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''Vantage Point'' aims for No. 1

The political thriller will lead a weekend of misfit movies and leftovers

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Matthew Fox, Dennis Quaid, ...

As we continue to wind our way through February, let’s take a moment to reflect upon the box office implications of the year’s shortest month. Hollywood has never known what to do with February. It has always been one of the slowest parts of the calendar, ticket-sale-wise, falling in a sort of gray area between last year’s Oscar movies and this year’s blockbusters. With audiences anticipating neither prestige fare nor money-magnet movies, studios often throw their leftover/orphaned flicks into theaters to see if any of them stick. The result, usually, is a seemingly random assortment of films from different genres targeting diverse demographics — none of them particularly good.

This weekend is a perfect example. Opening are the middlebrow assassination thriller Vantage Point, the quirky Be Kind Rewind and Charlie Bartlett, and the broad comedy Witless Protection. (And they’re playing against last week’s even more schizophrenic lot of Jumper, Step Up 2 the Streets, The Spiderwick Chronicles, et al.) What do these movies have in common? Nothing — except, maybe, the fact that the folks who made them probably had no idea what to do with them. So, hey: Release them in February! Anyway, here’s what I expect will stick and what I think will fall by the wayside.

THE (LIKELY) TOP FIVE

Vantage Point
Columbia · PG-13 · 3,149 theaters · NEW
Matthew Fox, Dennis Quaid, Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver, and William Hurt star in this Rashomon-ish drama in which several folks witness an assassination attempt but all see it differently. Forget about the generic plot and title: Um, 1988 called and it wants its cast back! (And you, too, Lost guy.) Still, the derivative film will win the weekend by default — reviews are pretty crummy but there just isn’t anything else big opening, and Jumper probably won’t hold on to enough of its audience to repeat as champ. Oh my God, I’m already bored by this movie.
Weekend prediction: $18 million

Jumper
Fox · PG-13 · 3,430 theaters · 2nd weekend
Lest I spend too much time commending Doug Liman’s sci-fi thriller for its strong $27.4 million debut at No. 1 last weekend, let me also offer some well-deserved kudos to star Hayden Christensen, who now can boast of starring in at least one more post-Star Wars hit than Mark Hamill ever has.
Weekend prediction: $14 million

The Spiderwick Chronicles
Paramount · PG · 3,847 theaters · 2nd weekend
It remains to be seen whether Freddie Highmore’s fantasy epic will turn into a Lord of the Rings-esque franchise, in part because its opening take was way, way below a Lord of the Rings-esque number. Nonetheless, that $19 mil debut was nice enough, and kids’ movies never drop too sharply in their second frames.
Weekend prediction: $11 million

Step Up 2 the Streets
Touchstone · PG-13 · 2,480 theaters · 2nd weekend
You’d have to imagine that this sequel’s $18.9 mil opening calls for a third installment in the urban-dance franchise. Question now is, can they do what the Fast and the Furious folks failed to accomplish and come up with a clever/cool way of using ”3” in the title?
Weekend prediction: $9 million

Be Kind Rewind
New Line · PG-13 · 808 theaters · NEW
The latest head-scratcher from Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) involves a bunch of kooky karachters (Jack Black, Mos Def, Mia Farrow) who hang around a video store. Or maaaaaaybe it’s all just a dream that Jim Carrey is having.
Weekend prediction: $6 million

THE OTHER NEW RELEASES

Witless Protection
Lionsgate · PG-13 · 1,333 theaters · NEW
Working-class comedian/hero Larry the Cable Guy (a.k.a. Dan Whitney) is undoubtedly much smarter than the character he has played in stinkers like Health Inspector and Delta Farce — so why does he keep making movies that seem to have no chance at the box office? (Yes, I know, he was also the voice of Mater in Cars. That’s beside the point.) I mean, sure, these movies probably enjoy long lives on video, but wouldn’t a box office hit be nice?
Weekend prediction: $3 million

Charlie Bartlett
MGM · R · 1,122 theaters · NEW
Anton Yelchin (Hearts in Atlantis) plays a kid who becomes a sort of shrink for his schoolmates. Not that you needed me to fill you in on that: Like Erin Brockovich and Michael Clayton and Michael Collins and Mary Reilly and Jerry Maguire and Joshua and Jack and Ed, the film’s title tells you all you need to know about its plot. Right?
Weekend prediction: $3 million