Weekend box office offers laughs, thrills

Though more than a third of the country was busy watching the Super Bowl (or at least the commercials) last weekend, a sizable audience was willing to see a zombie try to fall in love.

Barely anyone, though, wanted to see Sylvester Stallone shooting up criminals in Bullet to the Head. You’d think Stallone would make for some easy marketing for a New Orleans-based movie during a New Orleans-based sports event, but that’s probably giving him too much credit.

But the rebound that the industry has been looking for might happen this weekend. The weekend before Valentine’s Day has been a good launching pad for genre films that might not necessarily be the top choice for couples on V-Day but the best choice for their respective release dates.

Last year was one of the biggest February weekends of all time, with both The Vow and Safe House opening at more than $40 million and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island bringing in the family audiences. This year, though, doesn’t quite have the same pedigree with the releases of comedy Identity Thief and Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects.

Identity Thief, which was originally scheduled for a summer release but was moved back to avoid competing with Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness, is the latest film from Seth Gordon, the director of Horrible Bosses and Four Christmases. This film unites him with Bosses star Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy in her first starring role since her breakout role in Bridesmaids. She’ll also be starring alongside Sandra Bullock in The Heat this summer, so this might end up being a big year for her.

The plot involves one man who has to join forces with the woman who steals his identity and has been wrecking havoc on his credit rating and social standing. It’s certainly a trendy take on the “anti-buddy” comedy genre, and though the trailers have been pretty funny, one wouldn’t exactly say that it’s going to be a comedic event like Horrible Bosses turned out to be.

What that film has going for it is its unique stunt casting, such as Jennifer Aniston as a diabolical sex bomb or Colin Farrel as a balding, cocaine-sniffing despot. Here, both of the actors are playing mostly to type, with Bateman once again playing a straight-collared guy caught up in a crazy predicament.

Though Bateman is known for that and has made a career out of it, it hasn’t always worked for him at the box office. In the same summer that Horrible Bosses came out, The Change-Up bombed just a month afterward.

The secret weapon here is McCarthy, who hasn’t had this prominent of a role yet. There’s plenty of people that still laugh from her performance in Bridesmaids, not to mention the CBS TV series Mike and Molly, so people might check this film out just for her.

There really hasn’t been a straight-up comedy at the box office in a while (well, one that wasn’t a complete catastrophe like Movie 43), so there’s an audience craving a good laugh. A lower-$20 million opening is most likely.

The other new release is Side Effects. Soderbergh, who claims he will be retiring after this feature, has been directing like a storm lately. This feature will mark his fourth film in a 15-month period, with 2011’s Contagion, 2012’s Haywire and the breakout hit of the summer, Magic Mike.

This one has a bit more intrigue than male strippers (and that sound you hear is millions of women disappointed with that news). Side Effects, written by Scott Z. Burns and starring Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Channing Tatum, is a drama-thriller showing the ramifications of a new prescription drug and the domino effect it has on the people closest to it.

Though the trailer certainly seems compelling, the mystery behind the side effects of the drug is legitimately confusing. It’s difficult to describe to a passerby what the film is actually about or what’s at stake, even if you’ve been following the film.

The film does have a strong cast behind it, not to mention this is the first film that Mara has been in since her Oscar-nominated turn as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but the indecipherable plot as shown in the trailer and the advertisements might be too dense for most people.

An opening in the $10- to $15-million range should be seen as a victory — especially since Soderbergh has kept his recent films on such a tight budget — but it wouldn’t be shocking to see it gross under $10 million. Whether or not this is truly his last film, there is a part of me that wishes the acclaimed director will be able to finish his career on a positive note. Regardless, though, this might not be the most stellar weekend for the box office, but if you’re craving a couple of star-studded films, a trip to the movies might be necessary.


Robert Calcagno is a second-year graduate student in the School of Cinematic Arts pursing an MFA in animation. His column “Box Office Beat” runs Fridays.