August 2005 Forecast

By David Mumpower

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The month of August is divided into the usual categories of Haves and Have-Nots. The month has historically seen a combination of big releases early in the frame followed by the dumping of all other semi-viable summer releases closer to Labor Day. 2005 is no exception, though a couple of late August releases have the potential to perform well.

1) Dukes of Hazzard

I expect this film to hold well to the spirit of the original, but that is not exactly high praise. Dukes of Hazzard was in many ways a thematic predecessor to Baywatch, what with its absurd, redundant action sequences and extreme T&A core. The trailers have encapsulated what the Dukes were always about, but even a re-make of it has an immediately dated feel. What sells the new version is the casting. Jessica Simpson is dumb enough to play for the University of Miami football team, but she is ridiculously attractive and comes by her southern accent naturally. Her cover of These Boots Are Made for Walking has done a brilliant job of building awareness for the project, no matter what you think of the performance. Her addition is the key, but it is not the only clever bit of casting. 1970s icons Burt Reynolds, Willie Nelson and Lynda Carter all add a level of throwback appeal to what is at heart a throwback project. Johnny Knoxville and Sean William Scott make for fine Duke boys as well. Really, the only huge knock on this project is that it does not look particularly funny so far. Since the director is the leader of Broken Lizard, though, I have little concern about the quality of the project.

2) The 40 Year Old Virgin

This project reminds me quite a bit of 40 Days and 40 Nights. The concepts are two sides of the same coin. In the Josh Hartnett project, he was trying very hard not to have sex for 40 days. In this Steve Carell outing, he might have been trying to do it, but he has managed not to have sex for 40 years. One spends the whole film trying to say no while the other spends the whole film trying to find someone to say yes. Long time readers might recall I was recklessly optimistic about the Hartnett film, so you will not be surprised to hear that I have not learned my lesson. I have The 40 Year-Old Virgin targeted as my biggest sleeper film of August. A hysterical trailer and an even funnier premise make for the perfect project to capitalize on the positive reinforcement North American audiences received from The Wedding Crashers.

3) Skeleton Key

Voodoo is a movie subject that returns to the spotlight every decade or so. Live and Let Die, Serpent and the Rainbow, and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil are notable titles from the past three decades. With the recent batch of horror films proving that the genre is an easy moneymaker, it is no surprise to find the subject of voodoo making a return. The writer of The Ring and Scream 3, Ehren Kruger, already has a pedigree in the genre as well as proven box office success. My only concern for this project is that the commercials don't seem to have that one moment that sells the film. Horror films generally need that to sell them. The closest Skeleton Key gets is some eerie music and an eyeball through the keyhole. Kate Hudson's forced delivery of "I don't' believe" does not help matters any. This strikes me as a moderate horror performer but nothing more.

4) Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo

There are very few wide releases in the past few years I can say this about, but I have never watched Deuce Bigalow. So absurd was the premise and so strong my dislike of Rob Schneider that I managed to avoid it all the time. The same can be said of The Hot Chick and The Animal. In point of fact, Schneider might be the only above-the-title actor in Hollywood who has had three releases in the past ten years I have not seen. If his work in a film requires more than the delivery of "You can do it," I am just not interested. As such, it is difficult for me to accurately evaluate his projects since I never see their appeal. What we learned in July is that consumers still love raunchy comedies, but even allowing for that, I don't anticipate Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo outperforming the original by a notable amount. It will be lucky to maintain status quo, relative to ticket price inflation.

5) Four Brothers

A tight trailer has swayed my opinion a bit on this project. When it was originally announced, I wondered what in the world Mark Wahlberg was thinking (probably something like "I need a new yacht"). The commercial has changed my mind for the most part, though. Four Brothers looks much more like an action film than I was expected or, at the least, it is being cleverly sold as such. The relationships between the principles do not look forced at all and when the murder of "Ma" is described as an execution, the bloodlust felt by the brothers seems genuine. I want to watch this movie now and I expect that a lot of other folks are equally impressed by the marketing campaign. If nothing else, I think Four Brothers will be a strong performer on DVD, assuming that its quality is not being misrepresented in the advertising.

6) Red-Eye

Who are these people? That is what the average movie-goer is thinking when they see commercials for Red Eye. Cillian Murphy's creepy eyes were utilized brilliantly in Batman Begins but I still doubt the majority of North American movie-goers could pick him out of a police lineup. Rachel McAdams has been anointed It Girl 2004 for her work in The Notebook, but at this point, she's still just a random Hollywood blonde to most. And I include the people who have seen Wedding Crashers in that. So, Red-Eye is left to survive based upon its premise and its trailers. That is *not* a good place to be. A woman meets a man at an airport bar and flirts some while waiting for their delayed flight to board. Later on, they discover he was hired to torment her. It's the innate flaw with in a nutshell. Everyone seems nice until they try to kill you. The one positive Red-Eye has going for it is the presence of Wes Craven in the director's chair. The legendary auteur has been given two talented albeit unknown actors and one of the biggest budgets of his career at $44 million. I would hope he will capitalize on this opportunity by delivering a tense, gripping movie. I just don't have much optimism for its box office performance, though. A final days marketing campaign along the lines of "the villain from Batman Begins, the dream girl from The Wedding Crashers and the director of Scream" would raise my expectations a bit, though. Informing the audience that they do know these people would be a positive step.

7) Valiant

There is no film in my August forecast that affords more opportunity for me to be way off-base than this title. Valiant looks atrocious, has not been advertised much at all, and is all-too-British in tone to succeed in North America. Despite all this, I get nervous disregarding its box office appeal since it's got the Disney marketing arm supporting it. In addition, its tone is unmistakably Chicken Run at times, a huge positive. Plus, the worst I have ever missed on a film is Ice Age, and that memory sticks in the back of my mind. These CGI family films are so hard to distinguish with regards to what is gold and what is pyrite. I just don't laugh during the trailer, though, and it's hard for me to see any appeal whatsoever in the concept. This looks like the CGI answer to Quest for Camelot and, as such, I have limited expectations for it.

8) The Cave

This cheesy B-movie is the spiritual successor to 2000's Pitch Black and with a touch of Anaconda thrown in for good measure. This is classic August cinema. A group of semi-famous actors including the criminally underappreciated Morris Chestnut are trapped in a cave and attacked by whatever lurks beneath. Thematically, it's similar to last year's Alien vs. Predator but without the franchise recognition of both titles. I am not expecting a huge performance from the movie, but I do think a low to mid teens opening followed by a nice shelf life on video is likely. Safe, smart projects like this are the way for studios to clean up financially.

9) The Brothers Grimm

Speaking of Ehren Kruger, he has a second film released this month. This Matt Damon/Heath Ledger project is one I have been anticipating since it was first announced. The Brothers Grimm, creators of bawdy fairy tales, are cultural icons. This story is a fictional recounting of what would have happened had they ever encountered real monsters rather than boasted of besting fictional ones. The concept is simultaneously high-minded and potentially low-brow, the best of both worlds. The problem is that director Terry Gilliam is notoriously unconventional. His films simply do not offer mass appeal, which is great from an artist's perspective. He's creative and daring. From a box office perspective, his refusal to conform to convention makes selling his movies nigh-impossible. That goes double at a time when Miramax films are not being marketed due the *ahem* unpleasantness between its former bosses and Disney execs. In point of fact, the next commercial I see for The Brothers Grimm will be the first, a disappointment since this is my most anticipated project of August.

10) Supercross

Dudes on bikes enjoy camraderie, a thirst for adventure and a desire to score as many hot chicks as their equipment can handle. The last iteration of this film was called Grind. It starred Mike Vogel. Supercross stars Mike Vogel. I look forward to Snowboarders: the Movie, starring Mike Vogel. Ah, to be young and typecast. It's impossible for me to see this film doing well but the other contenders for tenth place out of the wide releases are The Great Raid and Undiscovered. This is me shutting my eyes and picking a name out of a hat.



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