Weekend Forecast: Old Exorcist Battles Hit Squad For Box-Office Supremacy

Happy Friday! What do you say we get this snow-covered, godforsaken week behind us, starting with a run through the weekend's new releases? And let's not forget the pool of recent Oscar nominees expanding for the masses, who may play a direct role in this year's race depending on their tastes over the next three days. To the scorecard!


· The Rite: The delicious, moody pulp cited in Stephanie Zacharek's review has this one on my short list for the weekend, though your mileage may vary: The PG-13 tale of an exorcist, his skeptical protégé and their Satan-banishing mischief will rope in a pretty wide swath of viewers who couldn't care less about (or have already seen) expanding Oscar hopefuls and/or could take or leave a new Jason Statham movie -- a lot of women and teens, in particular. That's good for an opening above $20 million, and maybe even some surprise legs next week as an unwatchable Super Bowl match-up approaches. Sleeper? Does the devil have horns? FORECAST: $21.8 million

· The Mechanic: Did someone mention football? As in, there is none this week, unless you count the NFL Pro Bowl, which you'd better not or we'll never talk again? Perfect timing, then, for this romp pairing Statham and Ben Foster and a high-end assassin and his own protégé, a young nihilist nursing a steadfast grudge against the man who killed his father. (You get one guess as to the killer.) I liked this one more than Stephanie did -- there's a tension in Foster's presence that Statham harmonizes well with, at least until director Simon West finally OD's on slick in the third act -- but the audience is nevertheless limited by the competition and the film's R-rating. It'll do fine, and fine is enough. FORECAST: $10.6 million


A front of expanding Academy Award nominees -- including 127 Hours, The King's Speech and, to lesser degrees, Blue Valentine, Winter's Bone, Rabbit Hole, and Javier Bardem's transcendent Biutiful -- has rolled over much of the country. Audiences in middle America in particular are expected to respond to this week's nomination news with their dollars, which both Fox Searchlight and the Weinstein Company hope will bolster their films' profiles with the box-office-watching segment of Academy voters. We'll see.


Another week of slim pickings out there in art-house land, with the biggest deal probably being the very limited (as in, one screen) opening of Gregg Araki's raucous, oversexed Kaboom, followed by the martial-arts sequel Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster on 20 screens. And that's your week. Back to bed...