Weekend Forecast for April 7-9, 2006
By Reagen Sulewski
April 7, 2006

You are now carrying my child. It is the magic of the dance.

In the wake of last weekend's surprise blockbuster opening, four new films will try to make their mark at the box office, but barring a miracle, will be shut out of the top spot.

Potentially the strongest of these films is Take the Lead, which opens this weekend after sneaking in about 1,000 venues last frame. On first glance, an Antonio Banderas-led film about tango dancing doesn't seem like much of a candidate for a winner, until you focus on what the film is selling. Banderas's dance instructor is sent to an inner-city high school to teach troubled youths. The kids blend their hip-hop sensibilities to create a new dance form, and those stuffed shirts at the Grand Tango Institute can put that in their pipe and smoke it. I'm not saying the film looks like brilliant cinema, or is even an original concept, but the subject matter is something that has worked, and worked well with audiences before.

Something similar here is Save the Last Dance, which admittedly had a red-hot Julia Styles and Sean Patrick Thomas to help it along. This one has a gallery of lesser lights, including Rob Brown of Finding Forrester, which may hamper it some. Although Banderas's popularity is low with the adult demographic, he's largely irrelevant to the target audience of this one, 14- to 25-year-olds, especially urban youths. The bright, attractive cast is probably the biggest asset for the film. Launching on just over 3,000 venues, it should come in with around $16 million.

Lucky Number Slevin is Bruce Willis's latest, looking a little better after a series of flops have made a serious dent in his star power. Here he stars as a hitman hired to kill a deadbeat bettor for the mob. Josh Hartnett is mistaken for the man targeted for death, and has to find his way to safety away from Morgan Freeman's mob boss. A sly film noir, Slevin is hoping to tap into the same kind of hip gangster feel as films like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, or Snatch.

Reviews of the film are decidedly mixed, but this cast (with Freeman lending some Robert Duvall-like credibility) may be an attractive mix, despite Hartnett never really having a breakout and Willis's recent downturn. The commercials are at the same time energetic and a tad mystifying, which is a troubling combo, but I still believe this can be a strong performer this weekend. Opening on just 1,800 screens (The Weinstein Company is still having troubles with exhibitors), this should come in with around $13 million.

The Benchwarmers should be the film where the Napoleon Dynamite bandwagon crashes into a telephone pole. Matching up Jon Heder in a comedy with David Spade and Rob Schneider is such a sublime grouping of one-note comedians that would want to both congratulate the person that thought of it, and at the same time beat them silly for inflicting such a monstrosity upon the world.

The trio is featured in the film as a group of nerdy, unathletic baseball players who manage to defeat a bullyish Little League team, nine on three, and catapulting themselves into fame as role models for nerds everywhere. This leads to a tournament against many other Little League teams, with hilarity and crotch shots for all. Heder is arguably the most famous of the three main actors in this film right now, with the cult success of Napoleon Dynamite still fresh in most people's minds. Of course, it's easy to forget that it still only made $44 million, and suffered from a significant backlash. Schneider's recent Deuce Bigalow sequel only opened to $9 million, and Spade can barely open a milk carton. Critics screenings have been cancelled at the last minute, which should be setting off crap detectors, if they weren't already pinned from the ads and trailers. However, it's getting a ton of commercial support and is launching in a ridiculous 3,274 venues. Even with all these negatives, the "dumb comedy" audience is out there and in with a saturation release, The Benchwarmers stands to open to around $10 million.

The final new release of the weekend, Phat Girlz, is saddled with an unfortunate title, but could indeed be much better than the played out slang of its moniker. Mo'Nique stars as a heavyset fashion designer with dreams of the big time, but who is constantly being put down by Tha Man. After coming into some money, she takes some friends on vacation where she meets a Nigerian doctor who wants her help in retrieving his fortune after a military coup... wait, that may just be some spam I got. Anyway, his ideal of beauty prioritizes her girth, and he could be the solution to all her problems. It's How Stella Got Her Plus Sized Groove Back.

It also somewhat resembles the recent Last Holiday, but without the wacky "imminent death" angle. That film opened to $15 million but had a strong promotional campaign and a higher profile star in Queen Latifah. This one, on the other hand, has been largely invisible. It's getting a smallish release on just over 1,000 screens, and its box office will reflect that, coming in with around $4 million this weekend.

The top spot will, to no one's surprise, still belong to Ice Age 2 this weekend, which could fall a long long way from its $68 million opening weekend and still hold on to first place. Building significantly on the first Ice Age film's opening weekend, this showed that there is still life left in premium CGI animated family films, provided they're familiar and heavily advertised. Watch for this to drop around 40% this weekend to about $40 million and get quite close to $125 million in just its second weekend.

Inside Man is still hanging around, though its 47% drop is a bit more than expected for a film with such effusive critical praise and in a crowd-pleasing genre. It is, however, already Spike Lee's highest grossing film ever, for which he has to ultimately be pleased. Watch for it to drop another 50% or so this weekend in a crowded market to around $8 million.

ATL was a mild surprise in its opening weekend last frame, coming in with $11 million on just 1,600 screens and few big names in its cast. The heavily advertised gangster/coming-of-age film was able to capitalize on the recent trend of rappers telling their (publicist approved) life stories on film. However, like many in this vein, look for a steep drop in weekend number two, to around $5 million, as the anticipatory crowd dissipates.