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This morning the sword-and-sorcery epic Eragon became the 38th general-release movie in 2006 to open in Chicago without being screened for the press. I can't argue with the promoters' wisdom: unless you're a fantasy nut or a child, you may spend most of the running time, as I did, mentally assembling your Christmas card list. (I know, I know—always late. I should have been doing my Christmas card list during Deck the Halls.)
Of course this was the year movie critics were deemed obsolete: in addition to the sheer number of releases that opened without previews, one of them—The Da Vinci Code—grossed $77 million in its opening weekend, thank you very much. Reviews were mostly tepid, but by the time they arrived online or in print, the movie had had already grossed eight figures.
There's a tendency to dismiss these movies as turkeys, and most of them were, from dishwater comedies like The Benchwarmers, Employee of the Month, and Grandma's Boy to incoherent horror flicks like Stay Alive, See No Evil, and An American Haunting. But there were also accomplished genre pieces (Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor's hell-for-leather chase movie Crank), interesting, offbeat projects (Mike Judge's future-shock satire Idiocracy, Neil LaBute's misogynistic remake of The Wicker Man), and worthwhile devotional movies (Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion, the Steve Harvey concert doc Don't Trip...He Ain't Through With Me Yet).
When I look at the list below, I wonder why the Reader even bothers to cover films that the studios can't be bothered to show us. But then two of my favorite recent pieces in the Onion A/V Club were reviews of movies that opened blind: Nathan Rabin's review of Idiocracy and Keith Phipps's review of The Return. If you can make an argument for one of the Dirty 38, let me know. I promise I won't drop you from my Christmas card list.
THE DIRTY 38: An American Haunting, The Benchwarmers, Big Momma's House 2, BloodRayne, The Celestine Prophecy, The Covenant, Crank, Crossover, The Da Vinci Code, Date Movie, Don't Trip... He Ain't Through with Me Yet!, Doogal, Employee of the Month, Eragon, Grandma's Boy, Idiocracy, Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, Let's Go to Prison, London, The Marine, National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj, One Night With the King, The Return, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, Saw III, Scary Movie 4, See No Evil, The Sentinel, Silent Hill, Stay Alive, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion, Ultraviolet, Underworld: Evolution, Waist Deep, When a Stranger Calls, The Wicker Man, Zoom.