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Hollywood Movie Roundup: ‘Killers,’ ‘Splice,’ ‘Marmaduke’

By Kevin Crust

HollywoodNews.com: A soft May could turn into June gloom at the box-office if the pre-“Toy Story” (June 18) releases all fail to break out. Four new movies debut this week, but will all likely fall behind the ogre who looking to three-peat at number one.

GET HIM TO THE GREEK

A spinoff of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” from producer Judd Apatow and director Nicholas Stoller, the raunchy comedy features Russell Brand‘s naughty rock star character Aldous Snow being shepherded to L.A.’s famous open-air ampitheare by record company flunky Jonah Hill for a concert. Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs, Rose Byrne of “Damages” and “Mad Men’s” Elisabeth Moss co-star along with the usual array of Apatow stock company cameos. Stoller scripted.

Despite the high raunch factor, “Greek” is earning surprisingly good reviews. The sentiments of the Chicago duo of Roger Ebert of the Sun-Times and Michael Phillips of the rival Tribune are largely echoed in the words of A.O. Scott of the New York Times who writes that the signature “bawdy-sweet mixture”of Apatow films works here. Finding less to cheer about are Slate’s Dana Stevens, the Los Angeles Times’ Betsy Sharkey and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, who dubs it a “buzz-kill.”

Apatow and company are hoping for some R-rated, “Hangover”-like magic, but will be thrilled with half of that film’s $45 million opening. Positive word-of-mouth might help nudge it past Kutcher and Heigl into the number two spot, but if the overall numbers are down and “Prince of Persia” and/or “Sex and the City 2” minimize their second-week drops, things could get mighty crowded behind “Shrek 4.”

KILLERS

An action comedy starring Katherine Heigl as a newlywed who suspects that hubby Ashton Kutcher is an assassin and their new neighbors have been contracted to rub them out. “Legally Blonde’s” Robert Luketic directed. Tom Selleck and Catherine O’Hara offer support. The screenplay was written by Bob DeRosa and Ted Griffin, credited as T.M. Griffin

Lionsgate didn’t bother to preview their most expensive movie ever for critics, a fairly certain sign that they wouldn’t have liked it anyway. When the reviews do roll out this afternoon you can count all the unflattering references to “True Lies” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”

The negative buzz from not being screened could have an impact in the crowded marketplace with audiences opting for the more touted “Greek.” The Los Angeles Times quoted a Lionsgate exec as saying if “Killers” clears $20M this weekend, it will turn a profit. If it’s in the low teens, it will be under water.

MARMADUKE

In the “Garfield” tradition, this live-action/animation hybrid follows the oversized comic-strip canine as his family relocates from Kansas to Orange County, California. Owen Wilson voices the titlular Great Dane, with Emma Stone, George Lopez and Kiefer Sutherland among the other talking animals. Judy Greer, Lee Pace and William H. Macy play humans. Tom Dey directed. Tim Rasmussen and Vince Di Meglio wrote the script.

Woof. Ebert gives it two stars but can’t bring himself to write an actual review. Most of other critics wish they could have skipped the film entirely with a few, such as Glenn Whipp, writing in the LA Times, throwing the film a bone for the voice performances or the refreshing lack of potty humor.

The big dog will likely be left to fight for the table scraps of families who have already seen “Shrek.” Projections have it opening close to the $7.3M that the second “Garfield” movie garnered four years ago, but some optimists have pegged it at double that.

SPLICE

Genetic engineering goes awry in this cautionary science fiction thriller directed by Vincenzo Natali, who also scripted with Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley bring stronger than genre-normal acting chops playing romantically involved scientists whose introduction of human DNA to their animal hybrid studies creates a terrifying new species.

Many critics, including the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis and the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern, appreciate the film’s balance of serious and silly, laughs and chills. Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly call it “a cheeky, great-looking, thoughtfully loopy creature feature.” The film’s otherwise high marks are brought to earth by a few negative barbs, notably Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post, who found it “thoroughly repulsive.”

Good reviews, however, are unlikely to elevate this Sundance pickup’s prospects in a crowded marketplace. It looks to open at between $5M and $12M and its best hope at this point, boosted by the stamp of executive producer Guillermo Del Toro, is to evolve into a cult hit through its ancillary life.

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