Martin Grove’s Hollywood Report 09-19-11

Jason Statham as Danny in “Killer Elite”

Jason Statham as Danny in “Killer Elite”

“Dolphin Tale” – In theaters September 23rd

“Dolphin Tale” – In theaters September 23rd

“Moneyball” – In theaters September 23rd

“Moneyball” – In theaters September 23rd

Weekend warriors: You’d think it’s still summer with four new films competing for moviegoers’ time and money this weekend.

With these weekend warriors arriving on the heels of last week’s four wide openings, there’s something in or coming to multiplexes everywhere to satisfy everyone.

What’s really brand new on screens this weekend is the logo for Open Road Films, the new indie distributor launched earlier this year by AMC Entertainment and Regal Entertainment, the country’s two largest theatre circuits.

Open Road gets into action this weekend with its first release, the R rated “Killer Elite” from first time feature director Gary McKendry, starring Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert DeNiro. “Killer,” which screened Sept. 12 at the Toronto International Film Festival, is tracking well with over-25 males and next best with under-25 males. Those are, indeed, two perfect demos for this action thriller in which Statham plays an ex-special ops agent forced to fight when DeNiro, his longtime mentor, is taken captive.

Kidnapping of another sort figures in Lionsgate’s PG-13 action thriller “Abduction,” directed by John Singleton (“2 Fast 2 Furious”) and starring Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins and Alfred Molina. Its biggest first choice demo is women under-25, with whom it’s tracking very strongly.

That appeal makes sense given “Abduction’s” story where Lautner finds a photo of himself as a youngster on a missing persons website. When he sets out to uncover the truth about his life, he winds up involved in the deadly world of espionage.

Women over-25, many of whom are moms with kids, are the tracking group most interested in seeing Warner Bros. and Alcon Entertainment’s PG rated “Dolphin Tale,” a 3D family drama about a young boy’s friendship with a dolphin who’s lost his tail in a crab trap. Directed by Charles Martin Smith (“Air Bud”), it stars Harry Connick, Jr., Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson and Morgan Freeman.

As for under-25 males, they’re most interested in seeing Columbia’s PG-13 biographical drama “Moneyball,” directed by Bennett Miller (“Capote”) and starring Brad Pitt, Robin Wright and Jonah Hill. Men over-25 are the film’s second biggest group in tracking studies. “Moneyball’s” based on the true story of how Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane built his baseball club on a shoestring, using computer generated analyses to draft players.

They’re all coming into a marketplace where Disney’s 3D reissue of its G rated animated classic “The Lion King” just kicked off to over $29 million and Warner Bros. and Participant Media’s PG-13 sci-fi thriller “Contagion” from director Steven Soderbergh held up great, falling only about 35 percent in its second weekend with a cume of about $44 million.

Meanwhile, “Moneyball” is one of several much talked about potential Oscar contenders that just world premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Its favorable reception there prompted speculation that it could emerge with TIFF’s biggest award, the Cadillac People’s Choice Award.

But surprise — Sunday’s announcement in Toronto was that the festival’s top prize went to the lower profile international entry “Where Do We Go Now?” from Lebanese director Nadine Labaki (“Caramel”). “Where’s” story revolves around a group of women banding together to save their Lebanese countryside village from surrendering to violence.

Other big buzz films that insiders thought had a shot at winning TIFF's top honors included: David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method,” starring Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightley; George Clooney’s “The Ides of March,” starring Clooney and Ryan Gosling; Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants,” starring Clooney and Shailene Woodley; and Rodrigo Garcia’s “Albert Knobbs,” starring Glenn Close (in the male title role), Mia Wasikowska and Aaron Johnson.

It’s a far cry from last year’s TIFF when the Cadillac People’s Choice Award made Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech” the Oscar race’s early frontrunner. “Speech” wound up winning Oscars for best picture, directing, original screenplay (David Seidler) and actor (Colin Firth).

With no clear-cut Oscar frontrunner emerging from Toronto — or, for that matter, from late August’s Venice Film Festival, where Aleksandr Sokoruv’s “Faust” took home the Golden Lion — the next stop on the festival circuit may be the one that makes a difference.

That’s the 49th annual New York Film Festival presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which kicks off Sept. 30 and runs through Oct. 16 with a main slate of 27 feature films. I’ll focus here next week on the strong list of potential Oscar contenders that will soon be competing in New York.

Bottom line: There’s lots to choose from right now at the fall boxoffice, including the first release from Open Road Films.