ReelThoughts: April 25, 2008

"Theatrical Releases"

Commentary by James Berardinelli


Consider this the proverbial calm before the storm. Choices are mediocre this week. Next week is, of course, Iron Man, and fans are already gearing up for it (and, in at least one case, lining up for it). The interesting thing about next week is that, even if Iron Man makes $100 million, there will still be a major deficit versus last year, when Spider-Man 3 came in at $150 million. This is a problem that Hollywood will face all summer. For the most part, the 2008 blockbuster roster doesn't measure up to the 2007 one, at least in terms of excitement and anticipation.

This week offers an assortment of movies that studios wanted to get into the marketplace before the big guns start firing. None of these will have much of shelf life and, except for a tiny French thriller, none of are especially good. The worst of the bunch is Helen Hunt's directorial debut, >Then She Found Me, which is a painful mix of bad sit-com humor and bad soap opera melodrama, all wrapped into a tiny package with Hunt and Bette Midler doing battle to see who can be more off-putting to an audience. Simply awful. Deal isn't much better. This is about as predictable as gambling movies can get. And you know you're in trouble when it's 2008 and your biggest star is Burt Reynolds.

Deception wasn't generally screened for critics, although I know a few who saw it (and regretted having wasted their time). This is the movie where Ewan McGregor claimed he was worn out because of all the sex scenes. That makes the movie, a moronic thriller with a predictably flat plot, sound a lot more steamy and salacious than it is. If it wasn't for last week's 88 Minutes, this movie would get the year's "worst movie with a good cast" award. If you're looking for real thrills, try Claude Lalouche's Roman de Gare, a delightful French import that gets my Pick of the Week citation. The problem is, as often seems to be the case with the movies I champion, that it's hardly playing anywhere. File this one away as a recommendation for when it actually opens in a theater near you or for when it comes out on DVD. It's worth seeing.

The two biggest commercial performers will be Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay and Baby Mama. Neither is going to generate much heat at the box office. The H&K movie will draw from a small-but-loyal crowd of adherents. The SNL movie will pull in viewers from a more general crowd. However, based on its performance at the advance screening I saw (where 50% of the seats were empty - a rarity), people aren't excited about this movie. Neither film is great or terrible. In terms of which one will do better, I'll pick Baby Mama as the Box Office Champion, but it could well go to Harold and Kumar if a few more people see it than expected. I haven't been predicting accurately in recent weeks, but that's what happens when movies are in general not drawing crowds. I guarantee I'll get next week's right. You can bet the mortgage on it.

So, for those of us that like the buzz of crowded multiplexes and people who seem interested and excited in what they're seeing, the time is only a week away. This week is a mere placeholder.


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