As the Jedi Knights of "Star Wars" face off against Tobey Maguire's record-smashing "Spider-Man," moviegoers who don't know web shooters from lightsabers can breathe easy. Two new flicks are quietly easing into theaters with no assistance from superpowers or action-figure tie-ins.
British heartthrob and tabloid headliner Hugh Grant stars in "About a Boy," based on the novel of the same name by sometimes-music journalist Nick Hornby, whose credits include "High Fidelity," another book-turned-movie. (The title, incidentally, is said to be a play on the Nirvana song title "About a Girl.")
Grant plays a shallow, middle-aged womanizer who preys upon single moms, figuring they're desperate and easier to break up with. He's thrown for a loop when he becomes attached to the son of one such mother, played by Australian actress Toni Collette ("Velvet Goldmine"). "About a Boy" was directed by Paul Weitz and his brother Chris, who headed up "American Pie." The brothers Weitz last teamed up on the Chris Rock starrer "Down to Earth." British singer/songwriter Badly Drawn Boy, a.k.a. Damon Gough, composed the film's soundtrack, which was released last month.
"The Believer," which was originally scheduled for theatrical release last year and was bumped to observe September 11 sensitivity, loosely retells the true story of a white supremacist who killed himself the same day The New York Times revealed his Jewish ethnicity. Although this all occurred during the '60s, "The Believer" moves its story up to the present day, changing a few other details along the way.
Ryan Gosling, whose "Murder by Numbers" is still in theaters, plays the conflicted neo-Nazi in the lead role. Late actor River Phoenix's youngest sibling, Summer, is also in the movie, along with Billy Zane ("Titanic"). The film marks the directorial debut of Henry Bean, who, in addition to writing "The Believer," also scripted "Basic Instinct 2," which has been frozen by legal entanglements for some time.
Both "The Believer" and "About a Boy" will go head to head against "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones" and the $200 million-plus (and rising) "Spider-Man." The modest and understated release campaigns behind these films won't necessarily be a problem for either, as they're the types of movies that typically generate an audience over time and through word-of-mouth.