February 2005 Forecast
By David Mumpower
This is a lousy month for cinema. It's been a looong time since there have been consecutive months with such lackluster product as has been the case to start 2005.
Out of the first quarter releases, Hitch is the film most likely to slot into last year's 50 First Dates niche. Like the Sandler/Barrymore outing, this project boasts an A-list star in Will Smith. While Eva Mendes is no Drew Barrymore at this point in her career, the presence of Kevin James fills the void between the two women's popularity. This is a clever concept for a romantic comedy starring two winning leads with a supporting role for a Belushi-esque funny fat man. Sounds like a winner to me.
The bloom is off the comic book rose these days. The once bulletproof genre has had a lot more films in the Catwoman, Elektra and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen failure bin than in the X-Men/Spider-Man money machine. Constantine faces not just this obstacle but also the fact that Keanu Reeves is not the most well respected actor in ComicBookNerd-dom. His presence created instant divisiveness among those who follow the Vertigo Comics graphic novel series. And then there is the fact that Constantine re-joins Reeves with Rachel Weisz. Their previous union in Chain Reaction was one of the biggest bombs of 1996. The first clip from the film was a painful reminder of this prior disappointment.
That's a lot of negatives weighing against Constantine. The positive here is that some enterprising studio exec realized that there needed to be a way to counteract all of these negatives. So, an edict was made to craft a new trailer that would amp up the aspects of the film that might remind viewers of Reeves's personal $150 million meal ticket, The Matrix franchise. The effect has been noticeable. While diehard comic fans remain skeptical of the film's appeal, mainstream audiences are giving Constantine a long look. In a weak month, that should be good enough to secure second place.
Oh boy, does this discussion ever make me uncomfortable. I love Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven's work on the Scream series. I was so jazzed at the news that they were going to do a lycanthrope film. The casting news was inspired, and this one had all the makings of being a winner. Then, the bottom fell out. Early buzz (on Kevin Williamson fan sites of all places) questioned the quality of the script. Miramax had a problem with the appearance of the werewolf. Re-shoots were requested. Several members wound up completely cut out of the film while enough footage for an entirely new film was created. The entire sequence of events is a disaster of Miami Dolphins 2004 season proportions. The only real positive that can be taken from this chain of events is that it eerily mirrors Exorcist: The Beginning. That film managed $18.1 million opening weekend, and "From the creators of Scream" is a strong selling point in the ad campaign.
4) Man of the House
Tommy Lee Jones is finally beginning to embrace his grandfatherly age in his movie roles with this project being a potential masterpiece. Whomever came up with the idea of sticking the too-gruff Jones on a bus with a bunch of overly energetic teen cheerleaders deserves a raise. The idea alone makes me laugh a lot more than several 90 minute comedies managed to do last year. The movie obviously wants to ape the success of Bring It On, but the tone of it reminds me more of Sugar and Spice. That's not a good thing, but hopefully mainstream audiences have yet to make the connection...which is probably the case since that 2001 release is already long since erased from the collective conscience.
5) The Wedding Date
Nothing says comedy hijinks like the seamy underbelly of prostitution. Following on the heels of such humorous outings as Leaving Las Vegas, My Own Private Idaho and American Gigolo, The Wedding Date seeks to capitalize on a growing market of women willing to pay for the perfect man. Debra Messing, star of the fuzzy NBC staple Will and Grace, seeks to prove she is more than just a sitcom beard. Dermot Mulroney, still wondering why he didn't become a star after Thing Called Love, plays her for-hire love interest.
The plan here is to appeal to Messing's fanbase of neurotic women who view themselves as emotional sisters of the quirky actress. Best case scenario is a Deuce Bigalow performance but a much more reasonable expectation is this being in the $5 DVD bin by next Christmas. I can't help but wonder how Messing will feel watching former Ned and Stacy co-star Thomas Haden Church thank the Academy in his acceptance speech. Meanwhile she passes away the time on the set of her day job as a non-sexual co-dependent.
If I have learned nothing else from recent box office trending, I have at least come to expect that horror is the trickiest genre to forecast these days. To the naked eye, there is virtually no difference between a hit like White Noise and a disaster like Darkness. More and more, picking these films feel like a Vegas game of chance rather than an attempt to introduce logic into the equation. Boogeyman feels like a C-grade project with unknown leads, a generic story and a middling trailer. Despite this, I can't shake the notion that the "shut your eyes and count to five" concept in the film -could- strike a chord with audiences. I don't think it will, but I have learned to never say never these days when it comes to slasher flicks. If nothing else, the film gave us a chance to do the Michael Jackson bit when we re-launched the Release Schedule last year and, for that, I will always be grateful.
7) Because of Winn-Dixie
Which casting news about this project frightens you more? Is it that the film co-stars frat icon Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews Band? Or is that Dakota Fanning has a younger yet somehow equally creepy younger sister? That's a big bag of evil right there. On the plus side, screen legend Eva Marie Saint of North By Northwest fame makes a rare appearance in a mainstream film.
For those of you coming in off the street, this film is based upon Kate DiCamillo's Newberry Honor book about a 10-year-old girl trying to make friends in a new town. Her only initial success in this endeavor is a mangy dog she finds at a Winn-Dixie, the name she decides to give the mutt. The girl and (wo)man's best friend go on a series of family friendly adventures including meeting a reformed convict pet store owner (Matthews) and the town witch (Saint).
The film is angling for the same market as My Dog Skip and Cats and Dogs, but faces a struggle. Other similar attempts like Benji's recent return adventure and the alien dog comedy Good Boy! failed to strike a chord with mainstream audiences. The popularity of the book hints that this movie could fill the February family niche.
8) Diary of a Mad Black Woman
Equal parts How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Bridget Jones's Diary, this film could surprise. The story is universal. A successful woman is shocked to discover that she has been betrayed by her husband and best friend. The duo have started a torrid affair and plan to marry. This leaves The Manchurian Candidate's Kimberly Elise in an unexpected position. Suddenly single, she must come to terms with her circumstances, all the while engaging in a series of comic hijinks which would make the Teri Hatcher character on Desperate Housewives proud. This one hits two underrated markets in the world of box office: African Americans and older women. Do not underestimate it, especially in such a weak month.
9) Son of the Mask
You have got to be kidding me. It's fitting that this Jamie Kennedy release comes out the same month as the latest Kevin Williamson release. After all, if not for the Scream series, nobody would know who Kennedy is. Now, we find his career in unexpectedly solid shape thanks to a series of UPN-sponsored pranks while Williamson seeks to prove he still has it as a writer. The fact that Kennedy is more well respected at the moment is not tragic in and of itself as the artist is a very funny man. It's the way that he has regressed to base humor in order to catch on that leaves his Scream fans depressed. He is little more than a bargain basement Johnny Knoxville at the moment, and playing second fiddle to a CGI infant isn't going to help matters any. After all, that's what got Ally McBeal in so much trouble.
10) Pooh's Heffalump Movie
Winnie the Pooh's crew returns to action in this latest adventure. Their last outing, Piglet's Big Adventure, didn't exactly set the world on fire, but that isn't stopping Team A.A. Milne from trying again. The key this time is the introduction of a mysterious Heffalump. None of Winnie's friends knows exactly what that is, but for a group of innate cowards, the name alone is scary enough. Don't worry, though, kiddies. Once they come to know the misshapen elephant, I am certain that an important lesson will be learned about the mistakes of judging based on appearance. Either that or the Heffalump gets pissed at these prejudiced bastards and goes on a Tarantino-esque killing spree. If it's the latter, I am certain that an important Charlton Heston approved lesson on gun safety will be learned.