Projection Booth: ‘Night At The Museum’ Poised For Another #1 Weekend

'Code Name: The Cleaner,' 'Freedom Writers' can't compete with Ben Stiller comedy.

In case you couldn’t tell from the five pounds you put on over the past couple of weeks and those relentlessly upbeat people who still insist on wishing you a happy new year, it is indeed January. And that means it’s an exceptionally odd time for movie fans.

Traditionally the dumping ground for the big studios, January brings the debuts of, shall we say, lesser-quality films. If your flick was really going to haul in the big dough or get some awards consideration, well, it would be in theaters by now. And so we’re left with the releases of movies like “Code Name: The Cleaner.” We won’t be too harsh. Maybe a movie about an amnesiac janitor who suddenly thinks he’s a secret agent could be amazing. Maybe Cedric the Entertainer will live up to his name and have us laughing ourselves silly. Maybe.

Another film getting a wide release that we know for a fact won’t have you laughing (don’t worry, it’s not supposed to) is “Freedom Writers.” The drama starring Hilary Swank and R&B singer Mario tells the true story of a teacher who inspired her students to write about their tussles with drugs and violence in Long Beach, California, in the 1990s. Whether audiences will want to shell out their bucks for a film that sounds awfully formulaic (but in reality is actually a cut above) remains to be seen.

Since a slew of Oscar wannabe movies opened in just New York and Los Angeles over Christmas for awards eligibility, we’ll see a bunch of those start to get wide release in the early days of ’07. That’s the case this week for the critically acclaimed sci-fi thriller “Children of Men.” Starring Clive Owen in a futuristic tale of a world where women can’t have babies, this one ended up on a bunch of “Best of ’06″ lists, but its haunting tone makes it seem a little iffy for box-office success.

Seeking a third straight week at #1 is the crowd-pleasing, special-effects-heavy comedy “Night at the Museum.” The new animated fairy tale “Happily N’Ever After,” featuring the voices of Sarah Michelle Gellar and Sigourney Weaver, will look to siphon off some of that family-friendly cash, but its prospects look bleak. The Ben Stiller comedy has grossed a formidable $115 million after only two weeks in release. It looks to be hard to beat even in its third go-round.

The Predictions: We’re not ones for making New Year’s resolutions, but if we were, it would be simple — predict the future weekend box office with 100 percent accuracy in 2007. Clearly our priorities are out of whack but luckily actress Dominique Swain shares our ceaseless thirst for prognostication glory. We welcome the “Lolita” star into the Projection Booth this week.

What’s the #1 flick? How much is it raking in?

» Larry Carroll, MTV News writer: “Night at the Museum” ($32 million)

“Even the dimwitted Derek Zoolander would know better than to wager against a movie that opened at #1 and then actually made more money in its second weekend. So assume that my face is twisted into the Blue Steel position as I hereby decree that Ben Stiller’s ‘Night at the Museum’ will be the first winner of 2007. As far as how many millions it’ll make, let’s say 32 — roughly the same number of movies Owen Wilson’s better half has released over the last three years.”

» Josh Horowitz, MTV Movies editor: “Night at the Museum” ($28 million)

“Did somebody green-light ‘Another Night at the Museum’ yet? They will. This one’s a blockbuster, and ain’t nobody stopping Stiller and company just yet.”

» Dominique Swain, “Alpha Dog” actress: “Night at the Museum” ($36 million)

“I think ‘Night at the Museum’ is going to win. I saw the previews for that and … yeah, definitely. I like Robin Williams.”

Check out everything we’ve got on “Code Name: The Cleaner,” “Freedom Writers,” “Children of Men” and “Happily N’Ever After.”

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