Weekend Movie Preview (2.17.12)

With a mid-week Valentine’s Day, anything goes for this weekend. If you delayed your celebrations, “This Means War” offers your romantic action comedy and features a reliable vet and two strapping up-and-comers. If you’re so over love, I might suggest “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” perhaps the very antithesis to the notion. For kids and families, “The Secret World of Arrietty” should be a reliable import from Japan’s famed Studio Ghibli.

Now in Theaters

This Means War

Directed by McG
Written by Timothy Dowling, Simon Kinberg, Marcus Gautesen
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler

Summary: Two CIA operatives find out they are dating the same woman (Witherspoon). Rather than dump her, they decide to let wait it out and see who she picks, which leads them to use all kinds of spy tactics against each other.

The Word: Director/producer McG steps behind the camera for the first time since “Terminator Salvation” and into a genre he knows well: action comedy. The “Charlie’s Angels” director gets two of the hottest rising stars in Hardy and Pine along with veteran Witherspoon to further draw in the ladies. Dowling wrote “Role Models” while Kinberg is one of 20th Century Fox’s go-to writers. Unsurprisingly, he wrote “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.”

Rotten Tomatoes: 26% (bad)

My Thoughts: It would seem that “This Means War” has the right talents in place to make for a moderately successful run. Hardy and Pine are still just faces to this point and Witherspoon, who used to command one of the highest salaries in Hollywood, has lost a little of her mojo with “Water for Elephants” being a moderate success and “How Do You Know?” a total bomb. Still, “War” could end up one of the more popular films of the month if it can avoid bad word of mouth.



Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Written by Scott M. Gimple and Seth Hoffman, David S. Goyer
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Idris Elba, Violante Placido, Ciarán Hinds

Summary: Johnny Blaze a.k.a “The Ghost Rider” (Cage) has a chance to rid himself of his curse by saving a young boy being targeted for the Devil’s (Hinds) new physical form.

The Word: ”Ghost Rider” made a killing (for February) when it opened in 2007, but it wasn’t nearly popular enough with audiences and ultimately didn’t justify the $110-million budget Sony gave it. Now the studio has called upon “Crank” directors Neveldine and Taylor to inject their signature adrenaline into the franchise and with a much more reasonable $75-million budget.

Rotten Tomatoes: N/A

My Thoughts: Having purged the original from my memory as much as possible, I feel better about the direction of Neveldine and Taylor. Although they won’t elevate this franchise to the level of the mainstream Marvel superheroes, they should be able to deliver an action-packed good time or at least an apology for the 2007 original. Early word, however, ain’t looking good.


The Secret World of Arrietty

Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Gary Rydstrom (English)
Written by Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa, Karey Kirkpatrick (English), Marty Norton (book “The Borrowers”)
Starring: (voices) Bridgit Mendler, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, Carol Burnett

Summary: Arrietty Clock lives secretly in a house with the other members of her family … who are also 4 in. tall. They borrow only what they need to survive, but soon a young (normal-sized) boy discovers Arrietty.

The Word: Disney has slowly worked to get the brilliant anime films of Hayao Miyazaki to American audiences. “Ponyo,” a variation on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” got a wide release in August 2009 but wasn’t representative of the full extent of the auteur’s imagination, playing more directly to children than his other work. Disney has equipped a strong American voice cast to help give Mary Norton’s classic story greater appeal. “Arrietty” will be the first real test for anime in the U.S.

Rotten Tomatoes: 92% (excellent)

My Thoughts:  “Arrietty” represents Studio Ghibli’s best chance at making a splash in the West. I won’t even speak to quality, because these folks don’t let you down. “The Borrowers” is a beloved story and the time of year couldn’t be better to sneak in something less mainstream from a box-office perspective. I really want to believe that parents won’t be less inclined to take their kids to a film just because it’s not done in CGI. The receipts will never be as high as for a Pixar or DreamWorks offering, but it should be the biggest success the Japanese studio has had in the States.



Box Office Predictions

Although it won’t hold a candle to the opening of its predecessor (before anyone knew it would be bad), Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance should still come in first. Mainstream action has been at a loss and in the right project Nicolas Cage can thrive. It just hasn’t been lately. Five years and a poor taste in people’s mouths will keep the $45 million of the first film out of reach, but $30 million is reasonable.

The two $40 M-plus earners from last week ought to hold well, but with Valentine’s Day not officially deceased, The Vow should outperform Safe House yet again. “Ghost Rider” will take more people away from “Safe House” than “This Means War” will from “The Vow.” I think $25 million is in order, a great second weekend for a romance.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is sadly my pick for fourth. “The Secret World of Arrietty” will offer no competition, so families are stuck with this one as their option. I expect it will do somewhere around $20 million, just north or south. Considering Tom Hardy and Chris Pine are not household names yet and Reese Witherspoon has lot some pull, gangbusters should not be expected for This Means War. Action-leaning rom-coms, despite the idea of appealing more to men, have never done all that well unless they feature huge stars. Even then, Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz could only land $21 million to open “Knight & Day” back in Summer 2010. Expect something just above $15 million.


1. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
2. The Vow
3. Safe House
4. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
5. This Means War


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