'Playing For Keeps' May Get A Chance In Shallow Box-Office Race

It won't take much to push new movie beyond declining sales of November films 'Breaking Dawn' and 'Skyfall.'

Gerard Butler must've made 300 movie deals after the success of "300," because he keeps headlining romantic comedies and action capers no matter how badly they do at the box office. "Gamer" opened with just $9 million, "Chasing Mavericks" with $2.2 million and this weekend's "Playing for Keeps" looks set to flounder, leaving the top spots open to familiar films.

"The Hobbit" doesn't arrive until December 14, so the box office will once again belong to November blockbusters "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2" and "Skyfall" as well as critically lauded success stories like "Lincoln" and "Argo." Of course it won't take much to get to #1 this weekend, making it possible that "Keeps" could pull it off with just $8 million.

To be fair to Butler, romantic action comedy "The Bounty Hunter" opened to $20 million in 2010 (despite a 13 percent critical average on Rotten Tomatoes) and the grittier "Law Abiding Citizen" bowed the next year with $21 million. But he has yet to come close to the critical or commercial success of "300," which launched his mainstream career back in 2007.

" 'Chasing Mavericks' was one of the biggest bombs of the fall season," Exhibitor Relations box-office analyst Jeff Bock pointed out to MTV News. "It certainly doesn't help matters that he isn't in the '300' prequel set for release this summer, either."

MTV Next Movie's Kevin Polowy agreed that the prospects for this film are slim. "It seems like Butler needs to can his agent yesterday, right? Turd after turd since '300,' not counting probably the best thing he's been part of, 'How to Train Your Dragon.' He's a great guy and a good actor, but he needs to start making smarter career choices ASAP."

Speaking of careers, Brad Pitt suffered one of his worst wide openings ever last weekend, but any long-term effect from the soft debut of "Killing Them Softly" seems unlikely. "Pitt is hideously damaged. He now must go back to being an A-list actor, Angelina Jolie, fawning female fans and a fat paycheck," cracked IMDB.com's Keith Simanton. "Poor bastard!"

Polowy was similarly philosophical: "Poor guy's gotta return to his mansion, where Angelina Jolie will be waiting in his bed."

Bill Murray rightfully has his die-hard fans, but "Hyde Park on the Hudson," opening in limited release, will likely come and go. "This one looked like Oscar bait, with Bill Murray playing FDR, but has most recently fizzled in that regard since its debut in Toronto," noted Polowy. "History buffs will like it, 'though of course, most history buffs will be watching 'Lincoln.'"

"The buzz on 'Hyde...' is that there isn't any," Bock agreed. "By all accounts this will be another unfortunate Bill Murray experiment. Can't we get 'Scrooged Again' or 'Ghostbusters 3'?"

Another limited release, Eric Bana's "Deadfall," has already been playing on video-on-demand outlets. The violent crime film co-stars Olivia Wilde and Charlie Hunnam from "Sons of Anarchy." Bock predicted it will do better on VOD than in theaters, much like the most recent "Universal Soldier" sequel, "Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning," which made $3,181 in three theaters.

Despite the lack of compelling new releases, Simanton found reason to be optimistic. "The best news about this weekend is that one of the best films of the year, 'End of Watch,' returns to theaters this weekend," he declared. "It is a fresh and inspiring take on L.A. cops and the gangs they confront. I guarantee you will not be disappointed in this film. I hope it earns something around $6 million to $7 million, but that's most likely the cheerleader in me, hoping for the best."