This is definitely the most promising mainstream-movie weekend of the month; next weekend we take a dip back to schlock territory with another DreamWorks cartoon, a John Cena action movie, and a horror movie with the word "Connecticut" in the title (chilling!). So enjoy it (and by "it," I mean "the possibility that one or two of the following movies will be good") while it lasts!
Duplicity: Julia Roberts has half-retired from doing her charming-movie-star thing over the past five years or so, and that's been fine with me because I've been impervious to said charms since sometime after Hook. Most actors, even middling ones, who show an interest in artsy and/or indie roles are sort of endearing to me, but Roberts getting cozy with the Clooney-Soderbergh axis has somehow only managed to annoy me more; she may be easier to bear when jammed into Ocean's 11, Full Frontal, or Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, but if she would just stick to Runaway Bride I wouldn't have to deal with her trying to shape characters or dialogue to fit her natural (and weirdly humorless) smugness. In fact, I wouldn't have to deal with her at all. Duplicity is another project within the Clooney orbit; writer-director Tony Gilroy's first film was the Clooney showcase Michael Clayton. Judging from Clayton and his Bourne scripts, Gilroy has a tendency to treat fairly straightforward stories as if they're complex, labyrinthine, and layered — but this could be an asset for a con-filled romp, in which Roberts and Clive Owen play ex-spies engaging in corporate espionage and also flirtation. Add in Gilroy's gift for dialogue — Clayton had plenty of snap without much Sorkinesque cutesiness or smarm — plus the pretty much always awesome Owen, and you've got another movie where its biggest commercial asset is also its toothiest, least appealing liability.
I Love You, Man: If the Apatow production company is a factory of sorts, non-Apatow comedies starring the exact same people have become a sort of cottage industry: Zak and Miri Make a Porno, Role Models, and now the Paul Rudd/Jason Segel reunion I Love You, Man. The story looks thin — Rudd's character has no close male friends to be the best man at his wedding, then he meets Segel — but those other ersatz-Apatow movies were actually pretty fun and I expect something similar here, even if cowriter-director John Hamburg's name is on a lot of the worst Ben Stiller comedies (Along Came Polly; Meet the Fockers) and only a little of the best (Zoolander!). I'm assuming this will be a hit because I'm also assuming everyone loves Paul Rudd as much as everyone I know. At least part of this assumption is almost certainly incorrect.
Knowing: Anecdotally, no release this weekend has a stronger don't-wanna-see factor than this thriller; hardly anyone I know will even consider it. When I first heard about Knowing a bunch of years ago, it was a Richard Kelly movie about the opening of a time capsule that contains children's drawings depicting national disasters of the past fifty years, plus some more to come. Spooky! For some reason probably having to do with National Treasure and/or the CBS TV starting lineup, the drawings idea has been replaced with a sequence of numbers that perform the exact same predictions in a far less eerie, far less interesting manner (and Richard Kelly, of course, is long gone). But even your above-average moviegoer probably doesn't know that backstory, and is mainly just reacting to the general preposterousness of the movie combined with the specific preposterousness of Nicolas Cage. But you know what? I adore Nicolas Cage, and not in a fair-weather, eighties-and-Oscars-only sort of way. He does a lot of bad movies, but he at least has the courtesy to often be the best thing about them. It never annoys me when he's improbably cast as a scientist or an assassin or a romantic lead, because Cage's actual real-life job of highly paid movie star is no less implausible. But the Knowing factor that gives me genuine hope, and not just the expectation that this will be Cage-enlivened schlock, is that Alex Proyas rewrote and directed it. Proyas hasn't done much good since the one-two punch of The Crow and Dark City, but Dark City in particular gets him a lifetime pass from me. All things considered, I'd rather see Proyas and Cage collaborate on an all-out science-fiction fantasia, but if they can pull off a creepy, visually arresting thriller, I'm down. This is also the widest release of the weekend, which is odd because it seems like a likely candidate for lowest gross of the mainstream three.
The Great Buck Howard: This is one of those Sundance movies that was in limbo for so long that I started to doubt its existence. Case in point: I still haven't seen a trailer. But a trusted source who shares my apartment actually saw it last week, and said it was OK. It stars John Malkovich as a mentalist, and Colin Hanks as his assistant. Colin Hanks (son of Tom) is a likable performer who doesn't seem to have found his niche; the problem maybe be that the movie world no longer values those Hanksian qualities he so effortlessly, genetically conveys.
Sin Nombre: Now here's a Sundance movie that only took a few months to make its way from the festival to (a few) North American screens. It's a Spanish-language thriller about immigration and gangs. When I saw the trailer, it seemed to lean toward that verite-style (which is to say nearly style-free) mode socially conscious thrillers tend to be shot in nowadays — but the L's Benjamin Sutton actually says that it has loads of style but not a lot of substance, so I guess it's got more traditionally big-studio problems than you might expect.