Weekend Forecast for January 23-25, 2008

By Reagen Sulewski

January 22, 2009

If he stares at it hard enough, it will turn to wine.

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This week's slate of releases won't match up to the surprising and stealthfully strong Martin Luther King Jr. weekend in terms of box office, but there will be a compensation. With Oscar nominations arriving today, a number of films that have been getting critical buzz - but were so far reserved for a couple of major centers - will get nationwide rollouts.

But first, there's the 2009 releases to get to. Leading the way is the third film in the Underworld series, Rise of the Lycans. A prequel to the 2003 vampires and werewolves film that starred Kate Beckinsale, it purports to tell us how the feud between the two races of demons began (though as I recall, the first film actually did that anyway), with everything awash in blue filters.

Beckinsale has left for greener pastures, replaced by Rhona Mitra, who as a lanky British brunette, apparently fit the costume. Bill Nighy, well on his way to becoming this generation's Christopher Lee, is also back, as well as Michael Sheen, who has to be thinking, "C'mon! I've been the lead in two Best Picture nominated films! How am I still doing these movies?" To add a little lemon juice to that paper cut, not only did he lose Beckinsale, the mother of his child, to the first film's director, he has to carry on her movie franchise.


While making a prequel seems to lose a lot of what made Underworld an interesting franchise in the first place ("It's vampires, in the modern world! With guns!" "Brilliant, here's $60 million!"), after two strong opening weekends both over $20 million, it's a little safer to take a shot like this. It's something similar to the Resident Evil films, which have a reliable audience for at least the first weekend, and as long as they're promised more or less the same as what they got last time, they'll turn out again, and I don't think Beckinsale was really the key ingredient here. Look for an opening weekend of $22 million.

So stop me if you've heard this one – a man, trying to connect with some young relatives, reads out fantastical stories, only to find out that he has the power to make them come true. Through this, he and his family end up on wild adventures and they all learn a lesson, The End. If you're Adam Sandler, this is Bedtime Stories. If you're Brendan Fraser, this is Inkheart and you're a month too late.

Fraser, who must be going for some sort of recognition as the greatest green-screen actor of all time, stars as a man who releases characters from books when he reads from them, although something has to replace them. After his wife is pulled into the book Inkheart, he and his daughter then have to battle with the rightful inhabitants of the book to set things right.

So, it's kind of the reverse of Bedtime Stories, but it's close enough that it's going to suffer by comparison, if it wasn't already kind of in trouble for some dull-looking effects. It's Journey to the Center of the Earth, without the CGI hook or summer buzz. Opening on 2,600 screens, it should come in with about $9 million on the weekend.

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