The Weekend Warrior 1/20/17: xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, Split, The Founder

– by Edward Douglas

Welcome back to the Weekend Warrior, your weekly look at the new movies hitting theaters this weekend, as well as other cool events and things to check out.   

THIS PAST WEEKEND:

This past Martin Luther King Jr. weekend was a complete mess, mostly for the new and expanding releases that just didn’t stand a chance against such strong returning films like Hidden Figures and Sing, which took the top two spots, respectively. The former had a nice bump from the positive word-of-mouth and with the holiday celebrating civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr while the latter continued to be the family film of choice of the new Monster Trucks.  One of the big surprises was the jump that Damien Chazelle’s La La Land made up into third place with $17.5 million over the four-day weekend (which was way better than even my adjusted prediction).

Most of the new movies just didn’t do as well as I predicted with Peter Berg’s Patriots Day not winning the weekend as many expected, but ending up in seventh place with $13.6 million, based on estimates. Clearly, audiences weren’t as interested in a dark thriller.  The horror film The Bye Bye Man (STX Entertainment) got a nice bump on Friday the 13th, which helped it make $15.3 million over the weekend (about $5 million more than I predicted), followed by the family adventure Monster Trucks (Paramount) with $15 million (slightly less).  Jamie Foxx’s action-thriller Sleepless (Open Road) ended up doing slightly better than my projection with nearly $10 million for eighth place.

Ben Affleck’s Live by Night (Warner Bros.) may have been the most disturbing bomb of the weekend as it ended up below the other four movies--quite a bit lower than my prediction—and wasn’t even able to get into the Top 10 despite its expansion into 2,822 theaters with around $6 million over the weekend. (That’s less than half my prediction.) Martin Scorsese’s Silence (Paramount) didn’t do much better with just $2.3 million in 750 theaters, although it did better per-theater than Live by Night.

XXX: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE (Paramount)

Cast: Vin Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson, Conor McGregor, Tony Jaa, Deepika Padukone, Nina Dobrev, Ruby Rose, Toni Collette, Donnie Yen, Ariadna Gutierrez
Director: D.J. Caruso (Disturbia, Taking Lives, Eagle Eye, I Am Number Four, Two for the Money, The Salton Sea and more)
Genre: Action
Rated PG-13
Plot:
Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) has returned. He’s back!  Hmm… I’m sure there’s more to the plot than that. Ah, okay, so apparently he’s facing a “deadly alpha warrior” Xiang and his team trying to recover a “sinister and seemingly unstoppable weapon” called Pandora’s Box.  Okay, then… and Xander Cage has returned.
Theater Count (est.): 3,000 

For most of 2016, we saw the effects of “sequelitis” where audiences just weren’t getting into the idea of a sequel to a movie from ten or more years prior that really didn’t do that well in the first place.  In the case of the original xXx, released back in 2002, it was Vin Diesel and director Rob Cohen’s follow-up to the surprise 2001 hit The Fast and the Furious. Although it was a stupid premise that involved secret agents that are masters of extreme sports, it ended up grossing $142 million domestically and about the same overseas, although it was generally panned.

Still, in 2005, Sony decided to make the sequel XXX: State of the Union, although neither Diesel nor Cohen returned, similar to the sequel 2 Fast 2 Future. Instead, they got Ice Cube to star in the movie and released it in late April in an attempt to kick start the summer early, Instead, it bombed, grossing just $26.8 million after a terrible $12.7 million opening.

Because of this, you’d think that no one wanted to see more of this concept except that in the 14 years since the original movie, Vin Diesel had gotten even bigger by returning to the Fast & Furious franchise, delivering four huge blockbuster sequels that grossed nearly a billion domestic between 2009 and 2015.

Clearly with Diesel hot again, it was time to go back to the xXx well, and this time, Diesel and the returning Samuel L. Jackson are surrounded by a varied cast of characters that makes the movie look even more like the Fast and Furious movies with Xander Cage having a whole team working with him.  Probably the most important new addition to the cast is Hong Kong martial arts superstar Donnie Yen, who gained a whole new level of fandom for his role in Rogue One, which just reached $500 million domestically. They’re also joined by Tony Jaa, who appeared in the 7th Fast and Furious movie, helping to raise his prominence in the States.

Now, mind you, Vin Diesel hasn’t had much success outside the Fast & Furious movies with his 2015 attempt at a new franchise with The Last Witch Hunter being a huge bomb, and Diesel’s role in Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk didn’t do much to keep that from bombing as well, grossing less than $2 million. Diesel’s 2013 return to his Riddick character also didn’t generate much interest.

Directing this sequel is director D.J. Caruso, a capable filmmaker who has had his fair share of bombs, but also hits like Disturbia, but this is just as much about that cast around Diesel, since even Samuel L. Jackson has exploded since the last xXx movies by appearing in Marvel Studios’ various Avengers film. Clearly, Paramount (who picked up the rights to the franchise from Sony/Revolution) don’t have much confidence in any of those three because they’re giving away in the commercials that Ice Cube’s character from State of the Union is ALSO back… not sure who wanted that, but maybe that’s to help with urban audiences?

Obviously, we haven’t learned anything from 2016 when really late sequels like My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Independence Day Resurgence, Bridget Jones’s Baby and Zoolander 2 failed to find an audience by waiting way too long to release a sequel. It’s been over ten years since the previous xXx, which didn’t do very well and even with Diesel’s increased fame, it’s hard to imagine that many people have been waiting for a sequel. With just Split as the main competition for younger audiences, there’s a chance the new xXx can bring in $20 to 25 million this weekend but not much more. 


SPLIT (Universal)

Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor Joy, Betty Buckley, Jessica Sula, Haley Lu Richardson
Director: M. Night Shyamalan  (The Sixth Sense,
Genre:  Thriller
Rated PG-13
Plot:
Three high school girls are kidnapped from a party and locked in a room, but they soon learn that their assailant (James McAvoy) is suffering from a split personality with 23 distinct personas, each with their own ideas of what they should do with the kidnapped girls.
Theater Count (est.): 3,000

Offering some serious competition for this week’s action sequel is the new thriller from director M. Night Shyamalan, who first got attention in 1999 with his thriller The Sixth Sense (actually his second movie), which was followed up by another Bruce Willis thriller, Unbreakable, a little over a year later. Shyamalan continued his run with the 2002 hit Signs, starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix, which was the director’s second movie to cross $200 million.

Now, mind you, as writer/director of the three movies, Shyamalan could take a lot of credit and his fourth movie with Disney, The Village, also grossed more than $100 million… and then things started to go wrong. 2006’s The Lady in the Water just expected too much from audiences and after being destroyed by critics, it became his biggest bomb with just $42 million. 2008’s The Happening with Mark Wahlberg did better and Shyamalan’s 2010 adaptation of the cartoon, The Last Airbender, did even better, although grossing $131 million domestic on a $150 million budget isn’t great (although it made up for it overseas).

The problem was that Shyamalan had lost the critics by that point and the fans started to follow, especially by the time he directed Will and Jaden Smith in the sci-fi film After Earth, one of 2013’s biggest bombs—although few people were even aware of Shyamalan’s involvement as the studio wisely hid his involvement in the marketing.

You might think that would be the end of Shyamalan’s career, except that he joined together with producer Jason Blum for the 2015 found footage thriller The Visit, and while that only made slightly more than After Earth, that was based on a $5 million budget vs. $130 million.  The Visit definitely put the filmmaker back in favor, so he’s reteamed with Blum and Universal for his new high concept thriller, which brings back to those earlier hits in terms of look and tone.

More importantly, Split is a great showcase for the talents of actor James McAvoy, who over the last few years has mainly been playing Charles Xavier in the X-Men movies. Back in 2008, he also starred in the comic book movie Wanted with Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman, which was a solid hit. Now, you can easily look at the X-Men movies and owe their success similarly to Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender, and bombs like 2015’s Victor Frankenstein (with Harry Potter, no less!), Danny Boyle’s Trance and others not helping McAvoy’s case. That said, McAvoy is doing something different in Split by playing a flat-out antagonist, one that requires him showing a lot more range by playing a number of personalities. McAvoy generally will bring in more women, who will probably be more interested in this than some of his other films.

He’s joined by Anya Tayor-Joy, who blew so many people away with her performance in The Witch and a few less in the sci-fi thriller Morgan, but she’s clearly a star on the rise.

Last year, JJ Abrams produced 10 Cloverfield Lane, a thriller that has John Goodman kidnapping Mary Elizabeth Winstead, although it mostly hid the fact it was related to the hit monster movie Cloverfield until a few months before release. It ended up grossing a respectable $72 million after a $25 million opening, which would be great for Split for sure.

Granted, it might be tough going against the easier-to-sell (but not really necessary) sequel xXx: Return of Xander Cage, but this also has the benefit of being an original movie vs. a sequel in a time when people just don’t seem too fond of sequels. It will help that Universal began screening Split way back at Austin’s Fantastic Fest in September to help build a fanbase among genre writers, and reviews for this will probably be significantly better, so it should also be good for close to $20 million.


THE FOUNDER (The Weinstein Co.)

Cast: Michael Keaton, Laura Dern, Linda Cardellini, John Carroll Lynch, Nick Offerman
Director: John Lee Hancock (The Rookie, The Blind Side, Alamo, Saving Mr. Banks)
Genre:  Drama, Comedy
Rated PG-13
Plot:
Travelling shake mixer salesman Ray Crock (Michael Keaton) has an epiphany when he comes across a restaurant owned by the McDonald brothers, Mac and Dick (John Carrroll Lynch, Nick Offerman) and is blown away by the efficiency of the food prep and delivery….
So he steals their idea and introduces his own, to franchise McDonald’s across the country.
Theater Count (est.): 1,100

The second to last wide release of this weekend is a movie trying to bring in older audiences that might not be as interested in the action sequel or Shyamalan thriller, both which are geared more towards the under-25s.  One would think that a movie essentially about the origin of McDonald’s would be interested to a very wide audience although the people who eat at McDonald’s probably aren’t interested in movies like this.

In fact, The Founder is based on a Black List script from 2014, which signed on director John Lee Hancock as his fifth movie as a director following Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks, which grossed $83 million over the holidays of 2013.  They soon signed Michael Keaton and they were filming the movie in the summer of 2015, and then the movie was tooling around for the next year as the Weinstein Company figured out what to do with it and tinkering with the edit. Originally, it was going to be a summer movie and then it was moved to December.

Obviously, more than anything else, this is a vehicle for Michael Keaton, who has achieved an interesting second act in his career in recent years, mostly in 2014 with appearances in big studio movies like Robocop and Need for Speed, but even more when he was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Birdman, that year’s Best Picture winner. Those last two only grossed $42 million, and Birdman was the first time maybe since 2005’s White Noise where Keaton had a major starring role in a high profile movie.

Normally, being directed by John Lee Hancock would be a big deal, especially after such he had such a huge hit with 2009’s The Blind Side, starring Sandra Bullock. It was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and it won Bullock her first statue. Hancock has a great supporting cast for Keaton including Laura Dern, Linda Cardellini, John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman, but sadly none of them are proven draws. This is all about Keaton.

While at one point, The Founder was thought to be one of the big awards players of 2016, particularly for previous nominee Michael Keaton (who also starred in 2014’s Best Picture Spotlight). It basically got a December qualifying release while being dumped into January as the Weinstein Company focused on the film Lion, which stands a better chance at Oscar nominations after being received well at festivals like Toronto.

Generally, this has been sold for what it is, a light dramedy about the way one man took a simple idea like “fast food,” and then literally swindled the originators out of money by creating the first nationwide restaurant franchise that became a worldwide sensation. Sadly, a movie like this probably won’t have as much success, going by how poorly Richard Linklater’s Fast Food Nation did 10 years ago, grossing just $1 million. Even so, The Founder should be good for around $3 to 4 million this weekend just based on Keaton’s involvement.


THE RESURRECTION OF GAVIN STONE (High Top Releasing)

Cast: Brett Dalton, Anjelah Johnson-Reyes, Shawn Michaels, Neil Flynn, DB Sweeney, Tim Frank
Director:  Dallas Jenkins (What If…, The Ride, Hometown Legend)
Genre: Comedy
Rated PG
Plot:
A former child star (Brett Dalton) is forced to do community church at a local church where he pretends to be a Christian to get the part of Jesus in their annual Passion Play “only to discover that the most important role of his life is far from Hollywood.” Oh, boy.
Theater Count (est.): Unknown

I have very little to say about this religious comedy, because I don’t know much about it besides its general plot. I know very little about the movie other than it stars Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Agent Grant Ward aka Brett Dalton, and it also features former WWE (and F) superstar Shawn Michaels aka The Heartbreak Kid in his first acting role. Michaels actually appeared on the hit show WWE Raw to promote the movie a couple weeks back, probably giving it more attention than it would have otherwise.

It’s really hard to gauge the audience for these faith-based films or how they will play because I’m not the target audience and other than the WWE spots, I really won’t have seen any marketing for the movie. Chances are that being a comedy will allow this to play better than some of the more serious faith-based fare (even something like Martin Scorsese’s Silence which didn’t do particular well last week).

Distributed by High Top Releasing, who doesn't have a particularly great track record, this will probably open in less than 1,000 theaters and will be lucky to make $2 million or slightly more.


BOX OFFICE PREDICTIONS:

This week should be a close race between Vin Diesel’s xXx sequel and M. Night Shyamalan’s Split, which may SPLIT (ha ha) audiences by gender lines as guys will be more interested in the former than the latter and vice versa with the ladies, especially younger ones. Michael Keaton’s McDonald’s origin story The Founder (The Weinstein Co.) will probably be lucky to make much of a mark with so many other options in theaters, while The Resurrection of Gavin Stone will end up somewhere below it.  

(NOTE: We may not have updates this Thursday night as the Weekend Warrior will be busy at Sundance.)

Update 1.19.17: Okay, I said there wouldn't be an update today but after doing a little more work and seeing early ticket sales, it's pretty obvious that M. Night Shyamalan's Split will win the weekend. I clearly underestimated the draw of a film in the realm of The Visit and 10 Cloverfield LanexXx will be opening in more theaters, closer to 3,600 which should keep it from completely bombing but it still will be aiming for second place at this point.

1. Split (Universal) - $26 million N/A (up $5.6 million)

2. xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (Paramount) - $20.5 million N/A (down $2 million)

3. Hidden Figures (20th Century Fox) - $13.7 million -33%

4. La La Land (Lionsgate) – $10 million -30%

5. Sing (Universal) - $7.6 million -46%

6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Lucasfilm/Disney) - $7.3 million -47%

7. Patriots Day (CBS Films) - $6.7 million -42%

8. Monster Trucks (Paramount) - $6 million -45%

9. The Bye Bye Man (STX Entertainment)  - $4.7 million -65%

10. Sleepless (Open Road) - $4.1 million -52%

-- The Founder (The Weinstein Company) - $3.5 million N/A

-- The Resurrection of Gavin Stone (High Top Releasing) - $2.2 million N/A

LAST YEAR:

None of the three new movies had much of an impact as Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Revenant moved into first place with $16 million (down 49.6% from the holiday weekend), followed by Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Ride Along 2. The top new movie was the R-rated comedy Dirty Grandpa, starring Zac Efron and Robert De Niro, with $11.1 million in 2,912 theaters to take fourth place. It was followed in fifth place by the horror film The Boy (directed by original xXx director Rob Cohen) with $10.8 million and The 5th Wave with $10.3 million, all basically doing average, not great.


THIS WEEK’S PICKS: 

THE RED TURTLE (Sony Pictures Classics)

Writer/Director: Michael Dudok de Wit (feature film debut)
Genre: Animation
Rated PG
Plot:
When a storm destroys his ship, a man is left stranded on a tropical island where he soon encounters a red turtle that turns into a beautiful woman, and they spend the rest of their lives together there. (Trust me, it’s much better than it sounds.) 

This is a fantastic 2D dialogue-free animated film that premiered at Cannes last year and has run the festival circuit ever since. What’s mostly amazing about it is that it’s produced by Studio Ghibli, although it’s made by a Dutch filmmaker, showing that the Japanese animation house continues to branch out. It’s a beautiful and simple animated film that hopefully will get an Oscar nomination against the much bigger Disney and Universal animated movies.

The Red Turtle opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.


Two docs to look out for this week…

THEY CALL US MONSTERS (The Orchard)

Cast: Jarad, Juan, Antonio
Director: Benjamin Lear (debut)
Genre:  Documentary 

An amazing film that takes us behind the walls of the Compound, an L.A. prison for juvenile criminals, teenage kids who got into trouble and have been imprisoned, some for life. The film looks at three such offenders, each of whom have been imprisoned after life-changing events when they were 12, who are working together to make a movie about their experiences while facing trails and trying to get rehabilitation for their crimes.   It’s a fascinating doc that’s incredibly poignant as you realize that despite their crimes and being deemed “monsters” by those on the outside, they’re regular kids who often ham it up for Lear’s camera.

Produced by Jonathan (The Real World) Murray’s BMP Films, They Call Us Monsters opens in New York at the Village East Cinemas and then expands to Top 50 markets later

LEONARD COHEN: BIRD ON A WIRE

Cast: Leonard Cohen
Director: Tony Palmer
Genre: Documentary, Musical  

I’m including this film as a guilty pleasure even though it’s not a new film, just because I was such a huge fan of Leonard Cohen, one of the many musical greats who died last year.  Opening at the Film Forum In New York Wednesday, this 2010 film by Tony Palmer is assembled from rare 1972 tour footage and interviews when the late folk hero was just 36 years old.


OTHER LIMITED RELEASES:

British filmmaker Christopher Smith (Severance, Black Death) returns with Detour (Magnet Releasing), a crime-thriller starring Tye Sheridan (Cyclops in X-Men: Apocalypse) as law student Harper, who blames his stepfather for his mother being in a coma after a car crash, who gets involved with a grifter (Emory Cohen) and his stripper girlfriend Cherry (Bel Powley) in a night of debauchery and violence where Harper isn’t sure what he’s gotten involved with. After premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, it opens in select cities, On Demand and iTunes on Friday.

Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson (who recently played son and father in Assassin’s Creed) do so once again for Trespass Against Us (A24), the directorial debut from Chemical Brothers collaborator Adam Smith about three generations of the Cutler crime family where Chad (Fassbender) finds himself in conflict with his father Colby. Already playing on DirecTV, it will open in select theaters Friday.

Alain Guiraudie’s French character study Staying Vertical (Strand Releasing) stars Damien Bonnard as a filmmaker facing a creative block who goes to the French countryside to work on a script where he has an affair with a female sheepherder (India Hair) with whom he has a child. It opens at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and IFC Center in New York on Friday.

Sean Brosnan, son of Pierce (who is a producer on the film), makes his directorial debut with the Southern thriller My Father, Die (FilmRise), about a deaf-mute man (Joe Anderson) who has been training to get revenge on his father, who killed his older brother 21 years ago and is now getting out of jail after serving time. It opens in select cities and On Demand Friday.

Cosmo Fielding Mellen’s doc The Sunshine Makers (FilmRise) looks at Nicholas Sand and Tim Scully, the two men who were a big part of the 1960s American drug counter culture by manufacturing LSD including the famed “Orange Sunshine” while managing to avoid the law. The doc opens at the Village East Cinemas in New York on Friday and then in L.A., On Demand and other cities on Friday, January 27.

Speaking of drugs, two pot-smoking investigative journalists Zorn and “The Reg” (Jason Weissbrod, Jeff Lorch) get hired to cover a legit story in Clif Lord’s comedy Doobious Sources (Gravitas Ventures) who try to get justice through their “Instant Karma” new service, but are duped by a local reporter to take a fall for a report on City Hall corruption. Winner of the “Golden Leaf” at the Maine Cannabis Film Festival (nope, didn’t make that up), it opens at the Arena Cinelounge Hollywood on Friday.

Dutch filmmakers Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan explores the world of Madonna’s back-up dancers for her 1990 “Truth or Dare” tour (and the film of the same name) in the doc Strike a Pose (Bond 360), which explores the tour through the dancers, including one gay man still in the closet and one hiding being HIV positive. Opening Wednesday at New York's IFC Center and Friday at the Laemmle Fine Arts in L.A., it will be released on VOD, broadcast and home video between now and June.

Opening at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria Queens, having won a number of awards going back to last year’s Berlin Film Festival, is the third part of Mehrdad Oskouei’s “Iranian Trilogy,” Starless Dreams (Cinema Guild), a documentary about teen girls in Iran who are consigned to a Tehran Correctional and Rehabilitation Center.

That’s it for this week, but join us again next Wednesday right here on LRM Online for a look at new movies, which includes yet another sequel, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, the family canine drama A Dog’s Purpose, and Matthew McConaughey in the drama Gold. Oh, yeah, and the Sundance Film Festival! (So expect a shorter column than usual.)

(Text copyright Edward Douglas 2017. The Weekend Warrior logo designed by and copyright Tim Nardelli 2017.)

Box Office, Film, Featured, LRM Exclusives, The Weekend Warrior The Weekend Warrior, Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, XXX: Return of Xander Cage, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, M. Night Shyamalan, Split, James McAvoy, The Founder, Michael Keaton, The Red Turtle, Scoops