WHAT'S NEW: It looked for a moment like the aging He's Just Not That Into You had done in New Line's climate-controlled film cellar might have punched up its all-star romcom flavor. Yet as taste test results pour in, we're learning that might have been a little too premature an assumption. Not premature, however: The expectation that the Barrymore/ScarJo/Aniston/Affleck confection will win the weekend, wringing around $22.6 million of date-night loot and safely distancing itself from The Pink Panther 2's $16.8 million. Look for the stop-motion fantasy Coraline to present the weekend's big 3-D X-factor on 2,200 screens, pulling enough viewers from the top-two openers — as well as holdovers Taken and Paul Blart: Mall Cop — en route to a surprising, Focus-satisfying $11.2 million.
Also opening: Darth Weinstein's own shelf-dust Fanboys; the Lysistrata-ian, Soviet-era sex-for-water comedy Absurdistan; and the much-anticipated Thai martial-arts offering Chocolate, about a "special-needs girl with a special need to kick some ass." We can't make it up, we swear.
THE BIG LOSER: We suppose Summit Entertainment had to follow its blockbuster Twilight with something, but we had hoped it wouldn't be yet another grim, garish confirmation of the B-flick factory the studio actually is. Yet here comes Push, the psychic actioner pairing Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning as a telekinetic and a clairvoyant trolling Hong Kong for some experimental drug that, should it fall into the wrong hands (namely Djimon Hounsou's), would wreak some global havoc. Like, say, a sequel. We love noshing on some delicious junk now and then, but since we get the feeling that even Summit itself would hesitate to lick the frosting off this particular cupcake — and with Chocolate calling our names anyway — we'll pass. As will the rest of America; see you at $7 million and on Flopz™ by June.
THE UNDERDOG: Face it: This is a make-or-break year for you and your Oscar pool. Seventeen wins won't cut it anymore. Luckily, Magnolia Pictures is pulling for you, offering this year's Oscar-Nominated Short Films as a means of sharpening your competitive advantage in at least two categories. Add in the extra benefit of all of them being generally good (a few are outstanding, including Pixar's Presto, pictured), and really, there's no excuse to say "No." We'll offer our own handicapping guide later today, but clear a couple hours this weekend to judge for yourself.
FOR SHUT-INS: A sparse week of new DVD releases includes Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, a two-disc edition of Zack and Miri Make a Porno, the good Dakota Fanning alternative The Secret Life of Bees, "deluxe" reissues of the first three Friday the 13th films, and the indispenable-to-somebody Becker: Season Two.