Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to January

january

Over the past few years, January hasn’t been quite as disastrous for new films as its reputation would suggest, but it’s hard to find much to be positive about this time around. Unless you like low budget horror movies (of which there are several to choose from, including the latest “Paranormal Activity”), the January release slate has very little to offer, save for a delayed Christmas blockbuster and failed Oscar bait from the usually reliable Jason Reitman.

“THE LEGEND OF HERCULES”

Who: Kellan Lutz, Scott Adkins, Gaia Weiss and Liam McIntyre
What: Betrayed by his stepfather, the King, and sold into slavery because of a forbidden love, Hercules must use his formidable powers to fight his way back to his kingdom.
When: January 10th
Why: The first of two Hercules films being released this year (and most likely the worst of the pair), Renny Harlin’s origin story of the Greek hero looks every bit the cheesy B-movie that you’d expect from the director of “The Covenant” and “Mindhunters.” Kellan Lutz has already proven himself to be a really terrible actor with the “Twilight” films, and not much seems to have changed in that department, but whoever started the rumor linking the actor with America’s favorite media obsession (Miley Cyrus) only weeks before the movie’s release was a brilliant marketing ploy. Unfortunately, no amount of publicity changes the fact that “The Legend of Hercules” promises to be even worse than the recent “Conan the Barbarian” reboot (another January dud), and that’s certainly saying something.

“JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT”

Who: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Costner
What: Jack Ryan, as a young covert CIA analyst, uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack.
When: January 17th
Why: It’s another reboot of a popular movie character, although one that, unlike James Bond and Batman, wasn’t exactly in high demand. Originally scheduled for Christmas before Paramount pushed it back to make room for “The Wolf of Wall Street,” the studio is apparently so unconvinced that moviegoers even know who Jack Ryan is that they had to include his name in the title. While my lack of excitement may be obvious, “Shadow Recruit” does have a few things going for it, including Kenneth Branagh in the director’s chair (as well as playing the Russian baddie), and Keira Knightley and Kevin Costner in supporting roles. I wish the same could be said about Chris Pine, but after already reviving one pop culture icon with Captain Kirk, his casting as Ryan is uninspired to say the least.

“RIDE ALONG”

Who: Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Tika Sumpter and John Leguizamo
What: Fast-talking security guard Ben joins his cop brother-in-law James on a 24-hour patrol of Atlanta in order to prove himself worthy of marrying James’ sister.
When: January 17th
Why: There always seems to be at least one urban comedy released during the doldrums of January, and this year’s lucky winner is the latest movie from Tim Story, which reteams the director with Ice Cube (“Barbershop”) and Kevin Hart (“Think Like a Man”) for what Universal Pictures is no doubt hoping will be the studio’s first hit of 2014. (They have to start recouping that “47 Ronin” budget somewhere). These movies are usually made for pretty cheap and have strong opening weekends, but while “Ride Along” should find success with its target audience, that doesn’t mean it will be any good. The pairing of Ice Cube and rising star Hart is definitely encouraging, but between its paint-by-numbers plot and the surprising lack of laughs in the trailer, you might want to wait for this on Blu-ray.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to January

It’s hard to decide what the worst part about January is – the cold weather or the crappy movies – but at least with the winter chill, you can always add extra layers to help stay warm. There’s not a lot you can do to make a bad film more tolerable, and unfortunately, the turn of the year is typically brimming with cinematic duds. Though there are a few potential surprises in the cards this January from some heavy hitters, it’s best to keep your expectations low, because even the biggest stars are due a stinker every once in a while, and if there was ever a good time to release it, this would be the month to do it.

“GANGSTER SQUAD”

Who: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone and Nick Nolte
What: A crew of LAPD enforcers team up to take down vicious mobster Mickey Cohen.
When: January 11th
Why: After getting bumped from its September release date to accommodate reshoots following the Aurora, Colorado tragedy (particularly a scene involving machine guns in a movie theater), it’s a little sad to see Ruben Fleischer’s police drama land in the dregs of January, because it deserves better than that. Loosely based on the LAPD’s war against organized crime during the late 40s and early 50s, the film’s cast is packed with enough talent – from its major stars to supporting players like Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena and Robert Patrick – to rival any of the “Ocean’s Eleven” movies. Though I was disappointed by Fleischer’s last effort, the crime comedy “30 Minutes or Less,” it’ll be interesting to see how the “Zombieland” director handles more serious material, and whether his unique visual style clashes with the particular look of that era.

“A HAUNTED HOUSE”

Who: Marlon Wayans, Essence Atkins, Nick Swardson and David Koechner
What: When Malcolm and Keisha learn that a demon resides in their dream home, Malcolm turns to a priest, a psychic, and a team of ghostbusters for help.
When: January 11th
Why: Unless you’re a fan of the “Scary Movie” franchise, which Marlon Wayans helped launch over a decade ago, it’s hard to imagine you’ll have any sort of interest in his new horror comedy, which parodies found footage films like “Paranormal Activity” and “The Devil Inside.” But if those awful spoof movies by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer taught us anything, it’s that there’s definitely a market for this brand of lowbrow idiocy, although you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone to actually admit it. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but even for a spoof movie, “A Haunted House” looks embarrassingly bad for everyone involved, including those dumb enough to waste their time and money.

“THE LAST STAND”

Who: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Johnny Knoxville, Forest Whitaker and Luis Guzman
What: The leader of a drug cartel busts out of a courthouse and speeds to the Mexican border, where the only thing in his path is a sheriff and his inexperienced staff.
When: January 18th
Why: Between the English-language debuts of Kim Ji-woon and Park Chan-wook, and Spike Lee’s upcoming remake of the cult classic “Oldboy,” the Korean invasion is in full swing, and deservedly so, because they’re making some of the best movies at the moment. Kim Ji-woon’s revenge thriller “I Saw the Devil” was one of my favorite films of 2011, so it’s not surprising that his fans have been drooling over the prospect of his Hollywood debut, and the fact that it also happens to be Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first starring role in a decade will probably bring it even more attention. That could end up hurting the movie more than it helps it if expectations are set too high, but the script didn’t earn a place on the Black List for nothing, and if it’s anything like Kim’s oddball Western “The Good, the Bad, the Weird,” then U.S. audiences could be in for a fun treat.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to January

I’ve joked in the past about January being a dumping ground for all the misfit movies that the studios deemed unworthy of a more attractive release date, but the truth of the matter is that there are 12 months in a year, and you can’t expect every month to be overflowing with quality programming. With that said, however, this year’s pickings don’t look as bad as usual, with a surprising amount of action films led by big-name stars, some of which have real sleeper hit potential. The general lack of confidence by the studios suggests otherwise, but when expectations are this low, anything is possible.

“CONTRABAND”

Who: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi, Lukas Haas and Ben Foster
What: To protect his brother-in-law from a drug lord, a former smuggler heads to Panama to score millions of dollars in counterfeit bills.
When: January 13th
Why: It’s pretty funny that a movie about counterfeiting should turn out to be an imitation itself (the Icelandic film on which its based featured the U.S. version’s director, Baltasar Kormákur, in the lead role), but despite the fact that its clichéd plot seems to have been ripped off from a number of generic action thrillers just like it, “Contraband” has one thing that a lot of those films didn’t – a killer ensemble cast. Mark Wahlberg has had his share of duds over the years, but he’s always entertaining to watch, and guys like Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster and J.K. Simmons are some of the best character actors in the game. It’s probably not something you should rush out to see on opening weekend, but “Contraband” at least looks like it’ll be a fun way to kick off the 2012 movie season.

“UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING”

Who: Kate Beckinsale, Michael Ealy, Stephen Rea and Kris Holden-Ried
What: When human forces discover the existence of the Vampire and Lycan clans, Selene leads the battle to protect both of their species.
When: January 20th
Why: For as entertaining as the first “Underworld” movie was, I’ve never understood how the series has managed to stick around for as long as it has. The second film was really bad and the third one was even worse, but for some reason, Screen Gems is intent on milking the vampire/werewolf franchise for as long as they can. And until people stop blindly handing the studio their money, they’ll keep making them. The only reason anyone should even consider seeing this fourth installment is for the leather-clad return of Kate Beckinsale as vampire heroine Selene, because the rest of the film reeks of desperation. Why else would they be releasing it in (undoubtedly subpar) 3D?

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