Weekend Openings (September 23-25)

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Yet another potential Oscar contender is hitting theaters this weekend, along with something for kids, dudes, and well, girls who are on Team Jacob at least:

The Oscar contender, of course, is the sports drama Moneyball, telling the true story of how a manager for the Oakland A’s reinvented professional baseball.  Based on the reviews, we could be seeing nominations for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor and Adapted Screenplay on the way for Bennett Miller’s follow-up to Capote.  Critics (including our own John H. Foote) have been hailing this film as a smart, crackling behind-the-scenes drama that turns the sports genre on its head.  Online buzz for this is surprisingly strong and Pitt is still a reliable draw for mainstream audiences, so I’ll predict a strong $17-22 million opening.

Among the other wide releases is Abduction, an action-thriller directed by John Singleton (*sob*) and starring Taylor Lautner and his abs as a teenager who discovers that his parents are not his own, and is soon on the run from secret agents who want to capture him for some reason.  Critics have been merciless in their evisceration of what they call a lame Bourne rip-off with a comically stiff performance from its teen wolf star.  Still, Taylor Lautner’s abs should be enough of a draw for the film to make a decent $8-13 million this weekend.

Also in theaters is the family film Dolphin Tale, also about a true story of a bottlenose dolphin that loses her tail and is rescued off the Florida Coast.  Critics have been fairly generous on this film, admitting that it’s predictable and slight but also a sweet little animal movie recalling films like Free Willy.  The big obstacle that Dolphin Tale will face at the box office is The Lion King 3D, but for families who’ve already seen the latter film, it could break out as a sleeper hit with $10-15 million by Sunday.

Finally, Killer Elite looks to pump unfettered testosterone into the multiplexes.  This one is also apparently based on a true story (though the credibility of that claim is disputable).  Supposedly, a series of assassinations were carried out on several SAS members over a seventeen-year period by a hit squad called “The Clinic.”  To protect from further murders, a group of soldiers played by Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro from the same regiment band together to take on their would-be killers.  Confusing?  You’re not alone; most critics have taken issue with its near-incomprehensible story and by-the-numbers humorless action.  Since none of the three stars are exactly audience magnets, and with so much competition from the other new releases, I’d be surprised if this broke $10 million by the end of the weekend.

In limited release, Gerard Butler makes a stab at legitimate acting in Machine Gun Preacher, based on – you guessed it – the true story of Sam Childers, a former biker gang member who finds Christ and goes to East Africa to build an orphanage in the middle of a brutal civil war.  I am absolutely not surprised to report that critics are calling Marc Forster’s latest a pedestrian, overly pious White Savior film.  Gee, Forster makes another sub-par movie?  What a surprise…

Chris Evans also attempts to step up to the big leagues of thesping in Puncture, about a small-time lawyer and functioning drug addict who takes on a major medical malpractice suit.  Some have been very positive towards Evans’ performance lifting up what they call an otherwise conventional legal drama.  It’s a crowded year for Best Actor, so I’m unsure that he’ll build up the critical mass necessary for serious consideration, but a Golden Globe nod is not necessarily out of the question.

Jamie Foxx presents Thunder Soul, a concert film/documentary about the Kashmere High School Stage Band returning to play for their beloved band leader, who helped them break musical and racial barriers in the 1970s.  Critics have praised the film’s deft handling of history and musical technique without feeling like an after-school special.  Like Best Actor, it’s a competitive season for Best Documentary Feature.  I don’t see this movie carrying its reviews past other contenders like The Interrupters and Senna.

As always, we’d love to hear what film(s) you saw this weekend and – more importantly – what you thought of them on the forum!