It's pretty unusual to have two wide releases open over the weekend with minimal advance reviews. If you want a sign that January is Hollywood's dumping ground, this is it.
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (3,372 theatres), which may have the best title since Snakes on a Plane, will likely come up first this weekend, with a projected weekend gross around $20 million. Originally scheduled to release last March, the pic will benefit slightly from increased awareness of star Jeremy Renner. Since his breakout role in The Hurt Locker, he's appeared in The Avengers and The Bourne Legacy, making him more of a draw. Gemma Arterton plays Gretel in this tale, which posits that Hansel & Gretel grew up to seek vengeance (and collect bounty) on witches. If it sounds ridiculous, that's because Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are two of the producers, after which the idea starts to make more sense. "Lots of anachronisms and tongue-in-cheek dialogue establish the spoofy nature of this violent venture. All that’s missing is a genuine sense of wit," THR's Stephen Farber reports.
Movie 43 (2,023 theatres) also moved around release dates a number of times before settling for the January doldrums. The cast includes dozens of big names ranging from Seth MacFarlane to Kate Winslet, with many pitching in on writing and directing. The spoof comedy should get close to $10 million, but could be hurt by the scattered impressions of what this comedy actually is.
Parker (2,224 theatres) is the sole new wide release that screened more than a day in advance for most critics. There may be a reason for that: our critic Daniel Eagan raves that the role of Parker, a character in Donald Westlake novels, "fits action star Jason Statham like a glove." The pacing is also top-notch. "The first hour has a propulsive energy that has been sadly missing from recent thrillers," Eagan declares, and a lag afterwards is redeemed by a "climactic heist and showdown." However good Statham is in his action movies, they've been opening below $10 million lately, and a similar debut is expected for Parker.
With so many good movies from December now expanding their release, allowing viewers from all over the country to finally catch them in their hometown, there isn't much new product. However, Music Box Films will release the documentary Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, which Werner Herzog re-edited and narrated from a Russian film, and then taking a co-directing credit for his work. I recommend the movie as "a welcome antidote for coddled city dwellers who need a reminder that humanity survived before Internet connections," although I don't care if you eventually see it on Netflix instead of in a movie theatre.
On Monday, we'll see if any of the three new wide releases exceeded their modest projections, and if any Oscar contenders picked up steam from the box office.