Welcome back to another edition of Defamer Attractions, your regular guide to the latest in abandon, excess and best-kept secrets at a theater near you. We're looking at an unusually busy — and maybe even unusually good — week for mid-August, with four new releases opening wide and Tropic Thunder looking to hold fast to No. 1. And while all the congestion is bound to squeeze at least one player out, a romantic opening at the art house is one of our favorite underdog selections to date. As always, our opinions are our own, but with this kind of unparalleled taste and accuracy, would you really want it any other way? WHAT'S NEW: Or perhaps, rather, "What isn't new?" Moreover, it's a fascinating week of studio test drives for stars of varying magnitudes, with Jason Statham vs. Anna Faris vs. Rainn Wilson vs. Steve Coogan vs. Ice Cube and all of them forced to open against a Tropic Thunder crew looking for payback after last week's disappointing take. It's not an even playing field, but Universal's updating of Death Race 2000 — now known simply as Death Race, for action fans afraid of big numbers — has the best advantage with Statham's bankable, monosyllabic heroism set for a $17.5 million take.We're pulling for Faris, meanwhile, as sharp and enduring (and continually underrated) a comic talent as anyone churned out of the Apatow stable, yet whose The House Bunny may not have the legs it needs to hop over The Dark Knight and into third place. The hell with it — we're calling for $11 million, which should narrowly surmount Batman by about $750,000. The Weinstein touch will do pretty much what you expect for Ice Cube's PG-rated (and Fred Durst-directed) The Longshots, nudging it only slightly over $6 million. Coogan's mixed-reviewed Hamlet 2 — which Focus bought this year at Sundance for $11 million — won't break the Top 10 in limited release. Also opening: The Tori Spelling-starring Lovecraft adaptation Cthulu; the revealing (if slightly precious) documentary Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer; and the wasted Germs/Darby Crash biopic What We Do is Secret, hands down the most dreadfully misconceived LA rock film since The Doors. THE BIG LOSER: It's not like we're not pulling for Rainn Wilson in The Rocker or anything, but seeing Fox set him up as the next Jack Black in his first real leading role — a flabby, flamboyant man-child drummer who reclaims his dream of rock stardom by joining his nephew's band — only to have him crash with maybe $5.5 million tops? It's almost enough to make us wish for his return to those not-too-long ago Bob Shaye glory days. Or at least a new season of that sitcom in which he seems to excel.
THE UNDERDOG: Alex Holdridge may never get the credit he deserves (or thinks he deserves) for Superbad, but he'll always have In Search of a Midnight Kiss, a lovely, funny and strikingly elegant paean to love lost and found in Los Angeles. Wilson (Scoot McNairy) is a slack, self-described misanthrope seeking the same on Craigslist for a date on New Year's Eve. He winds up meeting Vivian, a conveniently cute blond played with relentless, freak-show ferocity by Sara Simmonds. Their eight-hour anti-courtship through a black-and-white city may seem familiar at first, but its chief references (Manhattan, Before Sunset) only reinforce how markedly Holdridge veers away from them over 100 minutes. In fact, his simultaneous embrace and rejection of the genre borrows most from his stars' chemistry — a sprawling cosmopolis of lust and apprehension in its own right. And did we mention it's funny? Take a date, or don't. Just see it. FOR SHUT-INS: This week's new DVD releases include HBO's 2000 election reimagining Recount, the Jonas Brothers' opus Camp Rock ("Extended Rock Star Edition"!), the Keanu Reeves disaster Street Kings, the "Election Year" edition of Oliver Stone's Nixon and, at last, Gossip Girl: The Complete First Season. So is it Team Statham or Team Faris? Or is it just the time of year you flip a coin and/or let the box-office attendant decide your movie for you at random? We feel like we need selection brackets, ourselves; help guide our (and your fellow readers') ways below.