February is a strange month with regards to expected box office performances. The top four products are clear cut, but none of them appears likely to be a good movie. Meanwhile, the movies I have slotted from numbers five through eight all appear to be quality titles that have yet to capture the fancy of North American movie-goers thus far. This is why John Hamann's comments from his latest Weekend Wrap-Up are particularly poignant: "...". Call him a cynic if you like but his pointt stands. With the divide between quality and box office performance at an all-time high, February's movie output perfectly encapsulates the state of cinema.
February 2007 Forecast
By David Mumpower
February 3, 2007
1) Ghost Rider
The biggest compliment I may give Ghost Rider is that the commercial where he (it?) files his tax return amuses me. Otherwise, this is a disaster in the making and the only people likely to disagree on the point are the same stalwart comic fan obsessives who refused to be honest with themselves about Superman Returns. And we all know how that turned out. I once attended a 14 inning baseball game with two rain delays that was less dull than the Singer Mistake. Ghost Rider makes Superman Returns look like Spider-Man 2. Despite this, there will be interest in seeing a flaming biker somewhere other than a gay bar for a change. I somewhat bitterly cede it to be the biggest opener of February.
2) Tyler Perry's Latest Embarrassment
This is where the conversation takes on an uglier tone. Note how hostile I was toward Ghost Rider above. Now consider the fact that I realize the data supports an argument for Tyler Perry's latest offering to outdo it. But I cannot in good conscience vote that way. I just can't. I was one of the miserable souls who had the misfortune to witness Madea's Family Reunion. Folks, I saw 160+ movies in 2006 and there were only three that threw under that abomination...only one if we take Uwe Boll and Larry the Cable Guy out of the equation. In point of fact, if I were ever to find the proverbial Drive-In from Hell, I have no doubt that it would be a Tyler Perry/Uwe Boll double feature...and I have no idea which half would be worse. So, while I know that Madea opened north of $30 million and accept that Daddy's Little Girls might, I refuse to anoint it the likely winner of biggest opener of the month. Even after six years of doing this, I still have SOME standards.
I have to hand it to Eddie Murphy. The talent behind such monstrosities as Holy Man, The Adventures of Pluto Nash and I Spy has somehow bungled into an Academy Awards nomination. If you ever want to see the fallout from Marisa Tomei's nomination, here it is. Now that a precedent has been set allowing pretty much any scrub to bag a nod, Murphy has capitalized on the loophole. He has taken his James Brown impersonation from 1982 and freshened it up enough to earn a spot as a serious contender for Best Supporting Actor. Can the rest of the cast of Daddy Day Care be far behind?
Norbit returns Murphy to the world of transvestites in fat suits, a place where his Life co-star, Martin Lawrence, has found box office success with the Big Momma's House franchise. Murphy has also toyed with it in the Nutty Professor series. I guess that six years without voluminous latex was too much for the comedian. Norbit is going to make money just as both of those franchises did. What's sad is that since Murphy is only 45, we still have another 20-30 years of this sort of nonsense yet to come. Just imagine the possibilities of a Murphy fat-suit movie written and directed by fellow fat-suit wearing co-star Tyler Perry! Biblical scholars, here is your starting point for Revelations!
4) The Number 23
The long awaited Michael Jordan biopic finally arrives. Wait, this isn't about #23? That bites. This movie is in fact the latest Jim Carrey dance with the dark side of his personality. Anyone who has watched the comedian's public appearances over the years recognizes how damaged and unstable he is; however, North American audiences have made it perfectly clear that they do not want to watch him act out his aggressions. This is another Cable Guy developing save for the fact that it's not a comedy. It's even worse. The Number 23 is an exploration of a man nearing a psychotic break and his fascination with the mathematical recurrences of 23. I am a math geek and even I am wondering who is going to want to go see this. Carrey's name on top should lead to a solid opening, but it had better be very, very good. Otherwise, this is will inevitably wind up as a punchline.
5) Music & Lyrics
Nobody noticed at the time, but Hugh Grant's self-referential Golden Globes quip about the dangers of picking up strangers shows how comfortable he is these days. The Divine Brown Disaster might have shamed him for years, but he has clearly come to terms with past mistakes as well as the trappings of fame. His last effort, American Dreamz, was not well received, but biting satire usually isn't. Grant's fearless send-up of the head of the American Idol gestapo, Simon Cowell, was just plain cruel. That's a welcome turning of the screws for an actor who has played variations of the same character for years. Music & Lyrics is another change of pace for Grant as he takes on a role similar to what Bill Nighy did in their movie, Love Actually. On his own, I am unsure about the movie's success in spite of the obvious quality of the trailer. The good news, however, is that Drew Barrymore is along for the ride. For whatever reason, she is one of the most bankable actresses in the industry, and the combination of the two of them should be good for not just a strong opening weekend but an extended showing of strength at the box office. In fact, if I graded this month in terms of overall performance instead of expected opening weekend, Music & Lyrics would be right near the top.
6) Bridge to Terabithia
The popular children's classic hits the big screen, and nobody is happier about this than my wife. The Newbery Award winning novel has been considered a classic since its debut almost 30 years ago, and with the ascension of such literary works into the mainstream movie consciousness, an adaptation was inevitable. Katherine Paterson's masterwork is a much darker work than you might imagine. It features a desperately unhappy ending that doses a lot of reality about the dangers of escapist fantasies. Whether Disney softens the edges and gives us the proverbial Hollywood ending remains to be seen, but I do have to wonder how much this possibility dampens the movie's long term box office potential.
7) Hannibal Rising
This cash cow is going to have ever udder milked until it bleeds. We've seen four films about the man already, and now we are circling back to the most desperate territory for franchises: the early life prequel. The premise is to take a character North American audiences know and stick him/her into a point in time where the slate is largely blank. Fine Line tried this in 2003 when they followed up The Talented Mr Ripley with Ripley's Game, a movie that tried to make people believe that Matt Damon would eventually wind up looking like John Malkovich. The Weinstein Company is running a reverse on the same play, attempting to make us think that the withered, venerable Anthony Hopkins once looked like pretty boy Gaspard Ulliel. I also can't help but wonder how the French accent disappears over the next fifty years. But I digress. The point here is that box office gambits such as this one rarely pay off. Hannibal Rising is a low budget production that hopes to capitalize upon the character's recognition fact even if he is not currently recognizable. The book received middling buzz and this movie is probably even looking up at that type of reception.
Ryan Phillippe, Chris Cooper, and Laura Linney are not box office draws. This is a bit unfortunate because their joint effort, Breach, appears to be a brilliant tale of political intrigue and deception. Those of us who have seen the 1987 Kevin Costner classic (you heard me), No Way Out, will immediately recognize a similar sort of "Who can I trust?" tale of FBI under-the-table dealings. The difference here is that Breach is based on the real life events surrounding Robert Hanssen and Eric O'Neill. The former man was a powerful, respected member of the bureau as well as a devout religious man in Opus Dei - Yes, Da Vinci Code fans, those guys. He also took time out from his busy schedule of being an upstanding member of our national security team to sell secrets to the FBI. Repeatedly. Over a 15 year period, Hanssen sold out his country any number of times, causing an internal Department of Justice report to label his treason as "possibly the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history". Movies don't have sexier real-life jumping off points than this. Even better, the trailer is ssssssmokin', but since none of the three actors is bankable, I fear that Breach is a movie more for people like myself who love real-life Bourne Identity situations than it is for mainstream consumers. Rats.
9) Black Snake Moan
Having already seen the movie, I can confirm that Hustle & Flow auteur Craig Brewer deftly avoids a sophomore slump with this story of strife and redemption. I am less certain about the movie's box office upside, however. Paramount Vantage (formerly Paramount Classics) is stepping into the limelight here by giving Black Snake Moan a relatively wide release, particularly by their standards. The uphill battle they face is in getting the movie into enough venues for it to be a box office factor. Given the presence of World's Coolest Human Being Samuel L. Jackson, some doors will be open. When we factor in how poorly Snakes on a Plane did relative to expectations, though, the question becomes how much of a draw Jackson is on his own. Since the movie is the Jackson/Christina Ricci show and given that Ricci is pretty much the opposite of a draw, Black Snake Moan's long-term performance depends on its quality and ability to get people talking. Its short term performance is probably modest, but if the movie plays in your area, take my advice and go see it. I think that it has a decent chance to wind up in my top ten for 2007.
10) The Astronaut Farmer
Does Billy Bob Thornton only consider a script if it's completely whacked out and makes him feel like he's been doing Quaaludes all night? Or does it only seem that way? The story involves a farmer who builds a space ship, thereby stirring up the locals, presumably in a Ray Kinsella way. He also earns a spot on government watchlists, which is probably fair. You can't be all there if you build a rocket ship to the moon no matter what Jimmy Buffett says about Desdemona. I am not particularly enthusiastic about the box office potential of this movie ï¿½ though I definitely want to see something with this zany premise. The main reason I have it in the top ten is because there are only 13 February releases and the other three are all clearly not going to be successful.