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MOVIE PROJECTOR

'Rambo' is stalking a box-office monster

The aging hero will fight 'Cloverfield.' A spoof looks strong too.

January 25, 2008|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

This weekend at the movies, there will be blood.

Lions Gate's "Rambo" -- with 61-year-old action hero Sylvester Stallone reprising one of his signature roles for the first time since the Reagan administration -- opens today with a shot to supplant Paramount Pictures' monster hit "Cloverfield" atop the box-office charts.

The fourth film in the action series already has set one franchise record: Its "body count" of 236 killings is the highest yet, said a professor of national security studies at Ohio State who watched an advance copy using the pause button a lot.

Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. has peppered TV shows such as "American Gladiators" and Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" lineup with commercials aimed at 17-to-24-year-old males. The R-rated movie has a built-in audience of over-35 guys eagerly awaiting the return of reluctant warrior John Rambo, last seen in 1988 helping Afghanistan's mujahadeen rebels fight the Soviet empire.

"Hopefully, what our advertising has done is introduce 'Rambo' to a whole new generation of younger males," said Steve Rothenberg, the studio's domestic distribution president.

Consumer tracking surveys point to a tussle for No. 1 among "Cloverfield," which is expected to drop 50% or more from its record-setting Martin Luther King Day weekend; "Rambo," which has the edge among older males; and 20th Century Fox's spoof "Meet the Spartans," whose interest among teens and young adults was snowballing late in the week. Each could take in $18 million to $20 million, Hollywood executives said.

Produced for about $50 million by Avi Lerner's Nu Image Inc. and its partners, "Rambo" could mark the latest successful return for a big-screen action star of a certain age.

Stallone was last seen resuscitating his other trademark franchise with 2006's "Rocky Balboa" (which he also wrote and directed). Fiftysomething Bruce Willis was a hit with the kids last summer in "Live Free or Die Hard." Senior citizen Harrison Ford, whose next "Indiana Jones" film comes in May, surely hopes the trend continues.

In "Rambo," the Vietnam veteran is chilling in northern Thailand, but trouble, as they say, has a way of finding him. When missionary workers go missing, Rambo gets caught up in the Karen-Burmese conflict at the Myanmar border.

"Rambo" is one of four major movies opening this weekend. The only comedy, "Meet the Spartans," could end up No. 1 if date crowds looking for lighter fare show up in force.

The PG-13 spoof of last year's blockbuster "300" and other swords-and-sandals epics was produced by New Regency Pictures for about $18 million.

It comes from the same creative team (a term snotty critics might not use) that made "Date Movie" and "Epic Movie" and helped write the first "Scary Movie."

"Date Movie" and "Epic Movie" were surprisingly successful for New Regency and Fox, with opening weekends of $19 million each. Some analysts say the parody genre appears played out at the box office, pointing to the flop by last fall's sports spoof "The Comebacks," but that might be wishful thinking.

Fox promoted "Meet the Spartans," whose cast includes Carmen Electra as Queen Margo, to young males with a viral campaign created by marketing agency Jetset Studios. Online visitors can send a steamy, personalized video starring Electra to their pals through a website optimistically called CarmenHasACrushOnYou.com.

"Cloverfield," producer J.J. Abrams' movie about a monster ravaging Manhattan, could stay No. 1 with a modest drop if neither "Rambo" nor "Spartans" catches fire.

The $25-million-budget picture set January and MLK weekend records, grossing $46 million in its first four days. Ticket sales for genre films tend to drop off steeply after they open, but solid reviews and positive word of mouth could help this one do more damage.

Two strong holdover performers, Fox's $30-million-budget romantic comedy "27 Dresses," starring Katherine Heigl, and Warner Bros.' $45-million-budget comedy-drama "The Bucket List," with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, are likely to round out the top five.

Tracking indicates that two other wide releases will open below $10 million.

"How She Move," about a daughter of Jamaican immigrants in Toronto who enters a step-dancing competition, was a crowd favorite at last year's Sundance Film Festival. Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Vantage and MTV Films snapped it up for about $3 million.

Industry executives say the PG-13 picture might open at about $4 million, especially because it is showing at a relatively modest 1,500 theaters. But urban dance dramas including "You Got Served," "Stomp the Yard" and "Step Up" have fared much better than expected in recent years, perhaps because their audience is underrepresented in survey samples.

Reviews have been strong, and the title is catchy while adding an air of authenticity, said Brent Scarcliff, a branding consultant in Redondo Beach whose clients include entertainment firms.

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