Box Office: Will Jessica Chastain kick Arnold’s butt this weekend?

A trio of films go into wide release today — a ghost story getting decent reviews, a retro Arnold Schwarzenegger shoot’em up earning better reviews (not from me, the peasants) and a poorly reviewed Mark Wahlberg/Russell Crowe thriller that I figure is going to have a hard time doing big business in this environment.

 

Judging from feedback — traffic to my reviews — I’d say “Mama” should be the box office winner, come Sunday night. “The Last Stand” should keep it close. They’re kind of appealing to the same male fanboy base, so that makes it interesting.

Box Office Mojo calls it “Mama” around $17/”Zero Dark Thirty” just behind, “Last Stand” $14 million. That’s low. “Last Stand” could crack $20. It’s a real crowd pleaser.

Box Office Guru figures “Mama” will crack $20, with “Broken City” doing $18, “Last Stand” just behind it and “Zero Dark Thirty” in the middle of that second-third place race.

People seem to have forgiven Arnold Schwarzenegger, the movie star who probably taught Madonna all she knows about reinvention.

Every time I’ve interviewed the guy, I’ve been struck by how “on message” he is — a politician before he became a real politician. Refuses to talk about anything but his movie, occasional moments of reflection on his career, how great America and Hollywood have been to him. Upbeat, not hearing the criticism of the violence in his movies, his alleged steroid use in his earlier days, the creepy “real” Arnold who came through in that infamous “Pumping Iron” documentary that he tried to suppress. Publicists step in if there’s a question he doesn’t like. He manages his image/message like nobody I’ve ever seen.

He’s transforming himself back into a movie star, he hopes — saying the rights things about the police, gun control, etc. Having basked in his presence a few times, I don’t believe a word of it.

You see it in the reviews, too. Very forgiving.

Russell Crowe, though, cannot get a break. His diva years are perhaps behind him, but there’s a general distaste for him that transcends his acting. He’s good, time and again. But you see that in reviews, too. No slack for him.

Thus “Broken City” probably won’t bust out and be another Mark Wahlberg Martin Luther King weekend winner for him.

I also smell a little directorial favoritism at work here. The color palette of “Last Stand” is distinct, and despite the fact that there’s little novelty to what’s in those images — a striking car chase through, well, you’ll see — critics just LOVE Kim Jee-woon. I loved “I Saw the Devil” as much as anyone, but no cornball sidekick/catch-phrase shoot’em up can compare with the suspense and action of that. 

Critics and fanboys (maybe critics pandering to fanboys) just love Guillermo del Toro. He produced and his handprints are all over “Mama.” A Good ghost story, and even with its shortcomings, it gets a Guillermo pass.

The opposite it true with Allen Hughes. Critically derided for years — “Book of Eli” was a recent credit — he does a decent job with “Broken City.” But the movie got beaten up.

Should be an intriguing box office race, thanks to all of that.

 

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