Weekend Forecast for September 12-14, 2008

By Reagen Sulewski

September 12, 2008

We're just happy someone besides Bates is getting naked.

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Now this is (potentially) more like it. With the dregs of summer finally dribbling out of the way, four new films hit theaters, with as many as three of them having aspirations of at least (gasp) double digit millions. Listen, I'll never mention the last two weeks again if you won't.

Tyler Perry simply won't stop. The Family That Preys is his approximately 18 bajillionth film in the last three years about kooky yet heartwarming black families in conflict, this time blending in some conflict with a white family (though not, I hope and assume, of the nasty variety). Alfre Woodard and Kathy Bates play lifelong friends and matriarchs of the respective families, who find the paths of their children intertwining in surprising and bitter-sweetly comical ways. Stop me if you've heard this one before.

There's very little to say about Perry's leg-hold on his audience – with the notable exception of Daddy's Little Girls, he's been one of the most consistent director/writers of the last few years. The formula seems simple – get at least one top line actor, a whole truck load of character actors, stew in family drama and simmer to a $20 million opening (he does seem to be getting bored of the whole transvestite plot device for himself, which is probably a good thing). Until his audiences get tired of this or he runs out of charming anecdotes about modern black life, we can pencil these films in for $20 million plus or minus a few. Let's give this one $18 million just to be interesting.

After finally getting their due with an Oscar, the Coen Brothers are switching back to lighter fare with Burn After Reading, an espionage farce starring Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Frances McDormand and John Malkovich. Pitt plays a none-too-bright gym instructor who stumbles onto a CD of classified information, mistakenly left behind by Malkovich's CIA agent. His genius idea: blackmail the agent for a reward, and when that doesn't work, try and sell it to the Russians, with the help of another gym instructor, played by McDormand. Clooney plays a Federal Marshall who's sleeping with Malkovich's wife (played by Tilda Swinton) and who winds up crossing paths with the attempted extortionists.


This feels like a trip back to the Coens' Raising Arizona days, where they blended zaniness with dark humor and a body count. Everyone seems pretty content to ham it up, with Pitt's good-natured dumb guy portrayal being a centerpiece here, and potentially busting it open for the film commercially. The question becomes if the Coens really do have mainstream box office pull.

The answer is probably "no", meaning the Burn After Reading should sit in the range of The Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty, their most recent forays into comedy. Reviews are only middling, which probably kills it to some degree with the art house crowd, but that's never a big factor anyway. Look for $13 million for this on the weekend.

Righteous Kill may be the third film to start both Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, but it's the first film to feature these two legends of the screen together for significant periods. I don't know if that's a great gimmick to hang your film on at this point, but it's sure worth a shot.

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