Forget Roger Ebert. This weekend, the American moviegoing public gets to play the Emperor, deciding the fate of one of this year's biggest and most anticipated blockbusters with thumbs-up or thumbs-down.
"Gladiator," the first huge-scale Roman epic to come out of Hollywood in who-knows-how-long, conquers our cinemas beginning Friday. Unless virtually every prognosticator is dead wrong, it should easily land at No. 1.
Here's a rundown of the new arrivals at the weekend box office:
GLADIATOR (See the trailer) The skinny: Russell Crowe finally gets to star in a movie without Kevin Spacey or Al Pacino to hold his hand, playing a slave whose skills in the gladiator ring propel him to stardom. It's the triumph of the spirit over oppression; it's "Spartacus" with special effects. The upside: The ring, the crowd, the spectacle, the lions and tigers. It's Western Civilization 101 meets WWF wrestling. The downside: Will Crowe look manly in his armor and cod piece, like Kirk Douglas? Or will he be more of a Peter Ustinov type? "I Dreamed of Africa"
I DREAMED OF AFRICA (See the trailer) The skinny: Kim Basinger and Vincent Perez play a rich, white, newlywed couple who move to Kenya to raise a family; drama ensues. The upside: It's got Perez, who's been anointed the next Antonio Banderas by gushing critics. The downside: It's got Basinger, who hasn't been anointed anything by anyone lately.
The main competition facing these new entries is posed by the submarine flick "U-571", which was the nation's No. 1 flick for the past two weekends).