Theatrical Releases

February 22, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

Fans of Larry the Cable Guy, this is your weekend! Witless Protection was not screened for critics and that's probably a good thing because it's not a movie I had an overwhelming desire to sit through. Sometimes the studios do critics a favor by not presenting advance screenings. I wish they had done the same with The Signal, a horror/comedy that can't figure out what it wants to be or where it wants to go. In the realm of bad films, this is among the more watchable ones, but it's not a good way to spend 90 minutes.

There are two good movies opening this weekend. The first one enters theaters four months after its original late-2007 release date. It's easy to see the marketing problem with Charlie Bartlett - it has no target audience. Or, to be more specific, its target audience can't see it. That's because it's aimed at teenagers but carries an R-rating. So the theatrical release appears to be little more than a preamble to the eventual DVD unveiling. The other good movie is my Pick of the Week as well as the front-runner to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar on Sunday night. I'm referring to The Counterfeiters, a drama about the Jews who worked for the Nazis during WWII forging British pounds and American dollars. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with foreign films, this one is only opening in a few theaters. If it wins the Oscar, it will go wider fast, however.

The weirdest release of the week is Michael Gondry's Be Kind Rewind. Gondry wrote as well as directed this, which is not necessarily a good thing. He's a much better director than writer - his most impressive film to-date is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which was written by Charlie Kaufman. In Gondry's two post-Sunshine movies (this one and The Science of Sleep), it feels like he has been trying to recapture the bizarre tone of Sunshine and not really succeeding. The movie is opening in a middle-of-the-road number of theaters but doesn't have much buzz or a large target audience, so expectations are deservedly low in terms of how it will do at the box office.

The big gun and almost certain Box Office Champion for the weekend is the adequate but repetitive Vantage Point. The movie starts out strong but soon spins its wheels and concludes with a monumentally contrived incident. It features familiar faces (Dennis Quaid, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Forest Whitaker) but possesses no real star power. The marketing campaign has been clever and this will lure a few people into theaters but this isn't the kind of motion picture that will display legs.

With Hannah Montana giving up some showtimes in the nation's 600+ digital theaters, there's now room for the U2 concert film. It's unclear how long this will be around - that probably depends on how well it draws this weekend. My hours on Saturday and Sunday are spoken for but if the movie is still around next weekend, I'll check it out. 80 minutes of U2 concert footage in 3D doesn't sound like an unpleasant prospect and, for a middle-aged guy like me, it's more appealing than an equal amount of time spent watching and listening to Miss Montana.

Traditionally, Hollywood avoids releasing big movies on Oscar weekend, since they don't want to compete with themselves. This is supposed to be the weekend when we celebrate the biggest and brightest of last year rather than the new kids on the block. While that may be the case, I'm not sure what the explanation is for next week's pathetic roster.