November 17, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST

I think it’s safe — if a little sad — to say that the two things I hold most dear in life will be in the spotlight this weekend: James Bond and Michigan football. And lemme tell you, if all goes according to my hopes and expectations, come Sunday I’ll be smiling bigger than a teenager who’s just plopped a handful of Mentos into a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke.

You can probably guess who I’m gonna pick to win The Game on Saturday, but what about the movies? Sony and MGM’s Casino Royale is gunning for No. 1, and I think it’ll accomplish its mission despite competition from the dancing animated penguins in Warner Bros.’ Happy Feet; both are opening in more than 3,000 theaters. And you know what? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I don’t think it’ll even be close. Even before we get into the numbers, I think it’s evident that there’s a groundswell of anticipation for the 21st 007 movie among people across most demographics, whereas the umpteenth animal cartoon of the year just doesn’t seem to have the same broad-ranging mojo going for it.

I caught an early screening of Casino Royale last week, and what I saw impressed me. There has been a lot of talk about whether Daniel Craig will fit well into Bond’s tux, and I think the answer is yes. He’s a cool guy and very magnetic and audiences are going to warm to him. And he fits in well with a revamped, updated formula that’s closer to The Bourne Supremacy than Moonraker. Which is a good thing. Casino Royale is gritty. It’s set in the real world. It doesn’t hinge on objects of fantasy like an invisible car. That seems to be why critics are loving it; EW’s own Owen Gleiberman, for one, hands out fewer solid-A grades than M doles out licenses to kill, but, check it out, he gave Casino Royale one.

The folks at Sony have fought tooth and nail to land the Bond series (they were part of a consortium that bought MGM a while back), and the series’ producers also fought hard and used all sorts of lawyers and smart people to land this particular property, the last of Ian Fleming’s original novels to be turned into a legit 007 flick. I think they’d all be happy if this movie did as well as my main man Pierce Brosnan’s last 007 outing, 2002’s Die Another Day, which debuted with $47.1 mil. But they’d be even more pleased than the kid with the exploding soda if it racked up $52.5 mil in its first weekend, like The Bourne Supremacy did in 2004. And, indeed, Casino Royale should hit the higher end of that range. After all, the recent Bond flicks have earned progressively more money over time: The second-to-last one, The World Is Not Enough, opened with $35.5 mil (even though it sucked), and the one before that, Tomorrow Never Dies, opened with $25.1 mil. Assuming people can get over missing Brosnan (and if they can’t, they should go rent his great comedy The Matador), the upward trend will be kept alive as Casino Royale brings in $51 mil this weekend.

As for Happy Feet, well, you know where I stand. I’m starting to wonder if there’s a real fatigue for all these animated movies setting in at the multiplex. Since Ice Age: The Meltdown and Over the Hedge each raked in more than $150 mil earlier this year, the genre has fallen flat with The Ant Bully and Flushed Away (Barnyard and Open Season didn’t do much better). So I see this movie earning an Open Season-esque $25 mil — maybe not as solid a number as Warner Bros. is hoping for, but at least enough to beat out the week’s other major premiere, Universal’s unheralded R-rated Dax Shepard comedy Let’s Go to Prison, which’ll bring in $7 mil.

Oh, and one more thing: Go Blue!

You May Like