The month of May sees the much needed arrival of some heavyweight cinematic releases. With the absence of a 2005 answer to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, box office is way behind 2004 in pacing. I have always held that it's pointless to compare the current year to prior ones since they are all like snowflakes. The differences are where the discussion lies. But any current box office conversation seems to lead with this subject matter, so it's the elephant in the living room at the moment. Will May finally restore the balance? That largely depends on two men, George Lucas and Adam Sandler, but the top eight titles all have their fair share of upside.
May 2005 Forecast
By David Mumpower
May 6, 2005
1) Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
I have to hand it to Star Wars fans. They have a level of faith and conviction that even a room full of the world's most pious clergymen would struggle to reach. No matter how much their venerable leader, George Lucas, continues to disappoint them, they maintain that the next movie will be different, just you wait and see.
Some of the most amazing diehards have even begun to argue that unkind reviews for Episode I and II are indicative of unrealistic expectations from film critics. To these zealots, Jar Jar Binks was not at all annoying, a two hour treatise on intergalactic economic sanctions was a worthy endeavor, and Anakin's love story symbolized a growing focus on plot development from Lucas. To these sorts, I may only nod politely and offer my amazement at your ability to peer into a different universe whose logic in no way resembles our Earth logic. If the fact that the films you waited two decades to see offer no more storyline plot than Porky's I and II in no way dissuades you from your obsession, more power to you for staying the course in spite of the empirical data. Carry on, true believers.
For those with taste, here is all that you need to know. Episode III will have a better opening weekend than the prior outings. It will also slightly surpass Episode II in terms of domestic box office. The film itself will follow the track record of the last three, offering shiny lights and loud noises, sound and fury signifying nothing. Two months from now, this nonsense will be over for the most part as it joins the Indiana Jones/Die Hard pantheon of rumored sequels which may or may not be made. Here's hoping it's the latter so that we can forget these three prequels ever happened.
2) The Longest Yard
How sad is it that a re-make of a 1970s film seems like the fresher idea of the top two movies this month? The Longest Yard was one of my favorite dumb jock films growing up, and the final drive never ceases to amuse me. Seeing a similar comedy bit in the trailer tells me everything I need to know about the tone here. It appears to be perfectly in keeping with the Sandler comedy mantra of big laughs from start to finish. Even if this were not the case, I would still be blown away by the carefully measured marketing implementation for the movie. For the body of a year now, The Longest Yard has been methodically introduced into the public consciousness at exactly the right moments. Whoever has been handling this ad campaign deserves much more work and a pay raise.
What drives this film's box office success? Evil penguins. Always respect the drawing power of evil penguins. These little guys look all cute and sweet, neatly dressed in nature's tuxedoes. Beneath the shiny veneer beats the merciless heart of a mischievous, malicious zoo monster. If you have learned nothing else from the teaching of Nick Park, know to fear the penguins.
But I digress.
DreamWorks turned a mediocre movie into the biggest film of 2004. As if the mind-boggling success of Shrek 2 were not enough, though, they also nurtured the vastly inferior Shark Tale into a second blockbuster animated hit. And the scary thought here is that Madagascar looks much, much better than either of those films, at least to me. A performance north of $170 million would not surprise me in the least.
4) Kicking & Screaming
Will Ferrell's film have surprised on two straight occasions. As such, I am reticent to make the same mistake again with his latest project. Clearly, the comedian has somehow tapped into the zeitgeist of a generation of aging guys who overly identify with this unattractive everyman. The fact that he has managed to do this while simultaneously appealing to a core group of teenagers who love to hear him yell is nothing short of astonishing to me. With a title like Kicking & Screaming, these kids are guaranteed to get exactly what they want from him. Meanwhile, soccer dads will be able to robustly laugh at Ferrell's Follies once more. This is one of the best crafted star vehicles in quite some time...probably since Elf.
5) Kingdom of Heaven
I love Ridley Scott films as a rule, but I am just not seeing it here. This Crusades project feels like a copycat of Scott's prior work on Gladiator. It's never a good sign when a director is borrowing liberally from his own filmography. Even worse, the choice of Orlando Bloom as a lead feels every bit as ridiculous as Bloom felt last year in Troy. I would sooner buy him as a damsel-in-distress than as the badass warrior who unites an army then leads them on to victory.
I have great respect for Scott as a director and hope to be wrong, but Troy is the film that keeps spinning in my head when I think of Kingdom of Heaven. Worldwide receipts will need to carry the day here, because I expect North American audiences to see this as another ho-hum swords and sandals outing.
Red states voters unite! Hanoi Jane is back in the public eye again after an extended absence. Her production of choice is a very clever concept that carefully caters to the chick flick demographic. This is the unspoken fear of every betrothed woman ready to marry into a new family. Fonda portrays the overbearing Y chromosome answer to Robert De Niro in the Meet the Parents franchise. She is a hideous wench of an overprotective mother who takes an instant disliking to her prospective new daughter-in-law, Jennifer Lopez. How in the world will movie goers be able to see her point of view about the narcissistic diva/actress? Like Maid in Manhattan and The Wedding Planner, this is another calculated attempt by Lopez to mine the female demographic for another $75 million. I keep hoping that people will grow wise to her game, but it hasn't happened so far.
7) House of Wax
Speaking of egomaniacs turned actresses, inexplicably famous trust fund darling Paris Hilton co-stars here. That makes the selling point of the movie unmistakable. Audiences will pay ten bucks in order to see Paris Hilton brutally murdered onscreen. No, it's not quite the same, but it's good enough for many. I am quite conflicted on the project. I hate do-nothing reality show semi-celebs and resent their presence in actual cinematic fare. But I love Dark Castle as a production company, so I want to see them do well. Ergo, this project is either win/win or lose/lose depending on whether or not I have had my legal, over-the-counter, happy wake-up drugs.
Jet Li plays a dog. No, this is not an animated film. No, I don't understand it either. Apparently, the film team that brought us the highly underrated The Transporter wants to tell a simply story of slavery and mortal combat. If that is not enough of a head scratcher, the cast certainly is. Academy Award nominee Bob Hoskins and reigning Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman (!) join the popular action hero. Jet Li's films offer a uniform level of box office, and there is little reason to expect much of an exception here.
Speaking of Academy Award nominees, writer Paul Haggis makes his directorial debut with this project. The man who masterfully adapted the Million Dollar screenplay has been given a toybox full of talented thespians to ease his transition. A-listers Sandra Bullock, Brendan Fraser and Don Cheadle are joined by other quality actors such as Matt Dillon, Larenz Tate, Thandie Newton, Keith David and William Fichtner. Who's the Boss icon Tony Danza and rapper Ludacris are even onboard. As one might expect, this is a smallish indie release from Lions Gate, but it's a project with unusually strong selling points. As such, I remain optimistic that it might surprise slightly by small studio standards.
I believe that this movie is being released the same way that I believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone. I refuse to get sucked into this nonsense again. Release the film or not. I could give a rat's ass. All I have to say about the whole thing is that Patricia Velasquez was great on Arrested Development and deserves a better fate than she is being given in the trailers. Hey, director Renny Harlin. It's not her fault that her English is a work-in-progress. You, as the filmmaker, have a responsibility to the project to protect her. Judging from the clips, you have failed to do this on an epic scale. And while I've got you here, I am still awaiting my refund for Cutthroat Island. And Driven. And Exorcist: the Beginning. And...well, you get the idea. Paypal me $40 and all is forgiven.
Michael Bentley's May Forecast
Marty Doskins's May Forecast
John Hamann's May Forecast
John Seal's May Forecast