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“A” is for action and for action-packed April

There should be plenty of action at the boxoffice in April with a string of potentially strong action films arriving throughout the month. That should translate into solid ticket sales and continue Hollywood's great boxoffice showing this year despite a deepening recession that’s cut into just about all other sectors of America’s economy.

The following synopses include details about April’s wide openings, but beware of spoilers if you don’t want to know too much in advance. As always, be sure to check out our Zamm Cam movie previews. You’ll know in one minute which movies are the ones you most want to see.

April should get off to a fast start at the boxoffice with Universal’s PG-13 rated action adventure “Fast & Furious” opening the weekend of Apr. 3-5. This is the fourth in the franchise that began in 2001 with “The Fast and the Furious” The original film, which starred Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, grossed $144.5 million domestically and another $62.8 million internationally. It was followed by “2 Fast 2 Furious” in 2003, which starred Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson, and grossed $127.2 million domestically and $109.2 million internationally. The franchise’s third episode, “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”, opened in 2006. It starred Lucas Black and did $62.5 million domestically and $96 million internationally.

Vin Diesel and Paul Walker are teamed once again in the latest episode and that should help revive interest in the series. Directed by Justin Lin, who directed the 2006 episode, “Furious” also stars Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, John Ortiz, Laz Alonso, Tego Calderon, Gal Gadot, Liza Lapira and Shea Whigham.

The Story: When a crime brings them back to L.A., fugitive ex-con Dom Toretto (Diesel) reignites his feud with agent Brian O’Conner (Walker). But as they are forced to confront a shared enemy, Dom and Brian must give in to an uncertain new trust if they hope to be able to outmaneuver him. And from convoy heists to precision tunnel crawls across international lines, two men will find the best way to get revenge is to push the limits of what’s possible behind the wheel.

An indication that Hollywood is expecting “Furious” to open big is that there’s only one other wide release opening against it the weekend of Apr. 3-5. That film is Miramax’s R rated comedy “Adventureland”, written and directed by Greg Mottola, director of the 2007 comedy “Superbad”, which Seth Rogen co-wrote and starred in. Starring in “Adventureland” are Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Martin Starr, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Margarita Levieva, Ryan Reynolds and Paige Howard.

The Story: When an uptight recent college graduate realizes he cannot afford his European dream vacation, he’s forced to take a minimum-wage job at a local amusement park. The experience helps him to loosen up a bit as he finds first love, forms new friendships and emerges with a newfound sense of maturity just in time to enter the real world in the fall.

Wed., Apr. 8 looms as a big boxoffice day thanks to the opening of 20th Century Fox’s PG rated action adventure “Dragonball Evolution”, directed by James Wong, director of the horror thrillers “Final Destination” (2001) and “Final Destination 3” (2006) and the sci-fi thriller “The One” (2001) starring Jet Li.

Starring in “Dragonball” are Justin Chatwin, Emmy Rossum, James Marsters, Jamie Chung, Eriko Tamura, Chow Yun-Fat, Joon Park, Texas Battle and Ernie Hudson. The film’s screenplay by James Wong and Ben Ramsey is based on Akira Toriyama’s classic Japanese manga and the animated TV show “Dragonball”.

The Story: Goku (Justin Chatwin) and a handful of friends battle for the Earth against the deadly forces of the Saiyans, who are sweeping across the universe and leaving a path of destruction. Goku and his friends’ best chance for survival rests with the Namekian Dragonballs, which provide them the power to summon a mighty dragon.

With its mid-week launch, “Dragonball” will get off to a strong start with no other openings to compete with. The film’s PG rating and its quick 100 minute running time are both in its favor in terms of being able to attract a young male audience and fit lots of showings into its schedule.

The weekend of Apr. 10-12 won’t bring in any new action product to compete with “Dragonball” which should help bolster the film’s first weekend in theaters. Both wide releases arriving this weekend are comedies. They won’t get in each other’s way since they’re targeted to two very different audiences.

Disney’s “Hannah Montana The Movie” is a G rated family comedy directed by Peter Chelsom, director of the 2004 romantic comedy “Shall We Dance”, which starred Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez and Susan Sarandon. “Hannah”, of course, stars Miley Cyrus, who starred in 64 episodes of the “Hannah Montana”, TV series from 2006-2009 and in Disney’s 2008 release “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour”, which opened to a sizzling $31.1 million and wound up grossing $65.3 million domestically.

Also starring in the new film are Melora Hardin, Billy Ray Cyrus, Emily Osment, Mitchel Musso and Jason Earles.

The Story: The Stewart family returns to Miley’s hometown of Crowley Corners, Tennessee at her father’s urging so that the fast-rising pop star can get a better sense of what matters most in life.

Miley’s only new wide release competition this weekend is Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures’ R rated dark comedy “Observe and Report”, written and directed by Jody Hill, director of the 2006 R rated comedy “The Foot Fist Way”. “Observe” stars Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Michael Pena, Ray Liotta, Patton Oswalt, Jesse Plemons and Celia Weston.

Working in “Observe’s” favor is Seth Rogen’s popularity, but working against it is the fact that it’s the second film to open this year that’s about the adventures of a mall security cop. The first one, Sony’s “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”, starring Kevin James, was a PG rated comedy that’s much lighter in tone than “Observe”. “Mall Cop” opened Jan. 23 to $21.6 million and has grossed over $140 million domestically. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether audiences will be eager to see another mall cop movie or whether they’ll feel they’ve had their fill of the subject.

The Story: At the Forest Ridge Mall, head of security Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) patrols his jurisdiction with an iron fist, combating skateboarders, shoplifters and the occasional unruly customer while dreaming of the day when he can swap his flashlight for a badge and a gun. His delusions of grandeur are put to the test when the mall is struck by a flasher.

Driven to protect and serve the mall and its patrons, Ronnie seizes the opportunity to showcase his underappreciated law enforcement talents on a grand scale, hoping his solution of this crime will earn a coveted spot at the police academy and the heart of his elusive dream girl Brandi (Anna Faris), the hot make-up counter clerk who won’t give him the time of day. But his single-minded pursuit of glory launches a turf war with the equally competitive Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta) of the Conway Police, and Ronnie is confronted with the challenge of not only catching the flasher, but getting him before the real cops do.

The weekend of Apr. 17-19 will see three wide openings, each targeted to different audiences, meaning that if they all perform well this could be a very strong weekend at the boxoffice.

Warner Bros. and New Line’s PG-13 rated comedy “17 Again” is directed by Burr Steers and is his second feature film. His first was the critically acclaimed 2002 comedy drama “Igby Goes Down”, starring Kieran Culkin, Claire Danes and Jeff Goldblum.

Starring in “17” are Zac Efron, Leslie Mann, Thomas Lennon, Michelle Trachtenberg, Matthew Perry, Jim Gaffigan, Melora Hardin, Sterling Knight and Hunter Parrish.

The Story: “17” asks the question, “What would you do if you got a second shot at life?” Mike O’Donnell (Zac Efron) is a Class of 1989 star on his high school basketball court with a college scout in the stands and a bright future in his grasp. But instead he decides to throw it all away to share his life with his girlfriend Scarlett (Allison Miller) and the baby he just learned they are expecting.

Almost 20 years later, Mike (Matthew Perry) sees that his glory days are decidedly behind him. His marriage to Scarlett (Leslie Mann) has fallen apart. He’s been passed over for a promotion at work. His teenage kids think he’s a loser. And he’s been reduced to crashing with his high school nerd-turned-techno-billionaire best friend Ned (Thomas Lennon). But Mike is given another chance when he is miraculously transformed back to the age of 17. Although Mike looks 17 again, his thirty-something outlook hasn’t changed and he&Rsquo;s totally un-cool in terms of the Class of 2009. In trying to recapture his best years, Mike could wind up losing the best things that ever happened to him.

Action fans will be happy to see the arrival this weekend of Lionsgate and Lakeshore Entertainment’s R rated action adventure “Crank High Voltage”, written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, who wrote and directed the 2006 R rated “Crank”, which starred Jason Statham and grossed $27.8 million domestically and $16.9 million internationally. While that’s not a huge amount by Hollywood standards, it was a good showing for a film that only cost about $12 million to produce.

Starring in the new episode are Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Clifton Collins, Jr., Efren Ramirez, Bai Ling, David Carradine and Dwight Yoakam.

The Story: Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) faces a Chinese mobster who has stolen his nearly indestructible heart and replaced it with a battery-powered ticker that requires regular jolts of electricity in order to keep working.

Rounding out the weekend is Universal’s opening of its PG-13 rated suspense thriller “State of Play”, directed by Kevin Macdonald, director of the critically acclaimed 2006 drama “The Last King of Scotland”, for which Forest Whitaker won the best actor Oscar and Golden Globe.

Starring in “State”, which is based on a BBC mini-series of the same name, are Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman, Robin Wright-Penn, Helen Mirren, Katy Mixon, Gregg Binkley, Jeff Daniels and David Harbour.

At one point, Brad Pitt was to have played the role that Russell Crowe later took on. Director Kevin Macdonald’s been quoted as saying about the change in casting, “In a way I was lucky it didn’t work out with Brad. The relationship between the journalist and the politician was meant to be between somebody who feels inferior, who’s a bit of a schlump, who kind of can’t get a girlfriend, and somebody he’s looking up to and admires — his polished politician friend. That is not the dynamic of a Brad Pitt. He’s not looking up to anyone thinking, ‘Oh, I wish I could have your girlfriend.’”

In any event, “State’s” boxoffice prospects will depend in large part on how audiences feel about Crowe. His last film, the 2008 thriller “Body of Lies”, directed by Ridley Scott, grossed a disappointing $39.4 million domestically (but did a decent $75.9 million internationally).

The Story: A blistering thriller about a rising congressman (Ben Affleck) and an investigative journalist (Russell Crowe) embroiled in an case of seemingly unrelated, brutal murders. The plot thickens with one of those murder victims being the congressman’s mistress. Crowe plays Washington, D.C. reporter Cal McCaffrey, whose street smarts lead him to untangle a mystery of murder and collusion among some of the nation’s most promising political and corporate figures.

Wed, Apr. 22 is Earth Day, making it the perfect opening day for Disney’s documentary “Earth”, directed by Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield and narrated by James Earl Jones. The G rated film is the first release from Disney’s new Disneynature label. “Earth” is a feature version of the award winning 2006 BBC television documentary series “Planet Earth”, Fothergill directed 11 episodes of the series and Linfield produced one of them.

The Story: “Earth” tells the remarkable story of three animal families and their amazing journeys across the planet we call home. The film combines rare action, unimaginable scale and impossible locations by capturing the most intimate moments of our planet’s wildest and most elusive creatures.

The weekend of Apr. 24-26 will see an action adventure and a suspense thriller fight it out at the boxoffice along with a much anticipated biographical drama that’s finally surfacing. On the action front there’s Universal and Rogue Pictures’ PG-13 rated “Fighting”, directed by Dito Montiel, director of the 2006 crime drama “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints”, which starred Dianne Wiest, Robert Downey Jr. and Shia LaBoeuf.

Starring in “Fighting” are Channing Tatum, Terrence Howard, Luis Guzman, Zulay Henao, Brian White, Anthony De Sando, Roger Guenveur Smith and Angelic Zambrana.

The Story: Small-town boy Shawn MacArthur (Channing Tatum) has come to New York City with nothing. Barely earning a living selling counterfeit goods on the streets, his luck changes when scam artist Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard) sees he has a natural talent for street fighting. When Harvey offer Shawn help at making real cash, the two form an uneasy partnership.

As Shawn’s manager, Harvey introduces him to the corrupt bare-knuckle circuit, where rich men bet on disposable pawns. Almost overnight, Shawn becomes a star brawler, taking down professional boxers, mixed martial arts champs and ultimate fighters in a series of staggeringly intense bouts. But if Shawn ever hopes to escape the dark world in which he&Rsquo;s found himself, he must now face the toughest fight of his life.

Suspense thriller fans, many of whom turn out to be younger females, will be checking out Sony/Screen Gems’ “Obsessed”, directed by Steve Shill. It’s a first time feature for Shill, who’s directed numerous TV episodes, including such series as “Dexter”, “The Tudors”, “ER”, and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”.

Starring are Idris Elba, Beyonce Knowles, Ali Larter, Bruce McGill, Jerry O’Connell, Christine Lahti and Scout Taylor-Compton.

The Story: Derek Charles (Idris Elba), a successful asset manager who’s just received a huge promotion, is blissfully happy in his career and in his marriage to the beautiful Beth (Beyonce Knowles). But when Lisa (Ali Larter), a temp worker, starts stalking Derek, everything he’s worked so hard for is suddenly placed in jeopardy.

The weekend’s third wide release is DreamWorks and Paramount’s PG-13 rated biographical drama “The Soloist”, directed by Joe Wright, director of the 2007 best picture Oscar nominee “Atonement”. Starring are Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr., Catherine Keener, Tom Hollander, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Rachael Harris, Nelsan Ellis and Stephen Root.

The film’s screenplay by Susannah Grant is based on the book by L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez, “The Soloist: A Lost Dream, An Unlikely Friendship, and The Redemptive Power of Music”. Lopez’s book was based on columns he wrote about his friendship with Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless, Juilliard-educated Los Angeles musician.

“Soloist” was to have been released last November, but was pushed back to April 2009. Prior to that it was being talked about as a likely contender for best picture and other prime Oscar races. It could become one of 2009’s first films to generate an awards buzz although its early in the year release could work against it since Academy members tend to be most excited about the December releases they’ve seen just before voting. On the other hand, that’s not always the case. “Crash”, for instance, opened in theaters May 6, 2005 and went on to win the best picture Oscar in 2006.

A counterargument is that films that open earlier in the year and are already out in DVD when the awards season gets underway have an advantage in that Academy voters can easily view their DVDs with all the bonus features about the making of the movie. Films that are still playing theatrically can only send out DVD screeners with the movie but no bonus features. Also, its much cheaper to send out DVDs that are mass produced for sale than to do produce special DVD screeners.

The Story: A journalist (Robert Downey Jr.) discovers a former classical music prodigy (Jamie Foxx) playing his violin on the streets of Los Angeles. As he endeavors to help the homeless man find his way back, a unique friendship is formed, one that transforms both their lives.