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February 2004 Movie Preview
by Dave Thomas

Are you ready to LAUGH!?!?! I said, are
you READY to LAAAUUUGHH!?!?! Well, Hollywood
sure hopes you are. Apparently, they've decided to celebrate Black History Month by unleashing a
torrent of comedies, one of which actually has
black people in it. Enjoy!


FEBRUARY 6


BARBERSHOP 2

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
More "Barbershop".


WILL IT SUCK?

I'm made a little nervous by the loss of chief screenwriter Mark Brown and the addition of two TV screenwriters (with "Moesha" and "Knightwatch" between them) although they have retained Don D. Scott from the original.

They also lost director Tim Story (who's shooting the much-anticipated American version of Luc Besson's "Taxi" instead) but gained Kevin Rodney Sullivan who directed one of my favorite "West Wing's" ("Lord John Marbury" for those keeping score) but also directed "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" and is the aforementioned "Knightwatch" writer. So it's a pretty mixed bag.

At least the old cast is back and we can look forward to seeing which leading black pundits Cedric The Entertainer will piss off this time.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
It should do quite well. It's got no real competition when it opens, and "50 First Dates" will produce only a partial drain on its core (and rather broad) audience the following week. $62mil.


MIRACLE

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Do you believe in movies about miracles? This is the story of that fateful (but in a good way) team that beat the Russians in the 1980 Olympics and the man who led them there.

WILL IT SUCK?
Besides Kurt Russell in the lead as the coach (and boy howdy, he looks like the coach - 80's hair, jowls, etc.) you've got indie queen Patricia Clarkson and "Hey, it's THAT guy" Noah Emmerich (think Truman's best friend in "The Truman Show") on board. Besides that, just about everyone here (including the writer and director) is more or less an unknown. The writer of "The Rookie" came on board to do a rewrite, but he also wrote "Radio" so his rep is a little tarnished right now. The trailer looks better than it probably should.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
It'll come in second to "Barbershop 2" before "50 First Kisses" drops it like a sack of wet cement the following week. If it's good, it might pull a "Rookie" and stick around until the summer. If it's just okay, it might pull a "Varsity Blues" and stick around until early spring. I think it'll be okay. $60mil.


CATCH THAT KID

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Bank robbery for a good cause - to save a 12-year-old girl's dad who needs an operation. There's only one problem (sound of record scratching) the robber is that same 12 year old girl (and her friends).

WILL IT SUCK?
With a premise like that AND Jennifer Beals, how could it? Well, you could throw in the writers from "2 Fast 2 Furious" for a start. It doesn't hurt that "Panic Room's" Kristen Stewart is the lead and I actually like Beals' post-"Flashdance" oeuvre (which is to say I liked her in "Roger Dodger"). To top it all off, we have Michael Des Barres (a.k.a. Murdock from "MacGyver" not to mention countless other TV roles) like the icing on some sort of campy cake. Oh my God is this going to suck!

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Surprisingly well. With "You Got Served" as the only real competition from the week before (I think "The Perfect Score" will skew a little older) and the success of the "Spy Kids" trilogy and "Agent Cody Banks," this should cash in. Well, at least with those kids who can't wait one month for "Agent Cody Banks 2." (Sadly, that's not a typo). $50mil.


THE DREAMERS

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
"First Tango in Paris". Bertolucci gives us a gander at a brother and sister who share EVERYTHING and the guy who falls in with them during the student riots in Paris '68. Somebody call Penthouse Forum.

WILL IT SUCK?
I'm not up on my Bertolucci but way I hear it he's the shit. The writer also did "Love and Death on Long Island" which (again, way I hear it) was tight. Put it together and you get a movie that has mixed critical reception and pretty solid audience reception.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
How do you spell free publicity? C-O-N-T-R-O-V-E-R-S-Y. There's not an indie rag or entertainment section in a city paper that won't do a feature on this if it comes to town. Why? It's not just the incest angle. It's the other way to spell free publicity. NC-17. That's right. Fox Searchlight is giving this the greenlight without cuts. And lemme tell ya, this was too hot for Sundance (an edited version was screened there) so you know this is no "first submission of 'Clerks'" NC-17. Still, it's gonna have "Osama's" possibly Golden Globe award havin' second frame to deal with so let's not go crazy. $1mil.


THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Deliberately campy sci-fi yarn in which a scientist and his wife fight a radioactive (natch) monster in black and white and, yes, mono.

WILL IT SUCK?
Yes, but that's the point. This hearkens back to the old, crappy 50's sci-fi/horror flicks popularized for this generation by MST3K. What "Far From Heaven" did for Douglas Sirk, this would do for, well, any of a hundred bad monster movie directors. The early reviews are mixed so it's probably best to check out the love-it-or-hate-it trailer yourself.

Me, I've actually been looking forward to this one for a while.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Not much competition but not that big a market, either. Kitsch value works better on TV. See the poor b.o. on the MST3K movie. Still, could rake in a few bucks as a midnight movie. $500,000.


AN AMAZING COUPLE

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Okay, remember on "Angel" when they're in Pylea and they find those books that say "Wolf," "Ram," and "Hart"? (Wasn't that cute? Too bad they never did anything with it.) Anyway, the three books could only be read at the same time because a passage would begin in one then be continued in another and finish in the third and back and forth, etc. (My God am I a dork). Same here, except this is part two of three movies that, though they stand on their own, have gaps only filled by watching all three creating a fourth movie, sort of. And if you don't watch "Angel," that's probably a good thing because this season's been pretty sucky.

WILL IT SUCK?
Remember how I was saying they stand alone? According to early reviews, not so much. Of the three (which have already been released abroad) this one is the worst reviewed. Even at that, though, the reviews are more mixed than bad. Apparently this works a lot better in the context of all three than on it's own. Still, it's an interesting idea. (And did I mention that each movie is in a totally different genre? How cool is that?)

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Seeing as there hasn't been a lot of advance buzz for part one, which comes out a week earlier, I don't see there being a lot of anticipation for part two. Magnolia, its US distributor, is a fairly small company (looking to get a big boost when "Capturing the Friedmans" wins Best Doc, just wait) and outside of film festivals, I don't see this getting a lot of play. $100,000.


FEBRUARY 13


50 FIRST DATES

WHATS' THE PITCH?
Adam Sandler falls for Drew Barrymore (again). This time, the problem is she goes all "Memento" on him whenever they meet.

WILL IT SUCK?
I'm liking the first title better ("50 First Kisses"). This has a lot going against it, not the least of which is the fact that Adam Sandler movies suck as of late. Long gone are the days of "Happy Gilmore" and "Billy Madison" which had what could be termed inspired absurdism. Now we're stuck with a weird, unfulfilling mix of that and standard romcom fare ("Anger Management," "The Waterboy").

The other category of Sandler film, notable by having only one entry, is the good romcom (i.e. "The Wedding Singer"), which somehow managed to combine the best elements of traditional comedy and Sandler's unique schtick. This probably won't do that. With "Management's" director on board and the presence of Rob Schneider as a hallmark of weaker Sandler outings, this is looking to be less exciting than his earlier work.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
This has a lot going for it. "Wedding Singer" was very popular (though, surprisingly, not nearly as successful as most of his later work) and the re-pairing of this couple will likely draw a crowd, especially on Valentine's Day weekend. Even without that, Sandler's one of the most surefire openers working. The only mitigating factor is the surprisingly thick comedy waters this'll have to swim in (with "Welcome to Mooseport" this week and "Barbershop 2" the week before and "Eurotrip" the next, and that's just for starters). Still, this should pretty handily come out on top. $100mil.


WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Gene Hackman plays a former president who comes to a small town and ends up running for mayor. When he makes the moves on Ray Romano's girlfriend, Ray makes his move on the office.

WILL IT SUCK?
Well, it's got the director of "Miss Congeniality" and "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" and the writer of "8 Heads in a Duffel Bag" and "Holy Man" (and, to be fair, "Dead Poets Society") so how could it possibly…yes.

I want to like this film (being a fan of Gene and thinking Ray is actually funny, though I have little or no desire to watch his show) but the odds are kind of stacked against it. It's a cute story but the behind the camera talent has a track record of taking cute and turning it into treacly.

But hey, it's got Fred Savage and Marcia Gay Harden (!?!?)

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Quite well. Whatever fans "50 First Dates" doesn't draw, this will. Basically, this'll probably skew older than "Dates" and draw, well, the crowd that watches "Everybody Loves Raymond," which doesn't bleed too much into the Sandler crowd. So everybody wins. $90mil.


AFTER LIFE

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
The conclusion of that trilogy I mentioned earlier in this preview that begins with "On the Run," and continues with "An Amazing Couple". This one's about a cop's entanglements with his heroin-addicted wife.

WILL IT SUCK?
First of all, I find it interesting that this, coming out a week after Part Two and two weeks after Part One, skirts the line between film and serial television, a line tested already with the "Kill Bill" and "Matrix" sequels coming so close together (and, of course, the ones that started it all in the modern era, "Back to the Future 2 & 3," and we know how well that worked out). Of course, in this case, the close release is as much a function of the fact that these have been out for a while in the rest of the world, so they can come out here as close or far apart as the distributor sees fit. Still, interesting that they chose to do it this way.

That having been said, this is the best reviewed of the three (at worst, being called the most "tolerable" in the trilogy) so it's likely to not suck.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Strangely, this will be in competition with itself since Parts One and Two will still (presumably) be in theaters. But, again, that's probably the point. Its real competition, though, will come from the Miramax release below. $90,000.


THE GREAT RAID

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
The 6th Ranger Battalion vs. the Cabanatuan POW Camp (think Bantaan Death March). Based on a true story.

WILL IT SUCK?
It's got a good shot at not sucking. Probably its greatest weapon is the discernment of its director, John "Last Seduction" Dahl, who has a hard time sucking even when he's doing a supposedly routine chiller ("Joy Ride"). Of course, this is a new genre for him, but I think he can handle it.

The actors (Benjamin Bratt, Joseph Fiennes, Connie Nielsen, James Franco) fill me with neither dread nor enthusiasm and the writers are newcomers so all that remains is the producers (including Lawrence Bender and the Weinsteins) who've brought their A-game in the past ("Good Will Hunting" and most every Tarantino film).

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
With Miramax behind the wheel and virtually no indie competition, this should make serious indie (or at least serious winter indie) dollars. $5mil.




FEBRUARY 20


CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE DRAMA QUEEN

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Lindsay Lohan plays a New York teen relocated to the Jersey suburbs who must try to fit in at her new school by usurping the crown of the current in-house diva who, sadly, is not played by Hilary Duff.

WILL IT SUCK?
Oh, if only Hilary had taken that other role. See, Hilary, pre-split with Disney, was a lock for this, post-split, not so much and the lead went to "Freaky Friday" fave Lohan. And then they had their public feud. But imagine how much symbolic mileage could have come from the two if they'd been the leads here. (And, yes, me knowing all this confirms the suspicion that I am, in fact, a ten-year-old girl).

Anyway, teen movies based on books tend to be better than not. ("Clueless," "Legally Blonde," "10 Things I Hate About You" - yes I'm stretching the definitions of both "teen movie" and "based on a book," a little but I think you get the idea). This one is. On the other hand, the screenplay comes from a "Finder of Lost Loves" scribe. Remember "Finder of Lost Loves"? Wow.

All in all, this has a marginal chance of not sucking.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
The glut of teen fare will ruin the chances of what could have been a modest hit. It's got "Dates" the week before, "Eurotrip" this week and "The Passion of the Christ" the following. (Actually, it's got "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights" the following week - I just wanted to see if you were still paying attention). $43mil.


AGAINST THE ROPES

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Movie gets delayed for one full year and then tries to grab some theatrical revenue instead of going straight to DVD. I mean, it's "Eddie" with boxing instead of basketball (and, y'know, serious cos' it's Meg Ryan instead of Whoopi Goldberg). Based on a true story.

WILL IT SUCK?
Almost by definition. They finished filming this in May, 2002. It's just coming out now. It ain't because they had to do a bunch of fx in post. The one shot this has got is the screenwriter, who penned the better-than-expected "Save the Last Dance". But the buzz on this is horrible.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
The only person having a worse year than Ben Affleck is Meg Ryan. "In the Cut" did not establish her as a serious actress like she hoped and this probably won't either. Without a serious shift in buzz this will probably go the way of most boxing (and non-romcom Meg Ryan) movies. $11mil.


EUROTRIP

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
In case the title didn't give it away, "European Road Trip".

WILL IT SUCK?
Well, Michelle Trachtenberg, the biggest featured player here, managed to usher in the demise of "Buffy," so it's possible. It's got some decent cameos. That's about the best thing I can say about it. But can thirty seconds of Lucy Lawless, Matt Damon, Vinnie Jones or Kristin Kreuk save us from the machinations of the writing/directing team responsible (in part) for "Cat in the Hat"? And since when does it take three guys to direct a film, anyway?

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Again running into the problem of an overloaded February, comedy-wise. It doesn't have the name power of "Drama Queen" (or "Dates," which will be in its second frame) and "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights" and "Broken Lizard's Club Dread" will perform a sort of pincers movement on its core audience the following week. $7mil.



FEBRUARY 27


THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Depending on the week, this is about Mel Gibson getting into trouble with either the Catholic Church or the Anti-Defamation League.

WILL IT SUCK?
Who cares? The only press this is getting is about whether or not it's anti-Semitic and/or anti-Christian and how many people it will or won't offend when it comes out. As occurred with "The Last Temptation of Christ," the actual quality of the film kind of takes a back seat to the controversy. (Interestingly enough, "The Gospel of John," which quietly got a theatrical release with considerable critical acclaim earlier this year, caused absolutely no stir though it made similar claims to telling an "authentic" version of the story. The difference? Absolutely no one famous was involved whatsoever.)

Of course, I, too, am now avoiding the question. So let's take a look. I think Gibson's a decent director (my issues with "Braveheart" involve the screenplay). And I give him props for some bold choices (lack of English, bloody as hell). Of course he's writing here, too, and that's untested for him. His co-screenwriter did "Wise Blood," which is supposed to be good but, then again, came out almost 25 years ago so who knows if he's "still got it"?

Jim Caviezel doesn't usually waste his time. Though his stuff doesn't usually kick your ass, it rarely flat out sucks, either. Monica Belluci? Well, we get into a whole "impure thoughts" thing with Monica so it's probably best to leaver her out of this for now.

Newmarket ("Donnie Darko," "Memento," "Whale Rider") doesn't usually waste its time either. They're one of my favorite indie studios and usually have a good eye for progressive, intriguing cinema. Then again, maybe they just thought it'd be cool to distribute a film that's going to get shitloads of free publicity.

In the final analysis, I think that chances are with Gibson at the helm, it'll be better than you expect. He has a habit of surprising when given a fair amount of creative control.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Free publicity will only get you so far with no huge stars and a gory movie told in two dead languages. On the other hand, people may be desperate for something heavy after being inundated with teen crap for three straight weeks. Honestly, I think that will end up being this film's biggest edge. After that, though, it'll have to stand or fall on its own two legs and it does hurt a little that Mel's not getting his Easter release date as originally planned. $26mil.


TWISTED

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Ashley Judd's exes keep turning up dead, and it's up to her to clear her name and find out who's doing it before her latest beau (Andy Garcia) joins them. Oh, and it turns out that her Papa was a Rolling Stone. And by "rolling stone," I mean "serial killer." Oh, and Sam Jackson is involved somehow.

WILL IT SUCK?
Ashley Judd as capable yet threatened damsel? Check. Sam Jackson as black pseudo-father figure? Check. Andy Garcia as pseudo-hunky lover/possible threat? Check. I understand that the plot is completely different, but damn if I'm not seeing shades here of "High Crimes," and "Kiss the Girls" for that matter. So the question then becomes, what was Morgan Freeman doing that Sam had to cover for him? (Actually if you just stick with the "Ashley as the kick-ass heroine teamed up with an older icon" model, you can thrown in "Double Jeopardy" as well).

That having been said, this is directed by Philip Kaufman, who's no slouch, though this seems gimmickier than his usual fare.

The straight-to-dvd style poster makes me nervous, though.

As an aside, I am psyched to see Russel Wong (Jet Li's nemesis in "Romeo Must Die") still getting work. Though I doubt he's gonna pull his kung fu on any of the leads cos that would probably kill them.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
I see the same potboiler following that came out for "High Crimes" coming out for this, too (which is probably why the casting is so similar). And that's a pretty decent following. $42mil.


DIRTY DANCING: HAVANA NIGHTS

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Do I…have to…?

Okay, this is a "re-imagining" more than a sequel to "Dirty Dancing". So all the necessary elements are there. The lead girl, naïve yet sensual, goes to a resort location with her family; in this case Cuba in the late 50's which was, like, the Catskills for WASPS or something. She of course meets a handsome but working class (read: proletariat) waiter who knows how to move his thang. Lessons in dance and, at no extra charge, love ensue.

Of course, this is Cuba in the late 50's so Fidel Castro is about to do his thang and oh how I wish HE were the young working class boy she met. Alas, he's not, but the Cuban Revolution is central to the plot so those of you who felt the socialist subtext of the original was too subtle will be pleased.

WILL IT SUCK?
Here's a really bad sign. Besides the fact that it's "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights". Ignoring that for a moment, I have never had this much trouble figuring out who wrote a movie before. IMDB always lists it. Here there's none. They know who the set decorator was but they don't know who wrote it. It's not on the poster, either. Okay. Go to the official website. No obvious listing. They have a bio on the make-up artist but no listing for the screenwriters.

Finally, if you scroll down the synopsis they concede that Ron Bass and Pamela Gray wrote the thing. Now, Ron Bass is a fairly heavy hitter. He wrote "Rain Man" and "The Joy Luck Club". But he also wrote "What Dreams May Come" and "Dangerous Minds". Pamela Gray wrote "Music of the Heart" and "A Walk on the Moon," so, could be worse but this is definitely (and appropriately) serious chick flick territory. Now, maybe I'm just being lazy and maybe they figure no one cares who wrote the thing but I'm still nervous that it looks like they're trying to hide the authors.

Casting's not bad. The male lead was one of the leads in "Y Tu Mama Tambien" so I'm spending the whole trailer trying to warn the cute blonde to watch out for that guy cos' he's horny as hell. Also, Jonathan Jackson fans will be happy to note his appearance as the snotty (or, in this case, just white will do) rival for the lead's affections. And, of course, there's the much-touted Patrick Swayze cameo.

Also, the dancing will probably be better since it's salsa which is a bit more complex than the swing meets bump-and-grind meets half-assed ballet meets, well, Solid Gold of the original.

Finally, and most surprisingly, this is co-produced by Miramax and Artisan, two companies not noted for producing crap (or, at least, not "Dirty Dancing" style crap). So, my guess is this is going to be marginally better than "Dirty Dancing," which means it will still suck.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
This is one of those bad ideas that's so bad it might actually work. But it's complicated. You're dealing with two generation's worth of fans. At least, that's what the indies are counting on. With the old school, saw it in the theater crowd there's the problem of suspicion. Is this really going to be as good as "Dirty Dancing," or is it just a rip-off in Cuba? You'll need good reviews and word of mouth to win them over.

With the younger crowd who maybe saw "Dirty Dancing" on cable and even if they didn't would be up for a good, teen-oriented chick flick, they'll already have one in "Drama Queen" and a shitload of other teen fare to boot. Finally, the following week "Starsky & Hutch" will come along and blow just about everything out of the water (though this may still hang on in the 5th-10th range if it's good - "Dirty Dancing" good).

Given that I think this will get middling word of mouth, I think it'll hang on for a week or two before it totally plummets. $44mil.


BROKEN LIZARD'S CLUB DREAD

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Remember "Club Paradise" with Robin Williams and, um, Twiggy? Well, throw in a serial killer and you've got the same basic idea.

WILL IT SUCK?
If you liked "Super Troopers," and a lot of you did, then you'll probably like this. Throw in some Bill Paxton for added comic flava (he can be a funny guy - he was, if you think about it, the comic relief in "Aliens"). I haven't seen "Super Troopers," but the trailer for this one was funnier.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
A lot of you really did like "Super Troopers". To the tune of over $18mil, making it Fox Searchlight's third biggest hit ever (behind "28 Days Later" and - sigh- "The Banger Sisters"). So Broken Lizard now has a following. Unfortunately that following is gonna come up against "Eurotrip's" second frame (not too much trouble, Broken Lizard clientele are a little more upscale) and, the following week, "Starsky & Hutch" (more trouble, bigger following - Owen Wilson & Ben Stiller fans, not "Starsky & Hutch" fans, but you never know). So it'll be hard, even with Bill, to go much farther than the last one's success. $20mil.

GOOD BYE, LENIN!

WHAT'S THE PITCH?
Ya gotta love this. Eastern Europe. This guy's mom comes out of a coma and any sudden shock might put her back under. Trouble is, while she was sleeping, communism kinda fell. So the loving son must make it look like it's still around for her sake. Hilarity probably actually does ensue.

WILL IT SUCK?
The Golden Globes, BAFTA, a shitload of European film festivals and a boatload of critics (I'm not sure which quantity is greater, lemme get my Trapper Keeper) think not. Pretty soon, in all likelihood, Oscar will weigh in on the matter as well.

HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
If it does win some of these awards, especially the Oscar, it's in a nice position to capitalize. The Academy Awards are that weekend. Even if it doesn't, it's got little indie competition. Still, a foreign film without any kung fu so there's usually a built-in ceiling. $600,000.

Next month is all about the return of Kevin Smith. Stay tuned…

 

- Dave Thomas
http://travelindave.blogspot.com

 




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[email protected] | February 2004 | Issue 47
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