This weekend Hollywood just doesn’t know its limits. Six new releases will jam into an already crowded marketplace on Friday trying to connect with spring moviegoers.

That makes for a whopping 20 new films over a four-week ultracompetitive period. This weekend’s ticket buyers will not have enough time or money to see them all, especially in a relatively weak playing period like mid-April. Friday the 13th may indeed be a terrifying day for the accountants behind some of these freshman flicks.

Call it "Catwoman" vs. "Hudson Hawk." Sony unleashes its latest star-driven thriller "Perfect Stranger" which finds Halle Berry playing an investigative reporter following an ad mogul (Bruce Willis) who may have killed her friend. The R-rated pic boasts the most star wattage of any new film this weekend and that will mean something at the cash registers. The actor combo is unique, appealing, and diverse enough to bring in two different audiences which is always good for business. Poor reviews probably won’t mean too much to the box office. Sony’s marketing push has been commendable and with Spartans, Ninja Turtles, and figure skaters ruling the charts over the last five weeks, many moviegoers will be ready to shift over to this type of film. "Perfect Stranger" invades 2,661 theaters and stands a chance of hitting number one with around $15M.


"At least ‘Hudson Hawk’ didn’t make RT’s ‘Worst of the Worst’ list."

Paramount counters with its own thriller this Friday the 13th with "Disturbia." With a more teen-friendly PG-13 rating, the pic tells the tale of a young man under house arrest who suspects that his neighbor is a serial killer. Shia LaBeouf, Carrie-Anne Moss, and David Morse make up the cast so clearly the film is not being sold on its starpower. "Perfect Stranger" will provide some healthy competition as those looking for a scare, and are 17 or older, will find Berry and Willis worth paying money for. But young teens that have already skated with Will Ferrell may look here for their weekly escape to the movies. Entering about 2,500 theaters, "Disturbia" could scare up around $10M over the weekend.


Yet another Shia LaBeouf movie.

Rookie distributor Chicago Releasing drives into theaters with its maiden film "Redline," an action drama about bored rich kids who drag race for fun. The PG-13 film is being aimed at teenage boys and young men with action-packed commercials and trailers full of hot cars and hotter babes. Eddie Griffin is the only major star in this vehicle so only those who really crave another "Fast and the Furious" flick will make it out. But in a weekend when most new films have been slapped with an R, this one could carve out a small audience of teens. Racing into about 2,000 theaters, "Redline" might finish with roughly $7M this weekend.


No word yet how many expensive cars Eddie Griffin wrecks in "Redline."

With all the films thrown into theaters this year, nobody has offered up a handy dandy Viking flick. That changes this weekend with the action-adventure "Pathfinder," an R-rated pic that looks at a young man’s battle against Norse invaders in North America centuries ago. Following the runaway success of "300," it’s no surprise that Fox is marketing "Pathfinder" as a historical war epic based on a graphic novel. But this new film has nothing on Leonidas and pals. The Viking subject matter is not interesting, the marketing push has been weak, and lead actor Karl Urban is no commercial draw. Attacking 1,720 theaters, "Pathfinder" might find only $5M on opening weekend.


Just one of many decapitations in "Pathfinder."

Lionsgate goes after an adult audience with its new crime drama "Slow Burn" which stars Ray Liotta, LL Cool J, and Taye Diggs. The R-rated film about a district attorney whose colleague gets tied up in a murder case will go out in a moderate wide release with only a mild marketing push behind it. The starpower is not strong enough to attract a sizable crowd and there is little buzz among movie fans. Opening in 1,163 locations, "Slow Burn" could die a quick death at the multiplexes with a $4M bow.


"Slow Burn": Expected to experience a quick death.

In a world overstuffed with animated films, First Look Pictures turns the tables and aims at adults with the R-rated toon "Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters." Based on the animated series on Cartoon Network, the pic is trying to follow in the footsteps of "Borat" by taking a TV property with a cult following and making a long-titled feature film that pushes the envelope. Even the term ‘Movie Film’ seems taken from the Kazakh journalist. "Aqua Teen" scored some extra publicity with its marketing debacle in Boston several weeks ago, however that will not give the film more mainstream appeal. Only the die hard "Aqua" fans are likely to come out here. Competition is stiff this weekend and with the fewest theaters of the six pack of new flicks, this one could get left behind. Landing in over 800 locations, "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" may collect approximately $4M over three days.


"Only 23 more installments of $59.95 to go!"

After back to back wins atop the box office charts, "Blades of Glory" will face a fierce challenge this weekend from the new releases. Few have the starpower that the Will Ferrell comedy packs and last weekend’s strong hold suggests that crowds are being pleased. A 35% fall would give "Blades" $14M for the weekend and $89M in 17 days.

"Meet the Robinsons" and "Are We Done Yet?" have no new competition for the family audience so respectable holds are likely here as well. A 35% drop would give the Disney toon about $11M for a 17-day tally of $70M while a 40% decline for the Ice Cube sequel would give Sony around $9M for the sophomore frame and $33M after 12 days.

LAST YEAR Easter weekend saw the arrival of "Scary Movie 4" which commanded a powerful opening grossing $40.2M in its debut. It was the second largest opening in the spoof comedy series and went on to capture $90.7M for The Weinstein Co. The animated blockbuster "Ice Age: The Meltdown" dropped to second place with a still-potent $20M in its third frame followed by the sports comedy "The Benchwarmers" with $9.9M. Disney saw a disappointing debut in fourth with the animated film "The Wild" which took in just $9.7M on its way to $37.4M. "Take the Lead" rounded out the top five with $6.8M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

Easter weekend sees four new wide releases hopping into the marketplace aiming to give the spring box office a boost.

Action audiences get The Weinstein Company’s two-for-the-price-of-one special "Grindhouse" while horror fans go for a scare with the religious-themed fright flick "The Reaping" starring Hilary Swank which opens on Thursday. Wednesday saw two competing family films bow – the Ice Cube sequel "Are We Done Yet?" and the pooch pic "Firehouse Dog." With Good Friday being a holiday for many, three-day numbers should reach healthy levels.

Moviegoers with three hours to kill and a love of death and destruction will line up for "Grindhouse," a double feature with separate films directed by indie heroes Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. The R-rated pic includes the former’s road actioner "Death Proof" starring Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson and Rose McGowan while the latter’s zombie flick "Planet Terror" stars McGowan and Freddy Rodriguez. Clearly the primary business will come from the young male fan base that Tarantino and Rodriguez hold dearly. Since there is so much overlap here, the grosses may not grow beyond what they’ve seen with previous hits.

"Grindhouse" has had some flashy marketing which is successfully generating interest. Plus there is starpower behind the cameras. Add in the two-for-one novelty item and the press tour that the cast and directors are on and it’s clear to see that a strong opening weekend will result. Debuts for similar ultraviolent R-rated films from the helmers include $22.1M for 2003’s "Kill Bill Vol. 1," $25.1M for the folowing year’s "Kill Bill Vol. 2," and $29.1M for 2005’s "Sin City." But cutting into "Grindhouse"’s potential will be its length which will force each screen to offer one less showtime per day compared to conventional two-hour films. Reviews have been very positive so the pic may reach a little beyond its core crowd of fan boys. Entering 2,624 theaters on Friday, "Grindhouse" could deliver an opening weekend gross of around $25M.


"Grindhouse"

Following in the footsteps of Jim Carrey and Sandra Bullock from earlier this year, Hilary Swank gives it a go in the world of horror with the new religious-themed chiller "The Reaping." The R-rated film finds the two-time Oscar winner playing a scientist called in to investigate mysterious occurances in a small Louisiana town where locals believe Biblical devastation is on its way. Horror flicks with religious storylines usually connect with audiences and with "The Reaping" timed for an Easter weekend launch, a sizable four-day start is likely. The thriller should skew a bit more female given the protagonist while age-wise, the appeal seems broader than just older teens and young adults.

With the Thursday debut, Warner Bros. is looking to take advantage of the Good Friday holiday which will make Thursday night at the multiplexes seem like a Friday night. A Wednesday bow, which is common for this particular weekend, would have been more risky as bad word-of-mouth from opening day ticket buyers who return to work or school on Thursday would dampen weekend sales. Reviews have not been too pleasant, but the studio deserves credit for actually holding press screenings which nowadays is rare for a horror film. With "Premonition" and "The Hills Have Eyes 2" both fading away into the low single-digit millions this weekend, "The Reaping" is ready to cater to those in the market for a good scare. Warner Bros. attacks 2,501 theaters on Thursday and increases the run to 2,603 on Friday and could register an opening weekend of roughly $14M and $17M over four days.


Hilary Swank in "The Reaping."

Rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube conquered the kiddie movie box office two years ago with the surprise hit "Are We There Yet?" which grossed $82.3M becoming the star’s biggest career hit. For the sequel "Are We Done Yet?," Sony has replaced the road comedy element with a story about a family facing all kinds of obstacles fixing up their new house. There debuted to a solid $18.6M in January 2005 against almost no competition for family audiences. "Done" feels like the same dish served up again and has not really excited its target audience. Plus there is much more competition for it to deal with in the marketplace, notably Disney’s "Meet the Robinsons" which offers fresh new entertainment. Cube probably won’t see the same success the second time around but at least the grosses won’t tumble 82% the way they did when he took control of the "XXX" sequel. Now playing in 2,877 theaters, "Are We Done Yet?" could collect about $13M over three days and $16M over five days.


Ice Cube in "Are We Done Yet?"

Families not in the mood for some fun with Ice Cube get to try out the boy-and-his-dog drama "Firehouse Dog" from Fox. The PG-rated pic about a celebrity hound that gets lost and later rescued by a firefighting team lacks the starpower and marketing muscle needed to deliver a strong opening. Between "Are We Done Yet?," "Meet the Robinsons," and even "TMNT," kids have enough choices this Easter weekend and will probably wait for "Firehouse Dog" on DVD. Bowing in 2,566 sites, the family film could open with about $7M over three days and $9M over five days.


"Firehouse Dog"

Among holdovers, the Will Ferrell comedy "Blades of Glory" looks to lose its spot at the top of the box office, but should still deliver a solid sophomore spin. The comedian’s summer hits "Talladega Nights" and "Anchorman" both dropped by more than 50% in their second weekends. "Blades" has the Good Friday holiday to help soften the blow a bit. A 45% decline would give Paramount about $18M for the frame and a solid $61M after ten days.

Disney’s "Meet the Robinsons" also got off to a strong start last weekend, but will face stiff competition for families from both "Are We Done Yet?" and "Firehouse Dog." The 3D toon could slide 35% to around $16M for a ten-day cume of nearly $50M. The ultraviolent war film "300" may fall by 45% to $6M and lift its impressive haul to $190M. The worldwide tally should blast past $350M this weekend.

LAST YEAR: Still ranking number one with ease was the animated smash "Ice Age: The Meltdown" with $33.8M despite losing half of its opening weekend sales. Debuting in second was the Rob Schneider sports comedy "The Benchwarmers" with $19.7M on its way to $57.7M for Sony. New Line’s dance pic "Take the Lead" opened in third with $12.1M before finishing off with $34.7M. The Denzel WashingtonJodie Foster actioner "Inside Man" followed with $9.1M in its third heist. Rounding out the top five was another action thriller "Lucky Number Slevin" with a $7M bow on its way to $22.5M for The Weinstein Co. The Fox Searchlight comedy "Phat Girlz" flopped in ninth with just $3.1M before getting yanked with only $7.1M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

This week at the movies, we’ve got jive talking woodland creatures ("Open Season," with Martin Lawrence and Ashton Kutcher). We’ve got a school for Coast Guard rescue swimmers ("The Guardian," starring Kevin Coster and Kutcher again). And we’ve got a school…for scoundrels ("School for Scoundrels," starring Billy Bob Thornton and Jon Heder). Which of these flicks will get a passing grade from critics?

"Open Season," Sony Pictures Animation’s first picture, features the voices of Martin Lawrence and Ashton Kutcher as a grizzly bear and a deer, respectively, who must team up after getting stranded in the woods at the start of hunting season. Critics say that despite some impressive visuals and funny sequences, "Open Season" does little to distinguish itself from the recent glut of CG kiddie films. At 43 percent on the Tomatometer, you should turn, turn, turn away from this middling "Season."


Martin Bear: "Say it, Ashton. Say I was funny on Martin!"
Ashton Deer: "I’m Ashton Kutcher! I was on That 70’s Show!"

Kevin Costner makes a hopeful return to the action genre in "The Guardian," in which he plays a veteran U.S. Coast Guard officer who must mentor a cocky young upstart played by Ashton Kutcher. The film features intense training sequences, dramatic rescue scenes, and the requisite love story. Sound familiar? Critics seem to think so, calling it a cliched mix of "An Officer and a Gentleman" and "Top Gun," with a predictable storyline. At 40 percent on the Tomatometer, "The Guardian" needs rescuing.


"Oh, man… Finally, a funny ‘Waterworld‘ joke!"

Director Todd Phillips brings us his latest comedy "School for Scoundrels," about a nerdy meter maid (Jon Heder) who takes confidence building classes from a smarmy instructor (Billy Bob Thornton). When the student gains the confidence to ask out his longtime crush, he discovers he must compete with the teacher for her affections. Most critics are in agreement that the real scoundrels are the screenwriters who couldn’t devise a script worthy of the considerable acting talent involved. At 21 percent on the Tomatometer, "School for Scoundrels" receives a failing grade.


Jon Heder’s got to worry about more than just talons these days.

Also opening this week in limited release: "The Queen," a speculative drama about the reaction of Britain’s royal family after the death of Princess Di starring Helen Mirren, is at 95 percent on the Tomatometer; "The Last King of Scotland," which features an electrifying performance from Forrest Whitaker as the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, is at 86 percent; "Be With Me," a three part meditation on love, hope, and destiny, is at 80 percent; "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," a coming-of-age story starring Robert Downey Jr., is at 77 percent; and "loudQUIETloud: A Film About the Pixies," which chronicles the triumphant reunion tour of the influential cult band, is at 60 percent.

Recent Ashton Kutcher Movies:
—————————————-
80% — Bobby (2006)
39% — A Lot Like Love (2005)
44% — Guess Who (2005)
33% — The Butterfly Effect (2004)
19% — Just Married (2003)

Recent Billy Bob Thornton Movies:
——————————————
46% — The Ice Harvest (2005)
46% — The Bad News Bears (2005)
79% — Chrystal (2004)
82% — Friday Night Lights (2004)
30% — The Alamo (2004)

Recent Kevin Costner Movies:
————————————–
18% — Rumor Has It… (2005)
73% — The Upside of Anger (2004)
79% — Open Range (2003)
8% — Dragonfly (2002)
13% — 3000 Miles to Graceland (2001)

Recent Jon Heder Movies:
———————————-
73% — Monster House (2006)
11% — The Benchwarmers (2006)
56% — Just Like Heaven (2005)
71% — Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

The studios have been hiding movies from those pesky scribes all year long, but this time they’ve outdone themselves. This week, three movies won’t be screened before getting tossed into the theaters: Neil LaBute‘s remake of "The Wicker Man," starring Nicolas Cage; "Crank," another high-octane actioner starring Jason Statham; and Mike Judge‘s "Idiocracy," a "Futurama"-esque comedy starring Luke Wilson.

What’s odd about this batch of unscreened films is that two of them are directed by established helmers. They include the generally blameless Judge, the man behind such beloved creations as "Beavis and Butthead" and "Office Space," and LaBute, whose filmography is a bit darker ("In the Company of Men," "Your Friends and Neighbors") but has never been uninteresting. Even stranger, "Idiocracy" is opening in limited release, but is bypassing the normal release pattern by playing outside of New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area.


No, these aren’t the sad movie critics waiting in vain to see "The Wicker Man"….

So we’re going to play that increasingly popular party game: Guess the Tomatometer! (If the studios continue to stop screening movies beforehand, GTT may replace the NFL and Nascar as one of the most popular games in America.) But we’ll make it easier for you with some super unscientific calculations. The average Tomatometer of the movies not screened for critics is just under 15 percent; Basically, we’ve taken the average Tomatometer of unscreened films plus the average Tomatometer of the key participants’ films divided by two. By factoring in the combined Tomatometers of LaBute, and stars Cage and Ellen Burstyn, we’re guessing "The Wicker Man" will wind up around 42 percent. Utilizing Judge’s and Wilson‘s Tomatometers, "Idiocracy" may wind up in the area of 38 percent. And since the directors of "Crank" are relative newcomers, we’ll use Statham, Amy Smart, and Dwight Yoakam to guesstimate that "Crank" will end up around 32 percent. Feel free to knock as many points off as you feel is necessary.


…and no, this is not a metaphor for what the studios think those mean ol’ critics will do to the opening weekend grosses.

Films Not Screened For Critics In 2006 (Best To Worst Tomatometer Score):
————————————————
69% — Snakes on a Plane
28% — Silent Hill
27% — Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion
23% — Phat Girlz
16% — Grandma’s Boy
15% — Underworld: Evolution
11% — The Benchwarmers
10% — Ultraviolet
10% — When a Stranger Calls
7% — Date Movie
7% — Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector
6% — Material Girls
6% — See No Evil
5% — Doogal
5% — BloodRayne
5% — Stay Alive
0% — Zoom

Popular hottie Jessica Biel has signed on to co-star opposite Adam Sandler and Kevin James in the gay-marriage comedy "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," in which the leading men will play straight guys who pose as gay guys for some crazy wacko reason.

From The Hollywood Reporter: "Jessica Biel has signed on to star opposite Adam Sandler and Kevin James in Universal Pictures’ "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry." Dennis Dugan is directing the comedy, which is being produced by Shady Acres and Happy Madison. "Chuck" revolves around two heterosexual firefighters (Sandler and James) who pose as a gay married couple in order to qualify for their department’s domestic-partner benefits. Biel will play an attorney who reps the duo in their case and ends up being the object of Sandler’s affection. The comedy has an Aug. 31 start date."

And just in case you forgot, Dennis Dugan is the guy who directed "The Benchwarmers," "National Security," and "Beverly Hills Ninja."

Are you between the ages of 13 and 19? Do you like … stuff? Then click right here and cast your votes for the 329th annual Teen Choice Awards, which is where you can tell the universe that Puffy is more illing than Snoop Dogg, Will Ferrell is funnier than Brad Pitt, and Katie Holmes is cuter than Katey Sagal. Or something.

Click right here for the ballot, but don’t even think of voting if you’re older than 19. The Teen Choice Awards employ a bunch of enforcers who’ll come to your house and check your birth certificate.

I had to lie about my age to check out the nominees (don’t tell anyone), but the TCAs are poised to celebrate some of the following flicks:

Best Action Adventure:
"King Kong," "Mission Impossible 3," "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest," "Superman Returns," "V for Vendetta," "X-Men: The Last Stand"

Best Drama: "Flightplan," "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," "Pride & Prejudice," "Take the Lead," "Goal!," "Walk the Line"

Best Chick Flick: "Failure to Launch," "Just Like Heaven," "Just My Luck," "Last Holiday," "Aquamarine," "The Lake House"

Best Comedy: "Click," "Nacho Libre," "Scary Movie 4," "She’s the Man," "The Benchwarmers," "The Break-Up"

Best Thriller: "An American Haunting," "Hostel," "Red Eye," "Saw 2," "Silent Hill," "The Omen"

They also have a bunch of actor’s categories, but the choices managed to somehow get even sillier. Click here to cast your votes, kids.

The giant robots are, of course, the stars of the "Transformers" universe, but there certainly doesn’t seem to be a shortage of flesh & blood actors signing on for the massive production. The newest names added to the call sheet are Tyrese Gibson ("Four Brothers"), Rachael Taylor ("Man-Thing"), and Amaury Nolasco ("The Benchwarmers").

The latest cast additions come from DarkHorizons and The Hollywood Reporter.

"The Transformers," which will come from screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, director Michael Bay, and executive producer Steven Spielberg, already has a pretty stacked cast list. The newest trio join Shia LaBeouf, Bernie Mac, Jon Voight, Josh Duhamel, Michael Clarke Duncan, John Turturro, a few others, and a bunch that probably haven’t been announced yet. Plus all those giant robots who morph into vehicles.

WeinsteinCo’s Scary Movie 4 made a huge pile of cash over the holiday weekend, demolishing Panic Room‘s $30 million Easter haul from a few years back. The silly sequel scared up an amazing $41 million from more than 3,600 screens — and yes, Scary Movie 5 will be hitting theaters at this time next year. (Shocker, eh?)

Still going pretty darn strong in second place was Fox’s Ice Age: The Meltdown, which added another $20 million to its (impressively) grand total of $147 million. Third place went to another returnee: Sony’s The Benchwarmers fell 49% to snag $10 million in its second weekend, giving it a total haul of about $36 million.

Disney’s unkindly-reviewed The Wild debuted in 4th place, pulling in just under $10 million from 2,800 theaters, while the dance-hall drama Take the Lead took the fifth spot with $6.7 million (and a $22.5 million total).

Next week’s wide releases look to be Universal’s satire American Dreamz, Fox’s Secret Service thriller The Sentinel, and Sony’s horror flick / video game adaptation Silent Hill.

For a closer look at the weekend numbers, pop on over to the Rotten Tomatoes Box Office Page.

This week’s wide releases include a group of zoo creatures that reconnect with their roots ("The Wild") and another installment of the genre-spoofing "Scary Movie" series ("Scary Movie 4"). What do the critics say?

A fourth "Scary Movie" is hitting theaters; this time it’s parodying "War of the Worlds," "Saw," and an obscure but terrifying slasher flick called "Brokeback Mountain." A lot of people like these movies — heck, they have made four of them — but those people aren’t generally movie critics; the scribes are calling this latest installment a hit-or-miss affair. But, if you’re in the market for this kind of thing, you should know that "Scary Movie 4," at 44 percent on the Tomatometer, currently stands as the second-best reviewed film in the series, behind the original (52 percent).

Four animals bust out of the zoo in search of their natural habitats, only to fall into the clutches of a buffoonish-but-dangerous animal cult leader. If the plot description for "The Wild" sounds a tad familiar, that’s because it’s essentially the same as last summer’s not-so-red-hot "Madagascar" (55 percent on the Tomatometer). It’s amazing that, given the seemingly limitless potential of CGI, the scribes are already accusing new animated films of being derivative. The critics also say "The Wild" is noisy and busy without being particularly funny or engaging. At 17 percent on the Tomatometer, "The Wild" is the second-worst reviewed CGI film to date, only outranking "Doogal," which is at five percent.

On to America’s favorite game: Banana Kid correctly guessed "The Benchwarmers" would end up with a 12 percent on the Tomatometer. Unfortunately, no one came particularly close to "Phat Girlz‘" not-great-but-not-terrible Tomatometer of 31 percent.

Scary Movies:
——————
52% — Scary Movie (2000)
11% — Scary Movie 2 (2001)
39% — Scary Movie 3 (2003)

Recent CGI Films:
———————–
60% — Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006)
5% — Doogal (2006)
46% — Hoodwinked (2006)
37% — Chicken Little (2005)
27% — Valiant (2005)

Fox’s big-money cash cow Ice Age: The Meltdown reigned supreme for a second consecutive weekend at the box office, fending off a few newcomers who probably made a bit more money than they deserved. Playing on nearly 4,000 screens, Meltdown made another $34.5 million (!) over the weekend, upping its grand total to an icy cool $116.4 million.

Debuting in second-place was the unscreened-for-critics and therefore-probably-stinky Sony Benchwarmers, which fielded about $20.5 million from 3,300 theaters. Dancing along in third place was the Antonio Banderas ballroomer Take the Lead, which made $12.8 million from 3,000 theaters.

Hanging on in fourth place was Universal’s Inside Man, which added another $9.2 million to its $66.1 million bank vault, while fifth place went to WeinsteinCo newcomer Lucky Number Slevin, which debuted in 2,000 theaters to the tune of $7.1 million.

Fox Searchlight’s Phat Girlz debuted with sort of a thud, grossing about $3.1 million from just over a thousand theaters.

Next weekend sees the arrival of two new wide-release entries: Disney’s animated comedy The Wild, and Dimension’s 4-hour Canadian period piece costume drama Scary Movie 4.

As always, the Rotten Tomatoes Box Office Page is open and awaiting your return.

This week at the movies, we explore the joys of dance ("Take the Lead"), mistaken identity ("Lucky Number Slevin"), our national pastime ("The Benchwarmers"), and the search for love ("Phat Girlz"). What do the critics say?

It’s a scenario Hollywood loves to ("Stand and") deliver: A tough-but-fair new teacher helps a ragtag bunch of teenage troublemakers learn to be better citizens and believe in themselves through a disciplined approach to basketball/martial arts/poetry/feng shui/tiddley winks, etc. Add ballroom dancing to the list. "Take the Lead" stars Antonio Banderas as a professional dancer whose old-school approach melds with the students’ hip-hop sensibilities. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because there was a documentary called "Mad Hot Ballroom" that told the same tale, albeit with elementary school kids, and uh, it was real.) Critics say the movie is fine, if a little shopworn; while the performances and dance numbers are stirring, we’ve kinda seen this one before. It’s currently at 45 percent on the Tomatometer.

From its inscrutable title to its labyrinthine plot, the scribes are pretty split on "Lucky Number Slevin." Is the screenplay smart? Yes, critics say. Too clever for its own good? Perhaps, they concede. Josh Hartnett stars as a regular dude who falls into a web of intrigue after a case of mistaken identity. The film has a stellar cast (Morgan Freeman, Bruce Willis, Lucy Liu, Ben Kingsley) and a plot with more twists and turns than a marathon session of Chutes and Ladders. So, is "Lucky" any good? Depends on which critic you ask. At 55 percent on the Tomatometer, "Slevin" is either pulp heaven or an overplotted purgatory.

Like a utility infielder hitting well below the Mendoza line, "The Benchwarmers" probably deserves to ride the pine, since the scribes weren’t allowed to see it. And likewise, "Phat Girlz," which was also not screened for critics, is probably not all that, uh, phat. So kiddies, it’s time for our new national pastime: Guess the Tomatometer! The winner gets tickets to the World Series and a complete makeover. (Sorry, you only win props.)

Recent Antonio Banderas Movies:
—————————————-
26% — The Legend of Zorro (2005)
89% — Shrek 2 (2004)
44% — Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003)
68% — Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)
33% — Imagining Argentina (2003)

Recent Josh Hartnett Movies:
———————————-
78% — Sin City (2005)
24% — Wicker Park (2004)
31% — Hollywood Homicide (2003)
38% — 40 Days and 40 Nights (2002)
76% — Black Hawk Down (2001)

After some furious debate over David Germain‘s discussion of films "not screened for critics," RT takes a look at the Tomatometers and respective B.O. performances of the flicks withheld from critics so far this year.

Films Not Screened For Critics In 2006:
————————————————
29% — Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion (Feb. 24)
17% — Grandma’s Boy (Jan. 6)
16% — Underworld: Evolution (Jan. 20)
10% — When a Stranger Calls (Feb. 3)
9% — Ultraviolet (Mar. 3)
8% — Date Movie (Feb. 17)
7% — BloodRayne (Jan. 6)
6% — Stay Alive (Mar. 24)
5% — Doogal (Feb 24)
4% — Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector (Mar. 24)
Average Tomatometer not screened for critics: 11%

As Germain noted, this is becoming a common trend; in 2006, 10 films have already been withheld from those mean old scribes, with "The Benchwarmers" and "Phat Girlz" joining that illustrious list this week. Apparently, the whole of the studio system is terrified that the following exchange will take place within the coveted teen and young adult demographic:

Teen No. 1: "Man, am I ever stoked to be first in line to see ("Date Movie"/ "Underworld: Evolution"/ "The Benchwarmers," etc.)! This film will certainly be off the chain! Oh look, there’s my friend!"

Teen No. 2 (running, looking frantic): "Bad news, homie. David Denby, Andrew Sarris, AND Stephanie Zacharek all dissed ("Date Movie"/ "Underworld: Evolution"/ "The Benchwarmers," etc.). They say it’s really stupid."

Teen No. 1: "Curses! I’m getting out of the line for this movie, and I shall not be seeing it on its opening weekend. Dear fellow, perchance is ‘The Best of Youth‘ still playing in the local arthouse?"

The phrase "critic-proof" has entered the lexicon for a reason: it perfectly sums up a certain type of move, one that the studios still feel is necessary not to screen.

And what do the critics have to say about these films? Unsurprisingly, the average is an 11 percent on the Tomatometer. Of the twenty worst reviewed wide releases of the year so far, these ten films occupy the top slots. Still, that doesn’t mean too much; "Big Momma’s House 2" was screened for critics, got a six percent on the Tomatometer, and still made a lot of money. So while the films that aren’t screened are by no means cinematic gems, there’s an excellent chance they will make lots of money regardless.

When the staff of Rotten Tomatoes is not meticulously analyzing the films of Bergman, Ozu, and Bresson, we’ve been known to watch (and unironically enjoy) such critically drubbed flicks as "Stealth," "Black Knight," and the collected works of Jean-Claude Van Damme. Some movies aren’t "good" per se, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have potential audiences. Studios should know this better than anyone; they made the movies.

See Also:
"Not Screened For Press" Trend Growing in 2006

AP writer and film critic David Germain calls attention to the disturbing (at least, to us at Rotten Tomatoes) trend among studios to withhold films from the media in order to avoid negative reviews and make more money on opening day.

In his article, Germain points out that the number of movies not screened for press is way up — eleven so far this year, compared to only two this time last year — including this week’s comedies "The Benchwarmers" and "Phat Girlz."

Anyone who reads our own Tim Ryan’s weekly Critical Consensus has probably noticed the phrase "not screened for critics" popping up nearly every week, leading to a dearth of preview reviews that has spawned our ever-popular "Guess The Tomatometer" game. And though this game is delicious fun, it is a shame that more and more critics are being robbed of press screenings — which means that the moviegoing public doesn’t have that critical barometer to guide them in their film selection.

Not surprisingly, Germain couldn’t get a response from many studio heads on the issue, but did talk to film critics extraordinaire Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper, who added a "wagging finger of shame" to their "thumbs up, thumbs down" signature ratings but eventually got tired of it from overuse. They argue that negative reviews rarely have adverse effects on box office numbers for the types of movies typically not screened for critics — broad comedies and horror flicks — and actually generate more buzz for a movie.

To read more of Germain’s article, click here.

"The Benchwarmers": How could they not screen this??

"Phat Girlz": Who wouldn’t sneak a taste of this guacamole?

So now that we know "The Benchwarmers" and "Phat Girlz" won’t be screened for critics, may the "Guess The Tomatometers" commence!

Silly Scrat and his "Ice Age" buddies have returned to the multiplexes … and the result was an absolutely mammoth opening weekend frame. Fox’s CG-animated sequel squeezed about $70.5 million from the first-weekend moviegoers, making "Ice Age: The Meltdown" the year’s first bona-fide box office bonanza. (By comparison, the original "Ice Age" made just over $46 million during its own opening weekend.)

Hanging on in second place was Spike Lee‘s bank heist thriller "Inside Man," which added an additional $15.7 million to its $52.8 million grand total. Debuting in third place was WB’s urban skating drama "ATL," which rolled to the tune of $12.5 million from 1,600 theaters.

Fourth and fifth place went to a pair of old pals: Paramount’s "Failure to Launch" exhibited some staying power, netting an additional $6.6 million ($73.2m total), and WB’s "V for Vendetta" commanded another $6.5 million ($56.8m total).

Two other newcomers fared … not as well. Universal’s strongly-reviewed "Slither" was able to scare up only $3.7 million from 1,900 theaters, while Sony’s "Basic Instinct 2" netted an anemic $3.2 million from 1,400.

Next weekend sees the release of four new wide titles: Sony’s sports slob-com "The Benchwarmers," MGM’s gangster flick "Lucky Number Slevin," Fox Searchlight’s "Phat Girlz," and New Line’s dance drama "Take the Lead."

For a closer look at the weekend numbers, head on over to the Rotten Tomatoes Box Office Page!

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