Weekend Forecast for April 9-11, 2004

By Reagen Sulewski

April 9, 2004

Where the hell is that bastard Gandalf??!?

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Easter weekend brings a huge slate of new films, five wide releases in all. This brings to 16 the number of new widely released films in the past four weeks, part of Hollywood's spring cleaning. The short shelf-life of most recent movies helps to create room but with this many films in such a short span, not all of them can be winners. Several of this week's films have that "loser status" look about them.

The new film most likely to make a big impact is The Alamo. A new telling of the pivotal battle between Texas and Mexico in 1836 during the Texas Revolution, the battle is one of the most memorable events in North American history. Originally scheduled for release last December, it ducked shortly before release to this April date. Passing up what many were thinking were possible Oscar nominations is never a very good sign of confidence, though this is a situation where it becomes a big fish in a little pond instead of potentially being lost in the Christmas shuffle.

Produced by Ron Howard and directed by Texas native John Lee Hancock, it's in great position just by way of its subject matter. Maybe ranking just behind Pearl Harbor in historical significance in the American psyche, it's a natural for film treatment (and will surely sell out in Texas). Expecting a Pearl Harbor-like performance out of this film is dreaming, though; it doesn't have the prime release date, promotion budget or knockout trailer. Interestingly, the film seems to be less jingoistic than one might expect, though decidedly on the side of the Texans. In particular, the legend of Davy Crockett gets some deflating. The cast is a solid mid-tier ensemble, with Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton and Jason Patric being the most recognizable names. This is much more of a "sum of the parts" cast, as there aren't any names here that you make a special trip to the theater for, though together they make a credible cast. Ceding to this fact, it's not getting a blockbuster-like rollout, but instead a mid-level 2,600 venues. This should lead to about a $22 million opening figure.

In February of 2000, a minor miracle occurred. A romantic-action-comedy starring Bruce Willis and a Friend debuted, and it was actually funny and made money. The Whole Nine Yards opened to just under $16 million and while not setting the world on fire, was clever, infectious and featured one of the best nude scenes in filmic history. It became a huge video hit, and with the fun the actors clearly had in making the film, a sequel was pretty natural.

In looking at the sequel, the nonsensically titled The Whole Ten Yards, warning signs abound. Both the writer and director are different, apparently having better things to do (go figure). This means the comic rhythms are by necessity going to be different, breaking one of the key links in the comedy chain. Also, troublingly, while the original was R-rated, the sequel is PG-13, as they are apparently abandoning the good old-fashioned violence and nudity for teenage audiences. Finally, and most important, the trailer has been known to make small children cry and grown men fear for the future. The easy-going chemistry seems to be taken for granted, as if we'll laugh simply by virtue of them appearing on screen and trying to be funny. The whole cast returns, with the exception of Michael Clarke Duncan (though Kevin Pollak is brought back as his original character's father), but it's not going to matter, as this has the irredeemable stink of unfunny upon it. It'll manage to earn some by virtue of sequel status and star power, but not more than $9 million.

To say that The Girl Next Door has had an unusual run-up to its release is an understatement. Starting with a trailer that contained the least effective tagline ever and then, taking the extremely rare step of having two national preview screenings (and a last-minute release date change to try and react to outstandingly positive feedback), and then changing to an audience reaction commercial campaign near the end. This campaign contains, to my mind, one of the most astounding quotes I've seen in an ad, in which one of the audience members makes the statement that "the ads don't do it justice". It's not surprising that someone would say this (it's true, after all), but that Fox would actually include this in their ad, basically throwing up their hands and saying, "we don't know how to sell this one either."

They've tried to position it as something akin to the American Pie films but that's selling it short (to take nothing away from those films, but they exist in a different world). What it effectively is is Risky Business Redux, albeit with a more unassuming lead than Tom Cruise. Fresh-faced Emile Hursch plays an overachieving but unpopular and unfulfilled high school student nearing graduation. A spark enters his life when Elisha Cuthbert moves in next door and starts to torment him out of his shell. The shocking discovery? She's a porn star. OK, so this sounds like it could be pretty bad, but it deals with the subject matter cleverly and intelligently and doesn't just play it for cheap laughs (though there are a few). With a little luck, this could be an anthemic film for this generation, but it's been so badly handled so far that this will probably have to happen on video. People are going to walk into this one expecting a sex comedy but are going to get a real, sophisticated film. The cognitive dissonance will be palpable. Give it between $7 and 8 million for its first three days.

Flying under the radar is Ella Enchanted, but maybe so low that it'll crash. Anne Hathaway (who, God bless her, is getting naked in her next film to avoid being typecast) stars as a fairytale-ish girl who, because of a spell, must obey any order she is given. When her kingdom is in peril, she must find her courage and band together, yada yada yada, and fall in love with the prince at the end. There's some interesting Princess Bride-like touches, including what one assumes are deliberately poor-looking effects, but it has been effectively abandoned by Miramax and will really only appeal to a very small, pre-teen girl audience. They have come out in force before, and for Hathaway, but this one looks entirely ignorable. It should see an opening weekend of $6 million.

Already DOA is Johnson Family Vacation, which opened on Wednesday. Starring Cedric the Entertainer and Vanessa Williams in a pretty blatant rip-off of National Lampoon's Vacation (so much so you can probably still see the strikethroughs on "Griswold" in the script), its Wednesday opening day figure was a meager $1.22 million. Extrapolating out, it should only bring in about $5 million from Friday-Sunday, and about $7 million in its first five days. If they offer you Barbershop 3, Cedric, take it.

Amusingly, the weekday box office battle this week has seen Hellboy and The Passion of the Christ duking it out, trading the number one and two spots back and forth. There've been thoughts that The Passion would see a huge resurgence for this weekend, with Easter services boosting the film one last time. While I agree with this in principle, at $335 million already, a huge chunk of the people who were planning on seeing it already have, leaving it to repeat audiences to carry the day, which is rarely a large number of people. I'm a little surprised that it's losing screens again after increasing last week, but it's still well over 3,000 so exposure won't be an issue. I think the effect will more along the lines of it holding steady this weekend rather than dropping as normal, so this should once again earn $10-11 million, probably jumping it into eighth spot all-time, behind Jurassic Park.

On the comic book front, Hellboy should avoid a collapse that has beset many films in its genre, though I wouldn't look for any miracles. I think the best case scenario is the 36% drop Blade saw in its second weekend back in 1998, or around the $14 million mark for about $45 million after ten days.

Walking Tall seems to have effectively established what kind of box office draw The Rock is going to be; opening to $15 million as a film that looks to attract his core audience and no one else. Though his "speak loudly, carry a big stick and hit people with it" philosophy might be the best since Roadhouse, we should expect a pretty steep fall for this film in weekend number two, to around $8 million.

The waste of celluloid known as Scooby-Doo 2 managed to hang on to a hair above a 50% drop last weekend, increasing the odds of a Scooby-Doo 3 being brought into production. I weep for us all.

Sneaking this weekend is 13 Going on 30, the Jennifer Garner "hey remember these body switch films from the 80s?" comedy. This one's kind of a referendum on her status as a potential new Julia Roberts, which will make two weekends from now one to watch.

Forecast: Weekend of April 9-11, 2004
Number of
Changes in Sites
from Last
Gross ($)
1 The Alamo 2,609 New 22.4
2 Hellboy 3,043 +15 14.2
3 The Passion of the Christ 3,203 -205 10.9
4 The Whole Ten Yards 2,654 New 9.4
5 Home on the Range 3,058 +11 9.2
6 Walking Tall 2,836 0 8.2
7 The Girl Next Door 2,148 New 7.7
8 Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed 3,130 -182 6.7
9 Ella Enchanted 1,931 New 6.0
10 Johnson Family Vacation 1,317 New 4.9



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