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Vegas-set thriller ‘21’ has best odds

Times Staff Writer

This weekend, the campaign gets intense.

Not the Clinton-Obama one, but the Sony Pictures campaign to make Jim Sturgess into a major movie star.

The 26-year-old British actor, who broke out last fall in Sony’s musical “Across the Universe,” has a supporting role in the studio’s bodice-ripper “The Other Boleyn Girl” and now headlines its blackjack drama “21,” also starring Kevin Spacey, Laurence Fishburne and Kate Bosworth.

Odds are, the PG-13-rated, Las Vegas-themed thriller will be Sturgess’ biggest success yet and lead the box-office charts this weekend with ticket sales of at least $20 million. The teen-oriented spoof “Superhero Movie,” made by Weinstein Co.'s genre label Dimension Films and distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, looks like the strongest of today’s other big releases, based on consumer tracking surveys. Paramount Pictures’ “Stop-Loss” could be the latest Iraq war drama that audiences avoid in droves.

“21,” adapted from the nonfiction bestseller “Bringing Down the House” at a production cost of about $35 million, has what Hollywood executives call “four-quadrant” appeal, meaning it should draw from their favorite demographic: males, females, young and old -- essentially everybody. Sturgess plays an MIT student who joins a team of math whizzes coached by Spacey’s unorthodox professor character to take on the casinos using card counting to beat Vegas at its own game.

Sturgess, a bit of a young Robert De Niro type, makes teenage girls go gaga, said Valerie Van Galder, Sony’s president of marketing. (Projector also admires him, though strictly for his acting ability.)

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The glitzy Vegas milieu and Bosworth will attract young males, while veteran actors Spacey -- cast in an acerbic, cynical part that suits him best -- and Fishburne lend heft that should help the movie to draw older patrons.

Most of all, the true (by Hollywood standards) story of turning the tables on Vegas appeals to anyone who ever gave on the Strip.

“Superhero Movie,” a PG-13 comedy starring Drake Bell from Nickelodeon’s “Drake & Josh” along with lampoon legend Leslie Nielsen, Robert Hays, Nicole Sullivan and others, has a built-in audience. That would be the folks who invariably turn up for “Scary Movie,” “Date Movie,” “Epic Movie” and other spoof movies loaded with pop culture gags.

One group that Weinstein can’t count on, however, is the “Star Wars” geeks, who have threatened to boycott all of the company’s films starting with “Superhero Movie.” They’ve got their light sabers in a twist over producer Harvey Weinstein’s meddling with “Fanboys,” the long-delayed comedy that’s near to their hearts. They’re vowing to protest tonight (in costume, naturally) at theaters in Century City and New York.

Projector, as a warrior for the 1st Amendment, feels their pain, but as a drone for The Man suspects the rebellion won’t affect box-office returns one blip. When it comes to send-ups like “Superhero Movie,” the laughs may be cheap but the genre can be lucrative.

The “Scary Movie” series has been a cash cow for Weinstein and his brother, Bob, since 2000: the four comedies have grossed a combined $818 million worldwide. “Superhero Movie” writer-director Craig Mazin had a hand in the last two “Scary Movie” sequels. Nielsen and Hays helped popularize the genre when they co-starred in the 1980 hit “Airplane!”

“21" could cut into the teen constituency for “Superhero Movie,” but the comedy should still haul in $10 million to $14 million this weekend, and perhaps challenge Fox’s animated “Horton Hears a Who!” for No. 2 on the charts.

The R-rated drama “Stop-Loss,” by contrast, looks like a tough sell headed for a mid-single digit return.

The $25-million-budget movie, about an Iraq war hero who returns to his Texas hometown only to get sent back to the conflict, stars Ryan Phillippe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Channing Tatum and Abbie Cornish. It was co-written and directed by Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”).

Paramount moved the film out of its original release slot last fall to get away from other Iraq-themed pictures, including “In the Valley of Elah” and “Redacted.” It branded the movie with its MTV Films banner and marketed it to young adults, crafting trailers with quick cuts and loud rock music and sending Peirce on a promotional tour of college campuses.

But moviegoers have remained reluctant to see films about a war that has now cost 4,000 American lives. Even star-driven movies that touch on terrorism or foreign policy, such as “Lions for Lambs” and “Rendition,” have flopped.

Picturehouse’s PG-13 comedy “Run, Fat Boy, Run,” starring Simon Pegg as a pudgy slacker determined to finish a London marathon and Thandie Newton as his former flame, appears headed for a similar start in the U.S. But it was produced for only about $10 million and already played last fall in Britain, where it grossed $22.6 million.

Picturehouse, which on Saturday held previews in the states to build word-of-mouth, is aiming at Pegg fans from his cult hits “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” as well as the adult date crowd, said company President Bob Berney. In “Run,” Pegg is “reminiscent of Bill Murray in the 1970s -- the lovable loser,” Berney said.

This weekend’s results will indicate just how lovable.

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josh.friedman@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Weekend Forecast

The blackjack thriller “21" is expected to top the movie box-office charts this weekend. These figures are Times’ predictions only. Studios will issue weekend estimates Sunday and final results Monday. Along with the movies listed below, contenders to make the top 10 include “Under the Same Moon,” “Never Back Down” and “College Road Trip.”

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Movie (studio): 1. 21 (Sony)

3-day prediction (millions): $25.0

Through the weekend: $25.0

Weeks: 1

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Movie (studio): 2. Horton Hears a Who! (20th Century Fox)

3-day prediction (millions): $15.5

Through the weekend: $115.7

Weeks: 3

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Movie (studio): 3. Superhero Movie (MGM)

3-day prediction (millions): $12.5

Through the weekend: $12.5

Weeks: 1

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Movie (studio): 4. Meet the Browns (Lions Gate)

3-day prediction (millions): $ 10.0

Through the weekend: $35.6

Weeks: 2

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Movie (studio): 5. Drillbit Taylor (Paramount)

3-day prediction (millions): $5.5

Through the weekend: $20.3

Weeks: 2

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Movie (studio): 6. Stop-Loss (Paramount)

3-day prediction (millions): $4.5

Through the weekend: $4.5

Weeks: 1

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Movie (studio): 7. 10,000 BC (Warner Bros. )

3-day prediction (millions): $4.5

Through the weekend: $84.6

Weeks: 4

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Movie (studio): 8. Shutter (20th Century Fox)

3-day prediction (millions): $4.5

Through the weekend: $19.5

Weeks: 2

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Movie (studio): 9. Run, Fat Boy, Run (Picturehouse)

3-day prediction (millions): $4.0

Through the weekend: $4.0

Weeks: 1

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Movie (studio): 10. The Bank Job (Lions Gate)

3-day prediction (millions): $3.0

Through the weekend: $24.3

Weeks: 4

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Source: Times research

Los Angeles Times


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