We’re getting hit with a double-whammy this week, as we not only have few home video releases worth talking about, but even among those worth mentioning, the highest-rated new release comes in at a mediocre 46% on the Tomatometer; that distinction belongs to a home invasion thriller headlined by Rebecca DeMornay. The other films we’ve got? The latest Underworld film, the Rachel McAdams/Channing Tatum drama, Tim and Eric’s feature film, and a new Criterion Blu-ray. See below to read more!



The Vow

31%

Rachel McAdams is just about the most likeable actress around these days, and Channing Tatum is doing a lot to convince people he’s not just a pretty, dancing hunk, but neither of them could do much to save The Vow. Based on true events, The Vow stars McAdams and Tatum as Paige and Leo, a young married couple whose relationship is tested when a car accident leaves Paige without any memory of the past few years… including meeting and marrying Leo. Critics felt both McAdams and Tatum did the best they could with what they were given, but a shallow and overly familiar script hampered the film’s chances of being anything memorable.



Underworld: Awakening

26%

After starring in the first two Underworld films, Kate Beckinsale sat out Rise of the Lycans, which was meant to be a prequel to the series. For Awakening, Beckinsale returns to reprise her role as vampire Death Dealer Selene, captured and imprisoned by a human population now fully aware of the existence of vampires and werewolves and hell bent on destroying both. With new allies assisting her, Selene must discover the truth behind the mass extermination of her species. Underworld: Awakening earned about the same critical response the other films in the franchise have gotten, so even at 29% on the Tomatometer, it’s probably just about as good as you would expect it to be.



Mother’s Day

42%

Darenn Lynn Bousman got his start with the first three Saw sequels, and he applies the same terror template to Mother’s Day, an updated remake of the 1980 thriller of the same name. When a botched bank robbery sends three brothers (Patrick Flueger, Warren Kole, Matt O?Leary) back to their mother’s (Rebecca DeMornay) home, they are surprised to find it occupied by new owners in the midst of a birthday celebration. The trio takes the residents and their guests hostage and calls in their mother, every bit as sadistic as they are, to take control of the situation. At 46%, Mother’s Day is mostly a rote home invasion thriller with some graphic violence that earns as high a rating as it does primarily because of DeMornay’s chilling performance.



Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie

36%

The absurdist comedy of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim isn’t for everyone, though they maintain a dedicated cult following for their Adult Swim show. Their brand of anti-humor is difficult to describe, so feel free to peruse a few clips from Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! on YouTube for reference (if that title alone doesn’t say it all…). The story for their first feature-length film is that they’ve been given $1 billion to make a movie, but they end up wasting it all, and before long, Tim and Eric are on the run, looking for a way to pay back the money. Critics say Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie certainly does what it sets out to do, but it may be a little off-putting for anyone not already familiar with their peculiar antics.



La Haine – Criterion Collection Blu-Ray

100%

Mathieu Kassovitz is probably better known for his roles in films like Munich and Amelie than his directorial work, but his second feature film, 1995’s La Haine was a hit at Cannes, winning Kassovitz the prize for Best Director. The story focuses on three friends — one Jew (Vincent Cassel), one African (Hubert Koundé), one Arab (Said Taghmaoui) — who live in one of France’s low-income banlieue districts, following a single day in their lives as they entertain themselves and face various forms of prejudice. A dark and gritty reflection of the lives of France’s disaffected youth, La Haine examines the country’s contemporary immigrant culture with biting commentary. Criterion’s new Blu-Ray of the film drops this week.

Audiences poured into North American multiplexes sending grosses sky high as for the first time in box office history, four new releases simultaneously opened north of $20M each over a non-holiday frame. Plus, existing films managed relatively good holds despite the new competition. In fact, overall business even beat out the levels seen recently over the busy Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s weekends.

Leading the busy frame was the spectacular debut of the romantic drama The Vow which bowed to an estimated $41.7M as the Channing Tatum-Rachel McAdams love story connected with its target audience of young women. Inspired by a true story, the PG-13 film about a man who must make his newlywed wife fall in love with him again after she loses her memory in an accident soared above expectations and was successfully made into an event film for the female audience by Sony’s marketing. Starpower was a major factor as Tatum scored with this audience two years ago with Dear John which debuted to $30.5M over Super Bowl weekend. McAdams has had her own share of romance hits with The Notebook and The Time Traveler’s Wife giving Vow a one-two punch of big names for both lead roles.

Sony knew its audience and aggressively promoted the film creating lots of anticipation especially on social media platforms. The release date right ahead of Valentine’s Day was not an accident and sales should continue to stay solid in the coming days. A marketplace filled with action movies created a void that the romance took full advantage of. Vow opened in 2,958 theaters and averaged a sizzling $14,097 delivering the sixth best February debut ever. Reviews were not very positive and audiences were only moderately pleased with what they got as the film’s CinemaScore grade was only a B. Studio research showed that the crowd was 72% female and 55% under 25. Energizing the box office, the $30M production generated the best opening weekend of any film since the latest Twilight installment last November which coincidentally debuted on home video this weekend.

Though he didn’t take control of first place, Denzel Washington did score the second largest opening of his career with his latest action offering Safe House which collected an estimated $39.3M from 3,119 locations for a muscular $12,610 average. Universal’s $85M CIA thriller co-starring Ryan Reynolds also beat out industry expectations – as so many films this year have been doing. Reviews were mixed but Washington’s reliable fan base came out in full force thanks in part to a strong marketing push by the studio. The only film in the Oscar-winning actor’s career to open better was 2007’s American Gangster with $43.6M. Safe House, Gangster, and Training Day all featured Denzel Washington in “bad guy” roles. The bankable actor is one of those very rare stars in Hollywood who can consistently draw paying audiences in both good and bad roles. Fans love to root for his anti-hero characters.

A hefty investment into marketing paid dividends for the R-rated pic. Licensing music from Jay Z and Kanye West for the TV spots could not have been cheap and buying a Super Bowl ad added to the marketing costs too. Washington hit the pavement promoting the film on each coast sitting down with both Letterman and Leno this past week in the days leading up to the opening. Washington and Reynolds both have sex appeal which broadened the audience for the action film as males and females were split evenly 50/50. That is impressive for a violent action film with lots of killing and gunplay promised in the ads. Safe House skewed older and ethnic as expected with 62% of the audience being 30 or older and 69% being non-white. The CinemaScore grade was an A- and Saturday increased by a nice 20% putting it just $100,000 behind The Vow that day.

With Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson replacing Brendan Fraser as the anchor, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island enjoyed a strong debut in third place with an estimated $27.6M from 3,470 locations for a superb $7,939 average. The 3D follow-up to 2008’s summer pic Journey to the Center of the Earth was high on adventure and special effects and played well to the family crowd as evidenced by the astounding 94% surge on Saturday over the opening day. Island earned mixed reviews from critics but fared better with paying audiences who gave the PG-rated actioner a good A- CinemaScore. With the Presidents Day holiday coming up next week, many schools having week-long winter breaks in February, and no major kidpics coming until March’s The Lorax, the road ahead looks promising for the Warner Bros. sequel.

Yet another new release followed in fourth place as the 3D upgrade of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace opened to an estimated $23M from 2,655 theaters for a solid $8,663 average. The latest franchise re-release for George Lucas upped the lifetime domestic haul for Menace to $454.1M allowing the Jar Jar Binks pic to rise two spots to number five on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters. The director’s intention is to bring 3D versions of all six Star Wars films to the big screen, one year at a time. Fifteen years ago, Lucas and Fox collected a hefty $251.1M from the re-releases of the original trilogy – dubbed Special Editions – which were spaced about a month apart. Menace had a frontloaded weekend as fans rushed out on opening day as Friday saw $8.7M while Saturday dipped by 1%. All other new releases saw jumps on Saturday.

With this new quartet, the number of $20M+ openers this year jumped to nine which is well ahead of last year’s four and 2010’s five. Total ticket sales every weekend this year have been better than the corresponding frame from last year with most cruising ahead by more than 20%. However, every weekend has also been down versus 2010 when Avatar was crushing box office records in the first quarter. Still, the industry has bounced back better than expected compared to the end of 2011 when so many films were underperforming. This year has seen at least seven films blow past expectations on opening weekend and the feverish spending has led to this weekend becoming the second largest February frame ever trailing only Presidents Day 2010 when three pics debuted to $30M+.

The found-footage super hero hit Chronicle followed with an estimated $12.3M dropping only 44% in its second weekend which was terrific given the level of new action competition. The $12M production has banked an impressive $40.2M in ten days and should finish with about $65-70M for Fox. Rival sophomore The Woman in Black fell by 51% to an estimated $10.3M for a ten-day cume of $35.5M. It was a good hold for a film that had its core audience of young women yanked away by Channing Tatum. Look for the CBS Films title to reach roughly $55M.

Qui-Gon Jinn popped up again in the top ten with The Grey which declined by 45% to an estimated $5.1M for a $42.8M total for Open Road. Drew Barrymore’s whale tale Big Miracle suffered a big drop falling 50% in its second weekend to an estimated $3.9M. With $13.2M in ten days, Universal’s $40M pic should end its run with a disappointing $20M.

The Descendants, the only Best Picture contender still in the top ten, took ninth with an estimated $3.5M, off 23%, for a $70.7M sum to date for Fox Searchlight. Rounding out the top ten was Sony’s Underworld: Awakening with an estimated $2.5M, down 55%, for a $58.9M sum.

Two of the three Best Picture nominees in wide release outside of the top ten posted decent holds on the road to Oscar Night. Front-runner The Artist collected an estimated $2.3M, down 13%, for a cume of $24M for The Weinstein Co. Its main challenger Hugo dipped 21% to an estimated $1.8M raising the total to $64.5M for Paramount. Things were not as promising for the Tom Hanks-Sandra Bullock drama Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close which tumbled 60% to an estimated $1.5M. Warner Bros. has taken in $29.4M thus far and does not look to add much more to the total. Hanks has now had two clunkers in less than a year as last summer’s Larry Crowne was also rejected by ticket buyers.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $169.1M which was up a hefty 32% from last year when Just Go With It opened in the top spot with $30.5M; but down 8% from 2010 when Valentine’s Day debuted at number one with $56.3M over the three-day portion of the long Presidents Day frame.

This week at the movies, we’ve got a jungle quest (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Josh Hutcherson), rogue CIA agents (Safe House, starring Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds), an odd boy-meets-girl story (The Vow, starring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum), and nascent Jedi in 3D (Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, starring Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson). What do the critics have to say?



Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

45%

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island promises a family friendly adventure in eye-popping 3D; unfortunately, the critics say the film’s goofy charm and solid special effects are undermined by its middling script. A sequel to 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Mysterious Island finds Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) in the midst of a fantastic quest: upon receiving a cryptic message from an uncharted island, he joins forces with his stepfather Hank (Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson) to search for treasure and rescue the island’s sole occupant. The pundits say Journey 2 is pleasantly acted and inventively picturesque, but it’s short on excitement and good dialogue. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down co-star Luis Guzman’s best-reviewed movies.)



Safe House

53%

An unoriginal action movie isn’t inherently a bad action movie, though critics say Safe House has enough kinetic thrills to make them wish its plot were a little fresher. Denzel Washington stars as Tobin Frost, a rogue former CIA agent who is being held in a South African safe house. But when mercenaries attack, Frost and rookie agent Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) go on the run to find out who ordered the hit. The pundits say Safe House is action-packed and briskly paced, but it’s also pretty predictable and short on suspense. (Check out our list of the best and worst movie CIA agents.)



The Vow

31%

What if the love of your life forgot who you were? It’s a premise ripe with dramatic possibilities, but critics say The Vow too often sticks to its boy-meets-girl (again) formula at the expense of strong performances from its appealing leads. Based upon true events, The Vow is the story of Paige (Rachel McAdams) and Leo (Channing Tatum), a young couple whose relationship is tested when Paige suffers from severe memory loss after a devastating auto accident. Can she learn to love her husband all over again? The pundits say The Vow is sincere and often moving, but it avoids most messy real-life complications in favor of melodrama.



Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (in 3D)

52%

When Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released in 1999, there was a disturbance in the Force: critics and audiences were divided over whether it was a bold new chapter in the Star Wars saga or a legacy-tarnishing travesty. The debate is sure to continue with the rerelease of The Phantom Menace in 3D, in which we meet young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) in the days before their paths diverge. The pundits were dazzled by the movie’s visuals but felt the heart and substance of the originals was missing; still, now’s your chance to see Episode I with fresh eyes and make up your own mind.

Also opening this week in limited release:

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