Attractions: We Know the Feeling, Mel

Welcome back to Movieline Attractions, your regular guide to everything new, noteworthy and/or acutely nauseating at the movies. This week, an old pal of the box office returns, another rom-com is dumped on the public, and a horror-film festival very likely comes to a theater near you. Let's sort it out after the jump.

WHAT'S NEW: Hey, look who's back! It's Mel Gibson, getting his vengeful-father act on in Edge of Darkness. Gibson hasn't had a leading role since 2002's Signs, and Malibu tirades aside, culture was sorely missing him. Thankfully Darkness -- a feature-length adaptation of the classic British miniseries from 1985, updated with Gibson as a Boston ex-cop out for the men who murdered his daughter -- is roundly perceived as more than just a violent eye-for-an-eye potboiler. Gibson might really be back, according to critics; it remains to be seen what audiences have to say about it before anyone can say for sure. But Warner Bros.' aggressive outreach and its star's long-term absence (not to mention the lack of any football this weekend and the steepest slide yet anticipated for Avatar) may help push $23.5 million worth of eager moviegoers into theaters for a gritty crime thriller set anywhere but Pandora.

That doesn't mean Darkness will trump Avatar, though it may come the closest of any film to date percentage-wise. You know what won't be close? When in Rome, the Kristen Bell/Josh Duhamel romantic comedy bringing up the rear in a bad, bad month for romantic comedies. This one isn't drawing quite the critical support, but so what? It has its constituency, all $9 million of it, and it should manage just fine on the way to DVD eternity.

Also opening: The Steve Buscemi road movie/loose Inferno adaptation/quirk-overdose comedy St. John of Las Vegas; the Christian-courting drama Preacher's Kid; the animated Oscar candidate A Town Called Panic (L.A. only); and in NYC only, the Nazi mountain-climber drama North Face and the trans-ethnic adoption exploration Off and Running.

THE BIG LOSER: Besides the 50-60 percent drop-offs for Legion and The Book of Eli, this looks like a decent week overall -- particularly for January.

THE UNDERDOG:

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After Dark Films is known for suspect taste on the distribution side (remember Captivity?), but everyone's bound to find something they'll like at the distributor's fourth annual After Dark Horrorfest. The eight-film package arrives this weekend in more than three dozen markets; they won't make a fortune, but if it's between Zombies of Mass Destruction (pictured at right) or When in Love, face it: You know where you stand. And festivals are fun! Just ask your Movieline editors out at Sundance, who... (THUMP... zzzzzzz)

FOR SHUT-INS: A crap-ton of new DVD releases this week include the brutally underrated Whip It, the Oscar also-ran Bright Star, the better-than-average concert-hagiography Michael Jackson: This Is It, the Bruce Willis sci-fi actioner Surrogates, the torture-porn routine Saw VI; and Southland: The Complete First Season.



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