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Weekend Forecast for June 22-24, 2007

By Reagen Sulewski

June 22, 2007

Steve didn't realize that he'd signed on for a Hitchcock remake.

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Variety is the word for this weekend's new releases, with a broad comedy sequel, a horror thriller and an early piece of Oscar bait making up the slate of new films. While it may not meet the standard of "something for everyone", it goes a long way towards filling out a group of films that has been dominated by giant franchises so far this summer.

Leading off this group is Evan Almighty, a spin-off (with a better title) of the wildly popular Jim Carrey film from 2003, Bruce Almighty, which grossed $85 million over that year's Memorial Day Weekend. In that film, Steve Carell played a rival news anchor to Carrey, and a target of Carrey's temporary God-like powers. Stealing scenes from Hollywood's greatest scene-stealer, Carell started to get some notice beyond his then job as a Daily Show correspondent. One critically acclaimed and decently popular sitcom and one breakout summer comedy later, and he's a great big freaking comedy star.

Evan Almighty catches up with Carell's character after he gets elected to Congress, where he is chosen as a new prophet of God (a returning Morgan Freeman), and told to build a Noah-style ark because of that impending flood. Yup, a flood any minute now... look, there's a cloud!

Directed by Tom Shadyac, Evan Almighty has made news for a rather dubious honor, that of being the most expensive comedy ever produced, with a budget estimated somewhere upwards of $200 million. It's all the animals, you see, which were real, and not CGI. It's a giant risk for what is effectively a family-targeted comedy (the rating drops from PG-13 to PG), which seems ultimately light on laughs. It's a similar demo to the Santa Clause films, but without its seasonal tie-in.

If any actor can pull off looking completely ridiculous and embarrassed and make it funny, it's Carell, and this film will be a huge test of his newly minted box office prowess. The cast also includes John Goodman and Lauren Graham, but let's face it – it's Steve's show to run here. I think both the previous film's tie-in and Carell's natural humor will be big factors in what this film ultimately makes, but the movie itself isn't doing it any favors. The ads mostly present panicky screams from Carell as the centerpiece of the comedy, with what appears to be a desperation move of practically giving away the ending in recent commercials. It's not a particular sign of confidence. Opening at a massive 3,602 venues, look for an opening weekend of around $35 million, which ought to top the weekend.




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In a bit of an upset, the best reviewed film of the weekend is 1408, the horror film adapted from a Stephen King short story. One assumes that critics are a) grading on a genre curve and b) reacting to the change of pace in horror away from torture and gore, but it's something certainly worth noticing.

In 1408, John Cusack stars as a paranormal investigator/debunker, searching for evidence of the afterlife in order to contact his daughter. The title refers to a room number at the Dolphin Hotel in New York, which has had a tremendous number of mysterious deaths in its history. It's sort of the Roach Motel for people – the guests check in, but don't check out. Cusack is determined to bust the myth of the room, against the warnings of The Dolphin's manager, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Is he sick of the mother-effing guests dying in this mother-effing hotel room? One can only surmise so.

While a lot of horror lately seems to have been in a race to discover just how much blood spatter one film can have before desensitizing it audience to it, 1408 gets back into the supernatural for its scares and shocks. Cusack is a bit of an unusual choice for the lead in a horror thriller like this, but then so was Johnny Depp in Secret Window, another King adaptation, and there's also 2003's Identity, which also mined the inherent spookiness of hospitality services. As I mentioned, reviews are surprisingly strong for this film, but it also seems to suffer from that strange phenomenon in horror where a film can look too creepy for its own good, scaring off the people that don't want to have to buy new pants after the movie.

There's a mild chance for this to be a breakout hit, based on promised scares and the hunger for old-time ghost story. One probably can't count on Cusack to help a lot with the box office here (he's been a long time between hits) although he and Jackson do lend a fair bit of credibility to the project. Opening at a modest 2,678 venues, 1408 should see a weekend of $19 million.


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