Can Matthew McConaughey lead an all-star, he-man cast of sub-mariners to victory over the Nazis? For that matter, can he lead them to victory over reigning box-office champs Samuel L Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones?
"U-571," which stars McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel and Jon Bon Jovi, leads the pack of new films entering theaters nationwide this weekend. Based on reviews and good-ol’-fashioned buzz, the undersea action flick appears to stand the best chance of bumping "Rules of Engagement" from the top spot.
Two other major films will get wide releases this weekend: "Love and Basketball," with a stellar cast; and "Gossip" starring Joshua Jackson of "Dawson’s Creek" fame and a cast of post-adolescents. Meanwhile, the directorial debut of Sofia Coppola (daughter of Francis, natch), "The Virgin Suicides" with Kirsten Dunst and James Woods, will open in limited release.
Here’s a rundown of this weekend’s new releases:
"U-571" See the trailer THE LOWDOWN: A group of WWII naval officers, using their zippy submarine, try to steal a stop-secret coding device from a Nazi U-boat and save the world from fascism. THE UPSIDE: Harvey Keitel could take on the Nazis single-handedly. THE DOWNSIDE: Standing next to Keitel, Matthew "skinny guy from ‘Contact’" McConaughey and Jon "Livin’ On a Prayer" Bon Jovi are decidedly lacking in the cojones department.
"LOVE AND BASKETBALL" See the trailer THE LOWDOWN: Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan star as lifelong, platonic hoop-shooting friends of the opposite sex, who eventually give in to mutual attraction. THE UPSIDE: Also features Harry Lennix, who was amazing as the Moor in "Titus." THE DOWNSIDE: If your girlfriend can beat you at a game of one-on-one, you ought to try baseball instead.
"GOSSIP" THE LOWDOWN: James Marsden, Kate Hudson and Lena Heady star in a story about a rumor that’s planted as part of a college class project but soon escalates out of control. THE UPSIDE: The film’s marketing campaign heavily exploits the fact that is in the cast. THE DOWNSIDE: Jackson is a supporting player, which means most of the movie is about Marsden, Hudson and Heady.
"THE VIRGIN SUICIDES" See the trailer THE LOWDOWN: Based on a 1991 novel about a real-life 1970s incident, it’s the story of a suburban family thrown into a state of depression and isolation after one of their five daughters attempts suicide. THE UPSIDE: An extremely cool cast, including Kathleen Turner as the family mom. And as "The Ice Storm" showed a few years ago, disaffected 1970s suburban families make for fine movie subject matter. THE DOWNSIDE: This one debuted at Sundance earlier this year, and the word-of-mouth in Park City was not kind. MAINSTAYS: Look for "Erin Brockovich," "The Road to El Dorado," "Keeping the Faith," "The Skulls" and perhaps even "Return to Me" to remain in the Top 10.
EXITS: Several films are likely to be bumped out of the Top 10 this weekend, including "Final Destination" and "Ready to Rumble."
Unfortunately, we have no interesting Leonardo DiCaprio tidbits to share with you today. Fortunately, we do have a rather lively item about Kate Winslet, who co-starred with Leo in "Titanic," meaning we're within our rights to drop Leo's name many, many times in this story!
Good for us!
Kate Winslet Anyway, about Kate Winslet -- she's pregnant, today's Hollywood Reporter says. The 24-year-old two-time Oscar nominee has been wed to filmmaker James Threapleton since November 1998. This is to be their first child.
No word on Leo's reaction. Also no word if Leo heard the news, if Leo cares or if Leo plans to dine in or out tonight.
As for Winslet, the actress isn't pulling off the career track for the mommy track. The Reporter says she's currently in final talks to star in the historical drama "Enigma" for director Michael Apted ("The World Is Not Enough"). Shooting is scheduled to begin in the spring -- meaning the production would wrap before Winslet's next planned production, her baby. Producers on the project include Mick Jagger, of the formerly rockin' Rolling Stones and Lorne Michaels of the formerly funny "Saturday Night Live."
Leo is not involved in "Enigma."
The British-born Winslet, who became a name brand on these shores after co-starring with Leo(!) in 1997's "Titanic," currently can be seen on screen in "Holy Smoke!," with Harvey Keitel. In "Titanic," Winslet and Leo played young lovers Rose and Jack. She got an Academy Award nomination out of the whole deal; he didn't.
Winslet hubby Threapleton has worked as an assistant director on films such as "The Mummy."
Leo was not in "The Mummy."
DreamWorks' "Gladiator" should emerge victorious in this weekend's box office arena.
"There's 'Gladiator' and there's everything else," says one studio executive. "I think it's a $30 million opening."
The R-rated action adventure will open in 2,938 theaters with about 5,000 prints, which means it will play on more than 5,000-plus screens. Its first-choice tracking score in terms of all opening and released films in the marketplace is an enviable 31% overall. For men, it's a muscular 48%.
"There's no doubt about it that this picture could crack $30 million, if not more," an insider notes. "Last year at this time, there was 'The Mummy,' and it was an $80 million weekend (total for films making over $500,000). But there also was 'The Matrix,' which was doing $12.5 million. You don't have that (strength in second place) this weekend."
"It's the 'Deep Impact' and 'Twister' syndrome," an executive explains. "You've got that first weekend in May. There's nothing else to compete for that audience. Every theatre that's playing it can have it on multiple screens. It's the big blockbuster movie out there. People are ready for the blockbuster season to start, and there's only one movie that fits the bill. I think it will just suck up the business."
Although DreamWorks is distributing "Gladiator" domestically, Universal is releasing it internationally, and the two studios are 50-50 partners, sharing equally in its success.
Directed by Ridley Scott, it stars Russell Crowe.
Universal's "U-571" should descend one fathom deeper to second place. The PG-13 rated World War II submarine drama should drop about 40% and surface with $7 million or more after its third weekend.
Directed by Jonathan Mostow, "U-571" stars Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel and Jon Bon Jovi.
The race for third, fourth and fifth place will be close, with Universal's family appeal comedy "The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas," New Line's time travel thriller "Frequency," and 20th Century Fox's drama "Where the Heart Is" all bunched together.
"Those movies are all likely to be in the $7 million range - take your pick," a distribution source speculates.
If "Flintstones" drops 35%, it will do about $6.8 million. "It's the only family film in the marketplace," another source reminds. "They hold better and 'Gladiator' doesn't hurt 'Flintstones.'"
"Flintstones," the PG rated prequel to the 1996 original that grossed over $350 million worldwide, is directed by Brian Levant and stars Mark Addy and Stephen Baldwin.
New Line's PG-13 rated "Frequency" should have good word of mouth based on last weekend's exit polls.
Directed by Gregory Hoblit, it stars Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel.
20th Century Fox's PG-13 rated drama "Where the Heart Is," whose core audience is women, was made for $15 million and picked up by Fox for domestic and English-speaking territories for just $9 million.
Directed and produced by Matt Williams, it stars Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing and Joan Cusack.
Insiders disagree about whether Columbia's PG-13 drama "I Dreamed Of Africa," opening at 2,112 theaters, will awaken in the Top Five. Going into the weekend, its 6% first-choice overall tracking was modest enough to raise doubts. Some think it will just make it, while others insist it will be close, but no cigar.
"It's a 10% first choice for women and absolutely nothing for men," an executive points out. "It's got a 17% definite interest for men. It's nowhere for men or for ethnics. It's definitely old. The tracking (in terms of age) is definitely over-45, and they don't go out opening weekend. It's got major problems."
"It could hit the top five, but the jury is still out," an observer speculates.
Directed by Hugh Hudson, it stars Kim Basinger.
Filling out lower rungs: "Rules of Engagement," "Love & Basketball," "Keeping the Faith" and "28 Days."
On the limited release front: USA Films opens its PG-13 rated drama "Up At The Villa."
Directed by Philip Haas, it stars Kristin Scott Thomas, Sean Penn, James Fox, Derek Jacobi and Anne Bancroft.