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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