A loaded slate of four new films tries to revitalize the box office this weekend, which has seen mostly disappointments since the opening of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequel.
Weekend Forecast for August 4-6, 2006
By Reagen Sulewski
August 4, 2006
Will Ferrell has been on the cusp of superstardom for some time now. The SNL alum has had several minor hits since leaving the show, starting with Old School and moving through Elf and 2004's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. It's the formula of this last film that seems to have clicked for Ferrell, with him and Anchorman's director Adam MacKay cribbing from it for Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
Ferrell stars as the titular character, a typically clueless Ferrellian blowhard, this time a top racer on the NASCAR circuit. His trials and tribulations to reach the top and defeat a foreign interloper to the circuit (played by Sacha Baron Cohen) form the bulk of the movie, with wacky antics and non-sequitors abounding.
This may be the film that propels him into a Sandlerian stratosphere of film comics. His audience has slowly been building, with Anchorman being a tremendous video hit. The addition of the NASCAR theme, along with some truly killer jokes (Help me, Tom Cruise!), could push this one over the edge. It's getting a huge push from Sony, who is releasing it in over 3,800 venues. Look for this to easily take the weekend crown with about $42 million.
For the third week in a row, we have a new CGI animated film in release, as studios attempt to kill that golden goose but good by saturating the market. This time it's Paramount's turn, with Barnyard.
Seemingly borrowed from an old Far Side concept, Barnyard follows the lives of farm animals who party while their farmer's away. Apparently there's some barnyard code that they can't reveal their true nature to humans, though you wonder if they'd keep to it if they realized the end goal of a farm. But I digress. Kevin James, of TV's The King of Queens, plays Otis the cow (who, and this probably explains some of his odd behavior, is a male cow with udders), who longs to rebel and see the world. Other celebrity voices include Courteney Cox, Danny Glover and Steve Oedekerk, who also wrote and directed the film.
Oedekerk was responsible for Kung Pow: Enter the Fist and all those "Thumb" films that litter the video store, like Thumbtanic and Bat Thumb. So, you know the level of comedic genius we're dealing with here. Last week's The Ant Bully gave evidence to the notion that the days where a crappy animated film can open to big numbers based on celebrity voices and flashy scenery are over, and I see nothing too special about Barnyard's stale anthropomorphic jokes to change that. Give it about $9 million for the weekend.
Late summer tends to bring out more horror flicks as opposed to the usual popcorn fare earlier in the year, with The Descent being the first offering of that genre in several weeks. A sort of blend of Pitch Black and Aliens, this film sees a group of six female cave explorers trapped after a collapse, which in turn has disturbed a predatorial subterranean race of creatures. Isn't that always the way?
The Descent has been receiving some fairly enthusiastic reviews, raving about the film's action pieces and scares, along with some intriguing gender politics at play in its subtext. However, the leads are a group of largely unknown UK actresses, which is its major barrier to success at the box office. Lionsgate has had some decent wins with low-budget horror in the past, though one gets the feeling this might have been better suited to an early fall release when it would have had breathing space to itself, à la Jeepers Creepers. As it is, though, the solid reviews and genuinely intense and shocking TV ads should propel this to about a $6 million opening on around 2,000 screens.
Finally, we have The Night Listener, the fourth and last of the new wide releases. Robin Williams has had a minor side career as a lead in thrillers that no one sees: witness One Hour Photo, The Final Cut and now this film, which sees him as a radio talk host who takes a special interest in one of his callers, a troubled young boy who considers himself a huge fan. However, the boy (played by Rory Culkin) may not be all that he seems. A psychological cat-and-mouse game ensues between the two, dealing with the line between truth and fiction. I more or less fell asleep writing that synopsis, which might tell you something. Even more telling is that Miramax is releasing this film on just 1,300 or so screens, a paltry number, and lost in that no-man's-land between blockbusters and arthouse platformers. Ad support for the film has been minimal, and I don't see much upside for the film. It should end up with about $3 million this weekend, and lucky to get that.
Miami Vice took the top spot last weekend with $25 million, a decent if unspectacular figure for the TV adaptation. In the end, the series' '80s baggage proved a bit much to overcome, even as the film went even grittier in an attempt to escape it. Word-of-mouth is mixed, which in these days translates to a steep fall in the second weekend. Look for it to earn another $14 million this frame.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest keeps rolling along, now in its fifth weekend, and likely to stay in the top three, if perhaps not even second spot for the weekend. Closing in on the $400 million mark, it could jump to as high as seventh on the all-time box office list after this weekend, when it should add another $12 million to its coffers.
The big surprise of last week was John Tucker Must Die, which brought in $14 million, good enough for third place. The teen satire was well sold by Fox, and was able to overcome its relative lack of star power. It's not quite this summer's Mean Girls, but it's closer than many would have expected. That said, I see a steep fall in the cards for this film, dropping it to around $6 million.
The Ant Bully may fall even further, in the face of double competition from Monster House and the new entry of Barnyard. Despite big name voice talent in Julia Roberts and Nicolas Cage, it managed just $8 million on the weekend, about as big a disaster for an animated film that was actually marketing strongly since, oh, Hoodwinked. Look for Monster House to come in with $6 million in its third weekend, itself getting no respite from competition, while the Ant Bully gets squashed to $4 million.
M. Night Shyamalan's Lady in the Water continues its ignominious slide off the charts, having dropped over 60% in its second frame. He's officially in career comeback mode at this point, after two noisy rejections of his films in a row. It will do well to stay in the top ten at all this weekend, with the distinct possibility of it being overtaken by the fourth weekend of Little Man being there. Not something anyone might have predicted this far out, unless your name is Nina and you used to work at Disney.