Rookies caught in awards race

New wide openers 'Aces,' 'Epic' best bets against Oscar hopefuls

Both 20th Century Fox's "Epic Movie" and Universal Pictures' "Smokin' Aces" could catch fire this weekend. Because "Epic" is in the vein of other spoof movies that have succeeded at the boxoffice and "Aces" is reminiscent of "Snatch" and other hard-boiled crime movies, either film could end up dominating the frame. However, with both bowing at the same time, they could cannibalize each other, with neither living up to its boxoffice potential.

Other new movies looking to generate dollars are Sony Pictures' "Catch and Release" and MGM's "Blood and Chocolate." With Jennifer Garner as its star, "Catch" will be looking to lure women, but it will be competing with the werewolf romance "Blood" because that genre actually also holds appeal for younger girls.

Meanwhile, a number of this year's Oscar-nominated movies will be reaching out for new life at the boxoffice. As a result, the fourth weekend of January is shaping up to be a crowded showdown.

Screenwriter-director Joe Carnahan is following up 2002's "Narc" with the big studio release "Aces," featuring a cast that includes Jeremy Piven, Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman and Ray Liotta. The R-rated film, bowing in 2,204 theaters, comes from Working Title Films and should get into the midteen-million range at least. But with young men the target audience, its potential would be greater if it weren't facing head-to-head competition in "Epic."

That said, it's not clear whether "Epic" will live up to the hype. Screenwriter-directors Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg scored with "Date Movie" last year — that spoof bowed in February to $21.8 million — but "Epic" marks yet another film in a genre that might be beginning to play itself out. The PG-13 film features Kal Penn, Jennifer Coolidge and Fred Willard. The Regency Enterprises release will open in 2,801 theaters. Industry insiders have "Epic" bowing in the midteen-millions range, though it might get a bump from its less restrictive rating.

Sony launches "Catch" in 1,622 theaters. Susannah Grant, who wrote the screenplay for "Erin Brockovich," makes her directorial debut with the film, based on her own script. It stars Garner as a woman coming to terms with her fiance's death; upon discovering secrets about him, she falls in love with the most unexpected of men. The cast includes Timothy Olyphant, Juliette Lewis and Kevin Smith. Produced by Jenno Topping's Fresh Paint, the film is expected to gross in the low double-digit range.

MGM bows Lakeshore Entertainment's "Blood" in 1,200 theaters. Starring Agnes Bruckner as a werewolf in love with a human, the PG-13 film comes from German indie director Katja von Garnier ("Iron Jawed Angels"). Olivier Martinez and Hugh Dancy co-star. Its gross should be in the single digits.

In limited release, IDP Distribution will bow Samuel Goldwyn Films' R-rated "Seraphim Falls." With a strong cast including Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson and Anjelica Huston, the film centers on a Confederate Army colonel (Neeson) who pursues a wanted man (Brosnan), ending in a face-off in the New Mexico desert. Written and directed by television veteran David Von Ancken in his feature directorial debut, the film bows in 52 theaters.

On the heels of Tuesday's Oscar nominations, Warner Bros. Pictures expands "The Departed" to 1,300 theaters, Paramount Vantage expands "Babel" to 1,090 runs, Picturehouse's "Pan's Labyrinth" will hit 825 theaters, and Sony Pictures Classics will widen "Volver" to 700 theaters.