldn't know it by looking at the movies that start the month.