Featuring the classic but "underemployed action heroes" of the past few decades, The Expendables 2 (3,316 theatres) creates a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts. Each star gets a chance to show off, and "ten minutes of Chuck Norris mocking his old screen persona is a lot more fun than actually sitting through an entire Norris vehicle," opines critic Daniel Eagan. The first action outing opened to $34 million two years ago, and the sequel should meet or top that. The "mindless, state-of-the art nonsense" should please nostalgia-seeking fans of the Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme and their ilk.
Coraline studio LAIKA follows up that spooky picture with another creepy story using stop-motion animation, ParaNorman (3,429 theatres). Centering on a young boy whose ability to see ghosts makes him the only one able to save his town from a curse, the feature includes a topical anti-bullying message. But driving that message home means the movie is a "rollicking good time until its jarringly somber and earnest final act." Coraline opened to $18 million, so a similar figure would be a success for this 3D follow-up.
Whitney Houston makes her final film appearance in Sparkle (2,244 theatres), a remake of the 1976 musical about a trio of sisters trying to make it big as singers and performers. Jordin Sparks (a winner of "American Idol") stars as the most promising singer. Houston's dialogue can have a "bizarre, eerily predictive quality," notes critic Marsha McCreadie, who thought the film lacked soul. The movie is "like watching a 'highlights of' music special strung together by an afterthought-like storyline," she laments. An opening number in the mid-teens is expected for this Motown era feature.
The sentimental The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2,598 theatres) "mistakes cheesiness for charm," according to critic David Guzman. The story of an infertile couple whose dream child magically appears in their garden is "as goofy as it is soulless." Guzman predicts it will appeal to neither children nor their parents. Disney reports the movie is tracking best among women and families. It earned $2.3 million when it opened on Wednesday, so it should end up close to $20 million over the five-day period.
Twilight fans may get something a little different than they expect with Cosmopolis (2 theatres), which stars sometimes-vampire Robert Pattinson. The "serenely crazed view of the present," courtesy of director David Cronenberg, earns the accolades of critic Chris Barsanti. The Iranian filmmakers behind animated Persepolis turn to live action in Chicken with Plums (3 theatres), a "beautifully scored and well-acted" historically-based feature, according to critic Maria Garcia.
On Monday, we'll see if The Expendables 2 crashes through The Bourne Legacy's opening figure last weekend, and which movies broke away from the pack in this crowded, late-summer weekend.