Theatrical Releases

January 25, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

Seven days after the most robust weekend of the new year, the box office takes a step back for the final round of January debuts. Undoubtedly, Cloverfield and 27 Dresses will continue to make money. While it would be surprising to see either of them atop the money heap when Sunday's estimates are announced, the competition isn't that strong. There are four new major releases and one small one. In fact, the movie industry will continue running on low octane for the first two weekends in February, with little coming out to ignite box office enthusiasm. Then, on Valentine's Day, there will be an explosion that will help carry the multiplexes into March.

As is so often the case, the movie opening in the fewest theaters is easily the best thing around. The Romanian production, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, is bowing in only a few theaters. IFC, its distributor, had hoped to use the expected Best Foreign Language Film nomination to help the movie in a nationwide rollout, but it was snubbed by the Academy - as was every other movie anyone has heard of. Still, 4 Months won Cannes' Palm D'Or and got a Golden Globe nod, so it's not going naked into the cruel world. It's my Pick of the Week, although you'll have to live in Los Angeles or New York to see it right now. It will gradually expand over the next few weeks. How far the expansion goes, however, will depend on whether people come out to see the movie. For the record, it's my first ***1/2 film of 2008.

Nostalgia fuels Rambo, Sylvester Stallone's return to one of the two franchises that built his fame. The movie delivers what's expected of it, and Rambo still seems to have a pretty good support base – enough of one to allow it to edge out Cloverfield and take the trophy as this week's Box Office Champion. Betting against Rambo doesn't seem to be a good idea, especially in light of the long lines outside of a promotional screening a couple of nights ago. Ultimately, the movies is not going to be a blockbuster but it should make healthy money.

Meet the Spartans (unreviewed) was not screened for critics. Word on the street is that it's in much the same league as Epic Movie and Date Movie - which is to say, painfully unfunny. Considering how bad some of the stuff is that's being shown to us (The Hottie & the Nottie), I shudder to think what this might be like. Having endured Uwe Boll a couple of weeks ago, I feel justified in skipping it. How She Move (unreviewed) was screened for critics, but the screenings all conflicted with screenings of other movies (this happens occasionally), and personal issues prevent me from seeing it today. It's said to be a lively if unremarkable dance-themed movie from the same pool as Stomp the Yard and Step Up. Those who saw and enjoyed those productions will probably find this one worth checking out. It may or may not get a "late" review depending on how things go. The final new release is the thriller Untraceable, which is more noteworthy for its horrific cat torture sequence than for its second half plot implosion. Anyone with a soft spot for cats may find parts of this film difficult to sit through. The torture is not graphic but there's enough that the imagination can fill in the details, and they're not pretty. In cinema, it's true that everything is fair game, but I can't think why filmmakers would risk alienating an audience so early in the proceedings. It doesn't really matter, as it turns out, because the movie ends up in a death spiral during its second half. Untraceable isn't good enough for me to recommend it to anyone, but I advise cat-lovers to give this movie a wide berth.

Next week provides us with a Lebanese version of Salon, a new John Sayles film, Jessica Alba's latest not-screened-for-critics masterpiece, and a horror film that is being screened.