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Movie projector: 'Surrogates' and 'Fame' arrive on what looks to be a slow weekend

September 24, 2009 |  5:52 pm

Surrogates

Looks like a lot of folks have decided this will be a good weekend to skip the movies and clean out the garage instead.

Overall audience intentions to go to the movies are very low, according to one person who has seen pre-release polling. That's bad news for two major releases opening this weekend -- Walt Disney Studios' "Surrogates" and MGM's remake of "Fame."

"Surrogates" is the biggest budget film of the year for Disney Studios' adult-oriented Touchstone label, which previously released romantic comedies "The Proposal" and "Confessions of a Shopaholic." The $80-million science-fiction movie, which stars Bruce Willis, is appealing primarily to men and probably will sell $20 million to $25 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada, according to several people who have seen pre-release polling. That's only a so-so start given its budget and means "Surrogates" will have to generate good buzz domestically and perform well overseas to end up even a mild success.

Initial reviews have been mixed. Times critic Robert Abele called it "strictly campy and adrenaline-driven."

Disney has put the film's sexy androids front and center in billboards and online marketing, largely avoiding images of star Bruce Willis. With the exception of the fourth "Die Hard" picture, no movie with Willis as the lead character has opened strongly since 2000's "Unbreakable."

Uncertain prospects for "Surrogates" come as Disney itself is in the midst of uncertainty following the departure of studio chief Dick Cook last week.

"Surrogates" will almost certainly be the No. 1 movie at the box office this weekend, unless it significantly underperforms. In that case "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs," which has collected an additional $4 million since its $30.3-million opening weekend, could take the crown.

MGM, meanwhile is doing something tomorrow that it hasn't done in nine months: opening a movie.

"Fame" is the first release for the struggling independent studio since last December's "Valkyrie."

However the remake of the 1980 picture, which is tracking best with women under 25, probably won't be more than a mild success. The best-case scenario for the $18-million production, whose budget was covered partially by foreign distribution deals set up by MGM's partner Lakeshore Entertainment, would be an opening similar to the similarly themed dance film "Step Up," which launched to $20.6 million in August 2006.

Based on pre-release polling, however, it's more likely to gross $12 million to $15 million, a solid but far from spectacular start. If young audiences, for whom the title of the 1980 film has little-to-no resonance, don't take to the subject matter or the ads featuring silhouetted dancers, it could easily come in below $10 million.

In addition to the general audience of teenage girls, "Fame" is also tracking well with African American and Latino audiences thanks to its diverse cast. MGM has been airing a Spanish-language ad in an effort to take advantage of interest among the latter group.

Science-fiction horror flick "Pandorum," the weekend's third wide release, is almost certain to gross under $10 million and possibly as little as $5 million. The movie was produced at a cost of $40 million by Constantin Film. However, Overture Films paid a little under $10 million to distribute it in the U.S. and Canada and has put on a very low-key marketing campaign.

Overture already opened Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story" at four theaters Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles, and the film is off to a strong start.

Paramount Pictures is debuting one of the season's most unusual releases, the ultra-low-budget horror picture "Paranormal," in 13 small- to mid-sized college towns like Austin, Texas; State College, Pa.; and Lincoln, Neb.

The movie will have only two showings in each city, late at night on Friday and Saturday. It is also showing late tonight in major cities, including Los Angeles, as part of the genre film festival Fantastic Fest.

Paramount is hoping to generate "Blair Witch Project"-like buzz with this weekend's screenings and then expand "Paranormal" to more cities in coming weeks.

--Ben Fritz

Photo: Bruce Willis, right, stars in "Surrogates." Credit: Stephen Vaughan / Touchstone Pictures.

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