April 2006 Movie Preview

by Dave Thomas
slevin.jpg
Lucky Number Slevin
I don’t know which is more disturbing; that there is a fourth Scary Movie, or that it’s likely to be the month’s highest grosser. Since April begins on Saturday, this month’s new releases officially begin next Friday, but hey, this is a movie preview. If you’re itching to see a new release this week, you can check out the new Lynchian high school noir, Brick.
April 7
THE BENCHWARMERS
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Three grown men (David Spade, Rob Schneider, and Jon Heder, so I use the term loosely) take on a bunch of little league teams all by their lonesome.
WILL IT SUCK?
Well, you’ve got the director of Saving Silverman and the writers behind Grandma’s Boy up in here. Granted, that same director did Happy Gilmore, but did I mention Beverly Hills Ninja, National Security, and Problem Child? This is not a film festival you want to attend.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Fans of stupid comedy will have much more to rejoice about the following week, when Scary Movie 4 takes the stage. In the meantime, this will sate them, though I doubt Spade and Schneider combined will equal Heder’s draw. $49mil.
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PHAT GIRLZ
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
They are girlz. They are phat. And overweight.
WILL IT SUCK?
I have no idea. But what’s curious is the writer/director is newcomer Nnegest Likk√©, who is young, black, female, and not the slightest bit overweight. For shame. Seriously, though, how many young, black, female directors can you name? (Actually, even if I remove only one of those adjectives, I bet you’re still confined to one hand).
Also, if you like Mo’Nique, she’s one of the girlz in question, and Raven Goodwin, whom you might remember as the really cool kid from Station Agent (or, far more likely, from Everybody Hates Chris) makes an appearance. Plus: Eric Roberts alert!
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
A little bit of demographic competition from Take the Lead, but it should have a core following of, well, phat girlz, or really anyone fed up with body image fascism. Not that any of that helped Real Women Have Curves make bank. $14mil.
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TAKE THE LEAD
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Mad Hot Banderas
WILL IT SUCK?
Newcomer writer and director, though the director has done plenty of music videos which, in this case, is appropriate. The trailer, I have to admit, looks a lot better than it should.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
This probably has about as much star power as anything else opening wide this week. Still, I see it as an uphill battle. $26mil.


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LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
I Can’t Believe It’s Not A Guy Ritchie Movie!
WILL IT SUCK?
Given that Guy Ritchie movies suck now, we should be thankful something has come along to take their place. Early buzz is very good, placing this above director Paul McGuigan’s calling card Gangster No. 1. The writer did a bunch of Karen Sisco episodes which, apparently, was the bomb.
The cast looks promising, with Ben Kingsley, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Lucy Liu, and Stanley Tucci, but lead Josh Hartnett still has to prove himself to me (though Sin City wasn’t a bad start).
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
There’s not very much like it out there, but this isn’t the sort of movie that usually makes very much money regardless. $32mil.
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FRIENDS WITH MONEY
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
One of four female friends suddenly makes less money than her cohorts.
WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is good-but-not-great, with critics a little more impressed than audiences. In the ranking of writer/director Nicole Holofcenter’s oeuvre, this is coming in at third out of three. I liked Lovely & Amazing, but it wasn’t the sort of film that left me thirsty for more. Still, those four friends are Joan Cusack, Jennifer Aniston, Frances McDormand, and Catherine Keener.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Should have a strong opening with little competition and a strong pre-release buzz dating back to Sundance, but next week two fairly high-profile indies will bloody up the waters. $15mil.
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ON A CLEAR DAY
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Old British guy swims the English Channel.
WILL IT SUCK?
Think Waking Ned Devine or The Full Monty. If you liked those, you’ll probably like this, according to early buzz – and the trailer seems precisely the same.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Think more Waking Ned Devine than Full Monty. $1mil.
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WHEN DO WE EAT?
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
For those of you wondering when someone would finally make a movie in which somebody slips their father a hit of ecstasy at a Passover Seder, your long wait is over.
WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is fairly good in spite of a cheesy trailer (this is an inexpensive acid trip), but you gotta love the premise. I’d like to think that between this and the imminent Keeping Up with the Steins (about competitive Bar Mitzvah’s) that we’re seeing the dawn of a new genre, the Jewish holiday comedy. Stay tuned for Herschel’s Wacky Purim in July.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Although the concept is novel, I don’t know that it’s being put in front of enough eyeballs to reach a critical mass. $1mil.
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April 14
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SCARY MOVIE 4
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
On tonight’s episode of Mad TV, I mean, in this installment, they make fun of more movies.
WILL IT SUCK?
At some point, someone will do a post-mortem on the ZAZ team that brought us such classics as Airplane and Top Secret! and figure out what happened. Of the two members present for this sequel, David Zucker and Jim Abrams, neither has done anything of note since Naked Gun 21‚ÅÑ2, and that’s pushing the definition of “of note.” Still, if you liked Scary Movie 3…oh, what’s the point?
Full disclosure: I caught the last half of Jane Austen’s Mafia! the other night – laughed my ass off.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
I don’t think anything with quite this much appeal will be out for a while. $90mil.
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THE WILD
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Madagascar
WILL IT SUCK?
I’m not kidding. It’s really just Madagascar from Disney instead of Dreamworks. The plots are more similar than Deep Impact and Armageddon. And like those two, one clearly has lower-tier stars. This one. Kiefer Sutherland takes the lead along with Eddie Izzard as some kind of animal, I’m going to guess a squirrel. And I’ve given up on the presence of great actors like Izzard saving these films. Freakin’ Ricky Gervais was in Valiant.
But really, these things come down to writing. The four writers on this project include scribes from The Santa Clause 2 and Snow Dogs. But hey, the director’s nickname is Spaz. You gotta give ’em that.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
I don’t see this having quite the impact of its predecessor, which may be why Disney is releasing this in the spring, with nary a kid’s film in sight, instead of the summer. $51mil.
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HARD CANDY
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
A sort of revenge tale involving a potential pedophile and his teen prey.
WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is very good, which is nice given how easily this could slip into exploitation.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
It has two higher-profile indies to deal with, and its subject matter might be a bit much, even for indie audiences. Then again, Lionsgate has grown to become a marketing force. $5mil.
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THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
The story of pin-up girl Bettie Page.
WILL IT SUCK?
Critics are very split on this one. All I know is, the last time director Mary Harron got together with writer Guinevere Turner, we got American Psycho, and that’s all right with me. Plus, you get supporting performances from Lili Taylor and David Strathairn. Gretchen Mol has the lead, which inspires me for less than artistic reasons.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Probably the biggest fish in the pond this weekend. Has a better lead-in than Kinky Boots, which is really only now starting to advertise. $8mil.
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KINKY BOOTS
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
How can we save the shoe factory? Make boots for transvestites. Duh.
WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is positive but not overwhelmingly so. It is, however, a chance to see Chiwetel Ejiofor in what looks to be a career-making performance as the transvestite who inspires our hero to retool the factory. One of the Calendar Girls writers is on board here, too.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
The heat for Ejiofor off of Inside Man might be really well-timed. $4mil.
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SOMERSAULT
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Woman falls for some guy. Complications ensue.
WILL IT SUCK?
Won a crapload of Australian awards, including a near-sweep of the Australian Film Institute Awards. Early critical buzz is strong.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Too many bigger fish from bigger studios this week. $500,000.
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LA MUJER DE MI HERMANO
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
If you know Spanish, it’s about as clear as Snakes on a Plane, but the upside is a chick falls for her husband’s brother.
WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is mild, and the whole thing looks like the most generic of tales, just told in Spanish. Turn on Unavisi√≥n if you don’t feel like leaving the house.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
I can see Lionsgate trying to snowball this into the next El Crimen de Padre Amaro. $2mil.
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PREACHING TO THE CHOIR
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
One brother’s a hip-hop artist, the other’s a preacher! Wackyness ensues?
WILL IT SUCK?
Pretty much newcomers all around, though one writer did Club Dread. The guy who plays Mr. Eko on Lost is in it. Yeah, that’s still not enough for me.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Probably about the same audience as The Second Chance, which came out in February and you’ve probably forgotten already. $500,000.
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MOUNTAIN PATROL: KEKEXILI
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Villagers vs. poachers in Tibet.
WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is pretty outstanding, and numerous international accolades sweeten the pot.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Unfortunately, international kudos rarely translate into American dollars. $250,000.
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MY FIRST WEDDING
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Rachel Leigh Cook stars as a woman who mistakenly confesses a fantasy to some guy who then poses as a preacher and I think there’s a wedding in there somewhere.
WILL IT SUCK?
Hard to say. Early buzz isn’t great, and everyone involved has pretty much made movies very few people have heard of before.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Having Rachel Leigh Cook in your film really isn’t enough to launch it, which is sad considering I’m pretty sure I couldn’t get Rachel Leight Cook to be in one of my films. $100,000.
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THE SISTERS
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
More or less based on Chekov’s Three Sisters, with Maria Bello, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Erika Christensen in the lead roles.
WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz, what little there is, is fairly good. Chekov, surprisingly, often translates well onto film.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
The much more high profile female ensemble Friends with Money will be in its second, expanded frame at this point, not to mention the four billion other indies out this weekend. $1mil.
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April 21
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SILENT HILL
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Based on the popular video game, Radha Mitchell loses her daughter and has to search through Spookytown to get her back.
WILL IT SUCK?
You’ve got Christophe Gans, who brought the mad atmosphere to Brotherhood of the Wolf, at the helm. Roger Avary, who helped pen a little film called Pulp Fiction, has a co-writing credit. Could be the first non-sucky video game adaptation.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
No horror competition. No video game competition. $52mil.
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AMERICAN DREAMZ
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Political satire from the brothers Weitz.
WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is not good if you listen to critics and pretty good if you listen to audiences. Paul Weitz has taken the leads from his previous efforts (Hugh Grant from About a Boy and Dennis Quaid from In Good Company) and made them co-leads here. He’s also assembled an outstanding supporting cast including Mandy Moore, Willem Dafoe, Judy Greer, Shohreh Aghdashloo, John Cho, and Jennifer Coolidge. With all this talent, I was hoping for a more unanimous endorsement.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Will audiences abandon this for the broader comedy of R.V. the following week? Are they all that receptive to satire in the first place, even when accompanied with good buzz? $46mil.
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STICK IT
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
You’d think with that title that this would be the political satire. But, no. This is about gymnastics. Get it?
WILL IT SUCK?
The only ray of hope here is that the writer/director brought us the screenplay for Bring It On, a film about ten times better than it should have been. Unfortunately, in the time since then, she’s contributed to the screenplays of The Truth About Charlie, First Daughter, and Aquamarine, so her credibility’s damn near shot. Here’s hoping this pulls it out of the mud.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
A little competition from Silent Hill for the young ‘uns. And I don’t know that Jeff Bridges is going to be a selling point for the tweeners. $19mil.
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THE SENTINEL
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Michael Douglas has only 24 hours (okay, he might have more) to stop a Presidential assissination plot while Kiefer Sutherland goes all Tommy Lee Jones on his ass.
WILL IT SUCK?
There is potential for greatness here. Well, goodness at least. Director Clark Johnson hit a triple last time out with the better-than-expected S.W.A.T. and screenwriter George Nolfi is capable of either Timeline or Ocean’s 12 levels of delivery. (I should probably clarify that I, unlike many, actually liked Ocean’s 12). But hey, this has David Rasche (Sledge Hammer!, himself) as the President. How can you not like that?
HOW WELL IT DO?
It’s unclear how fanciful political fare will do when the all-too-real United 93 hits theaters the following week (also, I shit you not, with David Rasche). For this weekend, though, the main competition is 24. $56mil.
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STANDING STILL
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
One of those wedding-cum-college-reunion type deals that goes all wacky when secrets come out yadda, yadda, yadda.
WILL IT SUCK?
Interesting cast, includin Amy Adams, James Van Der Beek, Ethan Embry, Colin Hanks, Aaron Stanford, Mena Suvari, Xander Berkeley, and Roger Avary. Early buzz is mixed, and little is known about the writers or director.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
If they can leverage the cast (especially the Oscar-nod-hot Adams) they might get past the boring title. $2mil.
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IN HER LINE OF FIRE
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Secret Service agent (Mariel Hemingway) vs. non-descript rebel jungle fighters in South America to save the Vice President (Keith David). Who wouldn’t vote for a David Rasche/Keith David ticket? Seriously?
WILL IT SUCK?
The director did Leprechaun 3 and 4, the sequel to The Omega Code, and, the best-title-ever TV flick Atomic Dog. So when I say this is going to be deliciously bad, you know what I mean.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
On DVD? Fantastic. $100,000.
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WASSUP ROCKERS
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
This latest slice of fringe from Kids director Larry Clark focuses on LA Latino skate punks.
WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is mixed, but Clark is at least in familiar territory.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Familiar territory for Clark is also low box office. $500,000.
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April 28
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UNITED 93
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
The true story of flight 93 which, on 9/11, crashed when hostages tried to retake the plane.
WILL IT SUCK?
There is no other director I’d trust this particular project with over Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday, The Bourne Supremacy). See, he did Bloody Sunday, which was a documentary-real dramatization of the tragic shooting of protesters by British soldiers in Derry, Ireland in 1972. It’s gripping stuff, handled dispassionately, yet inspiring great passion. The fact that this is to be a real time account of a real event of tragic brutality suggests a similar treatment might be appropriate.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
To me the question isn’t whether or not Greengrass is equal to the task so much as is the audience even remotely ready for such a blunt retelling? It’s one thing to approach the topic obliquely (War of the Worlds) or even in a fictionalized, dramatic account of a real story from the day with movie stars like Nicolas Cage (Oliver Stone’s upcoming World Trade Center). But to have a no-name cast shot in a cin√©ma v√©rit√© style will basically put the audience on the plane. That’s a much less removed experience. Bloody Sunday the movie didn’t happen until thirty years after Bloody Sunday the tragedy. It’s only been five for this.
On the other hand, of the four planes, I think this is the one audiences are most prepared to revisit.
Ultimately, I think audiences will be more comfortable getting in an R.V. with Robin Williams (and the following week jumping over a couch with Tom Cruise). $40mil.
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AKEELAH AND THE BEE
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Spellbound: The Narrative Feature
WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is good. There actually will be a Spellbound narrative feature, but this beat them to the punch. Laurence Fishburne can bring the mentoring to undeveloped minds (Searching for Bobby Fischer, The Matrix), and whenever he appears in a film with Angela Bassett, it’s usually a good thing (Boyz N the Hood, What’s Love Got to Do with It?).
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Maybe a little competition from Hoot the following week, but the bigger problem is that these kinds of films never do that well. $15mil.
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R.V.
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Are We There Yet, Robin?
WILL IT SUCK?
Has Barry Sonnenfeld directed anything good since Get Shorty? I didn’t think so. And the writer brought us Daddy Day Care and The Shaggy Dog. Not good times. It looks so bad that the fact that both Tony Hale and Will Arnett of Arrested Development are in it does nothing for me.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
The success of The Pink Panther, not to mention Big Momma’s House 2, suggests that audiences don’t really care how good the comedy is as long as a big star is attached and people fall down a lot. $63mil.
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WATER
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
A girl is locked away in a temple in Varasani, India for brides whose arranged-marriage-husbands die before the wedding.
WILL IT SUCK?
Let me tell you something about writer/director Deepa Mehta. By most accounts, she hasn’t made a bad film, and this is considered to be her best. Not to mention the fact that she had to fight Hindu fundamentalists who tried to burn down her sets in order to make the thing, so one hopes after all that it doesn’t up and suck.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
I have to say that while I’m impressed that Fox Searchlight is opening this wide, I don’t know that that’s going to help. $6mil.
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KILLER DILLER
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
Halfway house folks are turned into a blues band. Note: Not The Blues Brothers.
WILL IT SUCK?
Early buzz is mixed, but I do like me some Lucas Black (Friday Night Lights, Jarhead, and, sadly, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift).
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Bigger indie fish on the horizon, and not a huge company backing it. $250,000.
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THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU
WHAT’S THE PITCH?
You know Mr. Lazarescu? Yeah, he dies.
WILL IT SUCK?
This indictment of the Romanian health care system has won numerous international awards, including the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes. Early buzz is outstanding.
HOW WELL WILL IT DO?
Has a better shot at a good opening than Killer Diller, but not by much. $750,000.
Next Month: Let’s get this summer started right. Let’s get this summer started quick-ly. Will Brett Ratner make me cry? And we see what may be the year’s best poster. It involves Al Gore, indirectly.
Dave Thomas

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