What I Learned Last Week: Having lamely omitted 'Flyboys' from my top five, I now know never to underestimate the power of a pretty face in a popcorn flick. From here on out, I shall deem this The Franco Factor. Heed it well. I know I will.Onward to this weekend's releases, starting with my personal favorite for the week. 'School for Scoundrels' stars Jon Heder('Napoleon Dynamite') as Roger, a deeply insecure meter maid who enrolls in a self-esteem course so that he'll have the nerve to ask out his neighbor, played by the lovely Jacinda Barrett. Roger rises so far above the other hapless losers in his class that soon he's going mano-a-mano with his villainous instructor, Dr. P (Billy Bob Thornton).
'Scoundrels' was directed by Todd Phillips, who also helmed 'Old School'; and Phillips obviously has the comedic touch when it comes to grown men who bond together in a group and act like lovable idiots. (After he finishes 'Old School 2,' I'm guessing he moves on to 'Traffic School.') And while the movie isn't quite as brilliant as 'Old School,' it's still got plenty to like, including another genius performance by Thornton as the evil dictator type you love to hate, top-notch ensemble acting by some of Upright Citizens Brigade's most talented alums, and a juicy cameo by a crazed Ben Stiller. Heder, too, shows that his geeky star turn in 'Napoleon' was no fluke. It's been a while since we've had a straightforward narrative comedy in theaters, so 'School' could certainly give 'Jackass Number Two' a run for its money.
Another thing I learned last week is that children's movies are golden. (Hello, 'Everyone's Hero.') Even if you haven't heard of a kid-friendly flick, desperate parents everywhere definitely have. Well, I won't make the same mistake this week, since Sony's 'Open Season' -- an animated buddy comedy featuring the vocal stylings of Martin Lawrence and Ashton Kutcher as a grizzly bear and a mule deer, respectively -- is the highest profile family film we've seen in months, and it's got the talent, the marketing muscle and (most importantly) the laughs to lead this weekend's box office.
If anyone can knock off Ashton in 'Open Season,' though, it's ... Ashton in 'The Guardian,' his Coast Guard action-adventure flick co-starring Kevin Costner. Two Ashton movies in one weekend? What did we do to deserve such bounty? And do you think he trash-talks himself to sleep at night? Seriously, while I haven't actually seen this one, my colleague MoviefoneKevin describes it as "generic and predictable," yet with "moments of inspiration." In other words, it's exactly what you think it is, and sometimes that's all we want in a movie. And of course, there's always the Franco Factor. See, I told you I would heed it well.
Will audiences revel in the Ashton-love this weekend? I suspect they will. Here are my picks -- play along, why don't you? (But post before Sunday at noon, or else I may think you're cheating.) And have a terrific weekend.
Get 'Open Season' video features, interviews, buddy icons and more
Read our 'Open Season' Family Film Guide review
Watch our Kutcher/Costner 'Guardian' Unscripted interview
Read Ashton Kutcher's AIM Interview
See a clip from 'School for Scoundrels'