Weekend box office: “Zombieland” to lift horror comedy curse, apparently

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There was a time — I think it was, I don’t know, two weeks ago — when horror comedies were supposed to be, now and forever, box office poison. “Too funny to be scary and too scary to be funny” was the not so intelligent line. Such was the Hollywood conventional wisdom, until someone went and made a horror comedy that struck a chord.

So, apparently the peanut butter of horror can be blended with the chocolate of comedy if you have lots of action and sufficient gore, the trailer for the movie in question is funny enough that audiences will be sold on it as a more or less straight comedy…and, oh yeah, almost everybody who can stomach seems to love it. Such certainly seems to be the case with “Zombieland.” The flick, which features indie stars Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin, is eliciting excitement both from industry types and critics who have graced it with an 89% “Fresh” Rotten Tomatoes rating (just two points shy of 2004’s instant zombie comedy classic, “Shaun of the Dead.”)

Still, for yours truly who loves comedy horror but has a well documented issue with gore, particularly of the zombie variety, this means a probable long period of movie procrastination followed by a small bonanza for our nation’s distillers. For top-billed costar Woody Harrelson, though, it means a comeback. Jolly Carl DiOrio of THR and Andrew Stewart of Variety guess that it will gross somewhere around $20-$25 million or perhaps further north in over 3,000 theaters. If it wasn’t such a busy weekend, I might think it could do even better.

As for the number two spot, I gather most of the prognosticators expect yet another very good weekend for the animated family hit, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” but after that, the playing field gets a bit crowded. For one thing, Pixar is making things interesting with 3-D redoes of “Toy Story,” and “Toy Story 2” being released as a double feature. It’s a pretty awesome package of family entertainment and I could see it cutting into this weekend’s “Meatballs” take.

Ellen Page in As if all this isn’t enough, we have three other new major releases this weekend all interesting and all getting decent to very good reviews — though all in a substantially lesser number of theaters. For fans of girl power — which includes many guys by the way, this writer certainly included — we have the Drew Barrymore-directed roller derby comedy, “Whip It” featuring Ellen Page. Though apparently the film is rather conventional, critics are taking it to heart and I could see this one doing very reasonable business for those who like their comedic violence sporty-mild and non-head-bursty. On the other hand, even though the film did very well in some sneak previews, expectations are fairly mild, as in under $10 million for this crowded weekend, though apparently Fox Searchlight is seeing this one as potential leggy sleeper. Wow, think of it — a movie being given some time to build an audience. What next?

Well, there’s a movie that studio execs will certainly relate to, “The Invention of Lying” from Ricky Gervais. The high concept comedy, which I guess technically qualifies as science fiction, is about an alternate world where no one lies — until Gervais invents it. Given the built in naivete of his audience, the trick works pretty brilliantly and revolutionizes the world’s moribund film industry (all educational documentaries), though naturally it all comes with unexpected repercussions. This one has a fairly subversive edge and a pretty stellar supporting cast including Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, Tina Fey, and genius-level stand-up Louis C.K. However, Gervais’ status as a critical darling on television hasn’t quite translated into movies yet and this one has a mere 60% RT rating. That isn’t terrible, but it probably bodes non-fabulous with audiences in general, as critics are more reflective of the film’s selective, cable-TV friendly potential audience. Still, this one might do fairly well in the long-haul via DVD as audiences start missing the reliably funny and provocative Gervais on TV and start seeking him elsewhere.

Michael Moore in Speaking of funny and provocative guys not known for the usual movie-star good looks, our final entry is the latest from Michael Moore. This time, he’s taking on the ultimate sacred cow of our modern neoliberal society with “Capitalism: A Love Story.” This one isn’t generating quite the acclaim or, at least yet, generating the controversy of some of his past work. Still, 73% isn’t bad at all but, despite being featured on a record number of screens for a Moore film (962), I’m getting the idea that this is not likely to cause the workers the workers of the world to rise up and (democratically) seize the means of production. At this point, I’ll settle for stronger unions and decent health care.

As if all of this weren’t enough, the new film from the Coen Brothers, “A Serious Man” opens on six screens this week. If it were anyone else making it, this tale of modern-day angst, Judaism and menschhood populated with little known actors would not be something you’d be hearing a lot about on box office reports — especially in the year of the “indie blood bath.” Still, it’s the Coens and there’ll be 10 Best Picture Oscar nominations this year.

  

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