By Shane Jenkins
Goodbye January! Fare thee well! Never again will we have to cast our eyes upon your insipid teen spoof movies. Your resurrected 80s action heroes. Your nauseating Oscar castoffs (I'm looking at you, Bucket List). For now, we enter into a bold new month, crisp and full of promise. We welcome you, February! O February, with your glorious... er, Jessica Alba J-Horror remakes. Your, um, Paris Hilton romantic comedies. Martin Lawrence? Hannah Montana? Larry the Cable Guy's Witless Protection? February, you are a cruel, cruel mistress. Come back January! All is forgiven!
1) The Spiderwick Chronicles
Look, if Alvin and his "raisin" joke can gross $200 million, it seems obvious that family audiences will pretty much throw their money at anything that caters to them. And since Alvin and National Treasure: Book of Secrets are old-timers at this point, and there hasn't really been anything else to drag the kids to, I feel like there is some pent-up demand for an all-ages flick, and this looks to be it. The trailers are enticing, mimicking the spooky-yet-not-too-scary territory that has worked so well for the Harry Potter movies. Freddy Highmore is a familiar face to family audiences, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Finding Neverland, though he is not really a box office draw. The main appeal is the story, about a boy who can see the world of fairies and goblins when he opens a book, and the special effects, which look decent.
Will Ferrell is never going to stop making these sports comedies. Even when he's dead, his digital likeness will be inserted into curling footage, as he wanders around the ice in his underwear, shouting about brooms. His latest, Semi-Pro, is about basketball, and, in my mind's eye, it's the Jim Carrey basketball scene from The Cable Guy blown up to an hour and a half. This might not be accurate, but I haven't seen too many ads for it, so I'm only speculating. It also stars Woody Harrelson and Andre Benjamin. Oh, and it takes place in the 70's, so there are many opportunities for hair style hilarity. Ferrell's a smart guy, and must realize he's coasting with these movies, but they make money, and I guess that's all there is to it. This one shouldn't be any different. Yawn.
3) The Eye
I still can't believe that Jessica Alba continues to find work. She, along with Hayden Christensen, is the great charisma void of young Hollywood. Her "screen presence" consists of blankly and awkwardly spouting dialogue while men go crazy over her. I guess she fills out a bikini nicely in the poster for that Paul Walker beach movie you and I didn't see, but that seems to be all there is to her. And yet, every two or three months, she's in another movie.
This time it's a remake of the disturbing Hong Kong horror flick Jian Gui. Alba plays a blind woman who gets a cornea transplant and starts seeing some strange stuff. The original film is terrifying and really dark, with one of the all-time great downer endings. I would be very surprised if the American-ized version manages to sustain the same tone, and I kind of doubt the ending will remain intact. Despite all that, there's been something of a horror lull at the box office for awhile, and the Friday teen crowd needs a new film to watch while they text their friends, so this should at least have a good opening weekend. I'm hoping for some inadvertent humor, with Alba playing both a blind person AND a violinist, but everyone else will just be looking for a good scare or two to liven up the mid-winter blahs, and this should fill that role.
Director Doug Liman has four terrific movies to his credit -- Swingers, Go, The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith -- and he's looking to make it five with his latest, Jumper. This is a sci-fi flick about a young man who discovers he has the ability to teleport from one place to another. He thinks there are no consequences to his "jumping", but like Sam Jackson says in the trailer, "there are ALWAYS consequences." Jackson plays an agent who tries to destroy the jumpers because of the dangers they pose. This sounds like a good time. However, the lead jumper is played by Hayden Christensen, and his ability to suck the energy out of a cinematic room is unmatched by anyone who hasn't played Sue Storm. It's like hiring a black hole to anchor your film. Plus, it also stars some girl from The O.C. That said, the trailers are fairly intriguing, and with Liman's track record, there is some hope. Sci-fi fans will be there, of course, but its appeal should expand beyond just that base.
5) Vantage Point
The President has been shot! Or has he? I wish I didn't know, but the trailer is one of those "let's give away everything but the ending" kind of trailers, so I know a lot more than I wish I did. Anyway, the action is seen from differing viewpoints by such diverse actors as Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver, Matthew Fox, and Dennis Quaid. The President is played by serial over-actor William Hurt. We see the minutes leading up to the assassination attempt from these other perspectives as we and the characters try to sort out what happened. That blasted trailer makes the movie look genuinely exciting and suspenseful, and this should have pretty broad appeal, particularly to the older crowd, who appreciate a smart action movie.
6) Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour
I neither have The Disney Channel nor am I 12 years old, so here's everything I know about Hannah Montana:
A. If Hannah Montana lived in Tennessee, her name would be "Hennessee."
B. Maybe Hannah Montana's not even from Montana. Who the frig knows?
C. Hannah Montana is played by Achy Breaky daughter Miley Cyrus
D. There are performances by both Hannah Montana and Cyrus herself, which strikes me transparently as a demand by her agent to try to avoid having her typecast already
E. Kids apparently throw Super Sweet Sixteen-worthy fits if their parents don't take them to see Hannah Montana concerts, which are supposedly pre-pubescent mob scenes
Since I only know five things about her, I feel ill-advised on where to place her concert film on my list. Has there ever even been a kiddie concert film before? Raffi: Bananaphone - The Concert Experience? The film is in Disney Digital 3-D, which, at least with theaters around me, means a ticket costs a few bucks more. Will that be a consideration? And what about the dirty old man contingent? A b.o. factor or not? I have no idea, though I suspect in any case it will be mostly a one weekend sensation.
7) Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins
Everybody loves Undercover Brother. Can you think of anyone who doesn't? No, of course you can't. And Roll Bounce, the rollerskating movie with Bow Wow, was a truly sweet slice of 70's life. So, the good news is that the man behind these movies, Malcolm D. Lee, is back with another one. The bad news is that it stars Martin Lawrence. Lawrence, once upon a time a welcome supporting player in movies like House Party and Do the Right Thing, has increasingly become a force to avoid as he shifted to the center of his films. Black Knight, Big Momma's House 2, and What's the Worst That Could Happen? I rest my case. Not to mention his penchant for playing multiple characters in the same film (if you haven't seen his double turn in Rebound, my nightmares wouldn't make any sense to you). But hey! It's a new year, and we're feeling charitable. If anyone can rein in Lawrence's worst tendencies, I think Lee is the person to do it. First, it appears that Lawrence is only playing one character, which is a good start. Also, Lee has surrounded Lawrence with a terrific cast, including James Earl Jones, Margaret Avery, Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Epps, and the occasionally funny Mo'Nique. The story, about a successful talk show host who returns to his hometown and is taken down a peg, feels a little generic and predictable, but I'm willing to give Lee the benefit of the doubt, and I suspect a lot of others will too. Films with largely African American casts have doing well at the box office lately, including Why Did I Get Married and This Christmas. Roscoe Jenkins should benefit from this momentum. I expect it will have a decent opening weekend, and should play well through the rest of the month.
8) Fool's Gold
I was thinking awhile back that Romancing the Stone would be a good contender for a remake. Girl and guy bicker while skirting danger and looking for fortune. Comedy, action, romance. It's a solid concept, and Fool's Gold looks to have at least borrowed the formula. Reteaming Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey after their successful rom-com How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Fool's Gold casts them as married treasure hunters whose passion is re-ignited as they look for the buried treasure mother lode. The trailer isn't anything great, probably because it is working so hard to fit the action, romance, and comedy into a two minute clip. I trust the film itself will not be quite so schizo. The director is Andy Tennant, who, with hits like Sweet Home Alabama and Hitch under his belt, knows his way around this territory. The treasure angle may make it more palatable to guys than a straight-up romantic comedy, so this looks to be the date movie choice of the month.
9) Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show
In the tradition of Kings of Comedy and The Blue Collar Comedy Tour, Vince Vaughn and his comedian buddies hit the road, do some stand-up, and film the results. This seems likely to appeal primarily to the actor's frat boy fans, and not so much to the family audiences he picked up with Fred Claus. It's being released on a limited number of screens, but with its low cost and Vaughn's name, it should be a profitable little movie. Plus, it has a buzz-cut Peter "Ralphie from A Christmas Story" Billingsley in it. Added value!
10) Step Up 2 the Streets
Kids dance. In the rain! Oh, look out, they're fight-dancing! Now, they're going to use dancing to make better lives for themselves!! Dancing really is the great equalizer!!! Someday, these movies will make great material for VH1's I Love the 00's as The Jonas Brothers and Abigail Breslin pine for the simpler days of their youth, when kids went to see movies about dancing. In the meantime, this will be good for maybe a weekend or so of popularity among the junior high set.
11) Be Kind Rewind
This is my most anticipated movie of the month by far. After a magnetized Jack Black erases all the tapes in a VHS rental shop, he and Mos Def recreate the movies and rent out the tapes of their performances. They make low-budget recreations of Ghostbusters, Driving Miss Daisy, and 2001, among others. They're just like the originals, but only 20 minutes long! Be Kind Rewind is from director Michel Gondry, the fabulous French fabulist behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep. Plus that YouTube video where he solves a Rubik's Cube with his feet. After his more serious turn in Margot at the Wedding, Black is back doing that JB thing we all know and love. And Mos Def is my favorite rapper-turned-actor -- he has a real screen presence, and his on-screen chemistry with Black looks great. I don't think this movie will set the box office on fire; it's a little too whimsical, and self-reflexivity is not usually embraced by general audiences. Plus, it's being distributed by New Line, who has been having a tough time connecting with audiences lately. Still, I hope it finds its audience. I can't wait to see it.
Also coming out: Over Her Dead Body, with Eva Longoria and Paul Rudd; Strange Wilderness, with Steve Zahn, The Hottie and the Nottie (shudder), with Paris Hilton; In Bruges, with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson; Definitely Maybe, with Ryan Reynolds and Isla Fisher; Witless Protection, with Larry the Cable Guy; Babylon A.D., with Vin Diesel; Possession, with Sarah Michelle Gellar; and something called The Signal.
Max Braden's February Forecast