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Going Head to Head to Head

September 29, 1996|Patrick Goldstein

Here's a look at the three star-studded, wide-release films that will compete furiously for business on the crowded fall weekend beginning Oct. 11:

"The Chamber"

Universal Pictures

Budget Estimate: $40 million to $45 million.

Back Story: Armed with a one-page outline from John Grisham, producer John Davis sold the project in a two-minute phone call to Universal, which bought the story for $3.75 million and brought in producers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, with the hope that Howard would also direct the film.

Good News: A brand-name product. Grisham films have an unblemished track record as box-office winners, with three $100-million-plus hits and one $85-million success in four outings. Top line stars appeal to both young and old moviegoers.

Bad News: Film is more of a character piece than a crowd-pleasing drama, though its trailer highlights its uncanny resemblance to (surprise!) every other Grisham film. The film went through multiple rewrites--and lost Howard as director--before shooting began last year.

Prediction: Movie with broadest audience appeal, making it safest bet to open No. 1.


"The Long Kiss Goodnight"

New Line Cinema

Budget Estimate: $65 million to $70 million.

Back Story: New Line bought the Shane Black script in 1994 for a then-record $4 million, beating out two unlikely rivals--producers James L. Brooks and Joel Silver.

Good News: Black and director Renny Harlin have action-movie credibility, and the trailer sells the film's wham-bam pyrotechnics. Except for "Glimmer Man" from fading action hero Steven Seagal, it has the hard-core action crowd to itself.

Bad News: Star Geena Davis has no fan base as an action heroine. Will be a tough sell to anyone who saw "Cutthroat Island," the Harlin-Davis team's woeful last outing. New Line was tardy getting a trailer into the theaters, prompting buzz that the studio wasn't sure how to position the film.

Prediction: Hard-core action fans will turn out, but needs big dose of positive buzz to win over broader audience. At best, a distant second.


"The Ghost and the Darkness"

Paramount Pictures

Budget Estimate: $55 million to $60 million.

Back Story: Real-life events about killer lions inspired two rival scripts--one by John Milius that was slated for director Brian De Palma, the other by William Goldman (who also adapted "The Chamber"), which sat on the shelf for nearly six years before Paramount made the film. Star Val Kilmer persuaded director Stephen Hopkins he could handle his character's British accent by doing dead-on Marlon Brando impressions.

Good News: Mega star power. Michael Douglas has formidable adult-audience appeal (despite a lackluster outing in "The American President") while Kilmer is solid youth draw, especially after helping open the critically drubbed "The Island of Dr. Moreau."

Bad News: Period setting may be a stumbling block. Teaser trailer in the theaters over Christmas bombed--no one had a clue what it was about. New trailer positions film as an action thriller, meaning it will go mano-a-mano against "Long Kiss" for young male audience.

Prediction: Has the stars, but are they in the roles fans want to see them in? Probably opens a close third.

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