Weekend Forecast for September 3-5, 2010

By Reagen Sulewski

September 3, 2010

He's a terrible influence on her.

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Labor Day movie audiences will see something entirely uncharacteristic at theatres this weekend, on what's typically the worst time of year for them – actual interesting movies, and a potential Oscar contender.

Even stranger is that one film decided for the Wednesday release. The American, starring George Clooney, opened mid-week, presumably to get at least two days where it can say it was the number one film. Directed by Dutch filmmaker Anton Corbijn (most notable for a series of music videos in the '80s and the Joy Division biopic Control), it's your typical international spy-thriller – Clooney is an aging, emotionally-tortured assassin on one last job with unforeseen consequences. Essentially, Jason Bourne 20 years on.

The American seems to hit all the checklist items for films of this kind – gorgeous Old World locations, spies in dapper clothing, car chases, and weapons fetishes – although it does poorly at distinguishing itself from other moody thrillers of its type. Talking it up as an Oscar contender could be a bit much in light of this, as it appears to be more or less a competent thriller (though acting nominations are always possible). From the ads, there seems to be little notion of what Clooney's character is being asked to do, what the stakes are, or why we might care. Thus, it relies almost entirely on its star for a reason to see it.

As big of a capital-S Star that Clooney is, he's rarely translated that into big opening weekends. Taking out the Ocean movies, and we've got a group of films that open to between $10 and 20 million, and more like $10 to 12 million if you take out other films where he co-starred with Brad Pitt. The $1.6 million it brought in on Wednesday is rather anemic, and points towards the lower end of that range, if not below it. Over it five-day opening weekend, look for The American to come in with about $12 million, with around $9 million of that on the weekend proper.


It's likely to be bested by both the other new wide releases over Labor Day, starting with Going the Distance, a romantic comedy starring real-life couple Drew Barrymore and Justin Long. Almost refreshingly uncomplicated, it's simply the story of a couple who attempt to stay together as their jobs take them to separate coasts.

More or less a sitcom compressed into movie form, it's resting entirely on the charm of its leads and supporting characters (which also include Christina Appelgate, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day and Jim Gaffigan). In Barrymore's case, those charms can be substantial, and she's one of the few actresses that can carry a film more or less on her back and appeal across genders.

Somewhat similar to Clooney, though (and when's the last time you've seen these two actors compared?), that's never translated into major success except when in a star-studded cast (in her case, He's Just Not That Into You). It has meant a steady stream of films in the low teens, aka Bullockville (at least prior to last year). The rest of the actors, including Long, are kind of non-factors here other than to add together, Voltron-style, into additional justification for buying a ticket. Basically, we have a completely inoffensive and unremarkable romantic comedy that's probably going to debut at #1. Hooray for Hollywood. Opening at a little more than 3,000 venues, this average movie should find an average audience of about $12 million.

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