Looking at a run down of the pictures released at the start of this year can leave moviegoers feeling rundown.

Peer over your shoulder at the last three months and think of a landmark movie that came out in that time frame. Find one that the masses couldn’t resist and critics lathered with support? Yea, I couldn’t either. In fact, as March wrapped only two films managed better than $100K at the box office, and I’m guessing many could not peg both titles. Bringing Down the House has been a strong leader but who would have guessed that “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” would out-distance Daredevil in money earned?

Hollywood’s opening salvo on the calendar is traditionally a measure of extremes. As the industry is gearing up to extol itself in the manner of Malcolm Forbes on his own birthday, what is often lost is the dreadful quality of films that comes out during this term. As the luminaries puff up with self-delivered panegyrizing, they inflict us with the cast-offs of their release schedules, the irony of giving each other Oscar gold while serving dross to the public.

The morning-after, however, brought with it a sobering reality. The Oscars are done and the numbers are down. The year-to-date totals against 2002 are off 2.5%, but this is a stilted figure when you consider the inflated ticket prices. In truth, movie attendance is down a sizable 5% and there has been offered a two-pronged reason: abysmal films and America’s war on Iraq.

But the war is a dubious excuse in my estimation. Customarily the public flocks to theaters to dissipate some of their warfare anxieties (partially revealed in six of the top ten grosses going to comedies), but by all appearances it seems people are staying home because what they see on the cable news networks is more compelling than the diversions at the Cineplex.

This was bad news for the military themed releases. Tears of the Sun displayed enough gritty realism that people discovered they could stay home and watch the same for free. Basic suffers from displaying our current heroes in violently dysfunctional postures. And Gods and Generals never had a chance, as it was long, ponderous and the older people said we should watch it. You had to know audiences would skip it like they skipped third-hour American History.

January kicked off a troubling start to the year with Burbank studios opening their vaults to the public the way Fidel Castro opened his jails to Miami in the 1980s. A Guy Thing kept Jason Lee’s record of failing without Kevin Smith intact, edging National Security and “Biker Boyz” for most dismal performances. Just Married had just enough formula to pull in an audience and make money. But that wasn’t the worst news.

Jerry O’Connell appears dedicated to making a career in animal themed movies, following Tomcats and “Buying the Cow” with the merit-free Kangaroo Jack, and most perplexing was that it was a success. Besting the $65 million plateau brings the recent bemusing news that a sequel is in the works. My advice is to release it next January when the competition is notably soft.

O’Connell’s Jack also started a trend of sorts, that being advertising with trailers that appear to alter the actual content of the film. The first month had the public subjected to repeated advertisements with a, shall we say, pro-active kangaroo prominently featured, more so than O’Connell himself. That the rapping marsupial comprised a mere dream sequence in the film had to be a surprise to some parents.

Get the rest of the story in part two of BRING ON THE SUMMER MOVIES ALREADY!>>>

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