Will “Couples” find box office fulfillment?

Couples Retreat

As if the movie gods themselves wished to offer me some breathing space, this weekend has only one new wide release, and it sure doesn’t strike me as anything to get very excited about. Our own Jason Zingale — who enjoyed seeing a reunion of “Swingers” pals Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau — gave a pretty tepid, just this side of positive, review to “Couples Retreat.” Jason’s take, however, is a hysterical rave compared to the blistering reviews that had the film at a pretty darn rotten 09% “fresh” Rotten Tomatoes rating.

Nevertheless, audiences may differ from the critics. The comedy does boast the appeal of the all-mid-level star cast, which also includes the very talented Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell. Also, the fact that the R-rated blood/body-parts splatter comedy, “Zombieland,” and the PG-rated family food splatter science fiction comedy, “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs,” are dominating the box office right now means that there’s not a whole lot out there in wide release for the non-splattery date movie trade.

Whip ItNow, Fox Searchlight’s hopes of good word-of-mouth-based box office could pan out for the girl-powered sports comedy, “Whip It.” So, if director Peter Billingsley — yes, Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” — wants to avoid a nasty box office defeat, he’ll have to hope there are no pleasant suprises for his fellow ex-child star making a feature directorial debut, Drew Barrymore. Variety‘s Andrew Stewart says the lately somewhat beleaguered Universal expects “decent numbers” whatever those are, but my hunch is that “Couples” will be lucky to be in the top five on this weekend’s hit parade and may not crack double digits. However, I’m nearly always wrong when I stray from the experts. We shall see.

The remaining action this weekend is in terms of limited releases. As per Box Office Mojo, other than some potential Oscar fare we may be discussing in coming weeks, we have “Good Hair,” from Chris Rock and director Jeff Stilson getting excellent reviews and debuting in 185 theaters, as well as the LeBron James-headlined sports documentary, “More Than a Game,” expanding into 44 theaters. “From Mexico With Love,” an old-school boxing/message picture being aimed at the Latino market, is also getting a very decent sized release in 285 theaters. The earnest looking drama has been so successfully hidden from critics so far, it’s not even appearing on Rotten Tomatoes new release listing.

Oh, and I almost forgot the one release that’s probably destined to be more than a trivia question after this week is over. After an extremely successful midnight-only release last week, the canny scarefest “Paranormal Activity” will be getting a normal release in 159 screens this weekend. As it happens, I saw it last night and will be writing up the review after I’m done here, but suffice it to say for now that I personally observed a bunch of presumably jaded, mostly youngish, industry-connected folks at a screening on the Paramount lot last night doing a pretty good impression of the folks in the trailer — well, maybe laughing at their own fear a bit more. This is not just hype.

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Sony’s “Zombieland” and “Meatballs” satisfy at the box office

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“Zombieland” led our carnivorous movie weekend and met expectations almost on the nose with a horror-comedy-curse breaking estimate of $25 million on it’s opening weekend, thereby breaking the back of one of the most irritating box office canards of recent times. Another misunderstanding being promulgated by Nikki Finke, who is back with all vitriol-guns blazing this weekend, is that star Woody Harrelson was box office poison, but the “zom-com” was so appealing it did well anyway. Personally, I have a hard time with the whole notion of once popular stars becoming antithetical to good box office, but that’s a complicated rant for another day.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
The #2 spot went to “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” which showed some really meaty legs and dropped a terrific 33% in its third weekend with an estimated $16.7 million, says Andrew Stewart of Variety and everyone else. Once again, the only sure thing in Hollywood is a family film that parents enjoy watching themselves, and 3-D, at least for the time being, is a proven deal-sweetener for the right kind of movie. By the way, both “Zombieland” and “Meatballs” are from Sony, which means there’ll be delight at the old MGM lot in Culver City tomorrow.

And, as if the prove my point about family films and 3-D, this weekend’s third top grosser was the Disney/Pixar double-feature 3-D retreads of “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2.” Not at all surprisingly, the combination of the two beloved animated features was an appealing entertainment value to parents and fun for kids, getting a very solid $12.5 million in just under 1800 theaters. It’s more impressive when you consider that the entire package runs 174 minutes, plus trailers. Considering the limited number of 3-D screens, both “Toy Story” and “Meatballs” doing so well is an interesting development.

After that, we have a bit of divergence from what I wrote in my preview post, in that the #4 film is the Ricky Gervais vehicle from Warners, “The Invention of Lying.” It brought in a modest — but possibly sufficient, given the budget — estimated $7.4 million via just slightly over 1700 screens. I’m going to guess that the growing cult of comedy demigod Gervais plus the film’s easy-to-grasp and inherently amusing premise, as well as the strong and well known supporting cast, gave it enough of a bump to beat the crowded low-end competition this weekend. Beaten by a pug nose was the much higher budgeted ($80 million) Bruce Willis science-fiction film “Surrogates,” with somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.3 million.

Ellen Page and Juliette Lewis in The well-reviewed and, you’d think, appealing sports comedy, “Whip It” disappointed with a mere $4.85 million estimated despite a strong cast led by Ellen Page, and Drew Barrymore’s involvement as both director and cast member. However, the studio is hoping that this underdog will benefit from word of mouth and ultimately win the big game with an unexpected surge. Who doesn’t love an underdog?

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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.

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