The first of three Friday-the-13th weekends this year (that hasn't happened since 1998) is not auspicious for the box office. Several analysts are predicting that the box office, which has been on a hot streak since the beginning of the year, is likely to cool off. All three movies opening this weekend are receiving either negative or ho-hum reviews. Given the day on which it's opening and it's title, the latest Friday the 13thmovie is likely to top the box office, with analysts predicting a take of $15-20 million. Confessions of a Shopaholic, they say, is likely to come in a close second, given the surprising performance of female-oriented movies of late. Finally, The International,a thriller dealing with corrupt international bankers is likely to make a decent showing if for no other reason than that people are prepared to boo corrupt international bankers these days.


Critics generally have their knives out for horror films. Friday the 13th is no exception. Not that anyone who buys a ticket to see those movies give a spit about what critics have to say about them. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Timesbegins his review by remarking: "Friday the 13this about the best Friday the 13th movie you could hope for. Its technical credits are excellent. It has a lot of scary and gruesome killings. Not a whole lot of acting is required. If that's what you want to find out, you can stop reading." (He then goes on to gut the film, concluding with this afternote: "In my research, I discovered that the scientific name for fear of Friday the 13th is paraskavedekatriaphobia. I envision a new franchise:Paraskavedekatriaphobia: A New Beginning, Paraskavedekatriaphobia: Jason Lives, Paraskavedekatriaphobia: Freddy's Nightmare, etc.") Other critics follow suit: Claudia Puig in USA Today: "This Fridayis more like a rehash, delivering just what you expect and nothing more." Lisa Kennedy in the Denver Post: "There's not a one 'I didn't see that coming' moment in this flick."


Even female critics don't seem to care much for the latest "chick flick," Confessions of a Shopaholic., and many complain that it's atrociously timed.Elizabeth Weitzman writes in the New York Daily News: "When every dollar counts, do you want to spend twelve bucks on a movie that's not really worth it?" Carrie Rickey in the Philadelphia Inquirer calls the movie "a cut-rate version of The Devil Wears Prada." And Linda Barnard concludes her review in the Toronto Starby observing that the movie's biggest problem is the current financial crisis -- "much of it the result of greed and ill-advised overspending on credit. ... It's very hard to watch a wild-eyed woman engage in an orgy of avarice using a fan of maxed-out cards when so many have lost so much." And Cathy Frisinger writes in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "At a time when a lot of women could use a really stylish, fun, escapist story, Shopaholic is a disappointment. Hogan and his writers could have used a bailout of ideas." And Jessica Reaves in the Chicago Tribunedescribes the movie as "a thin, largely unfunny comedy that marries lazy filmmaking with bad timing." On the other hand, Betsy Sharkey in the Los Angeles Times calls the movie "a knockabout farce ... a cleverly constructed catwalk of a romantic comedy." She concludes: "Though you might wonder whether there's room in a movie marketplace that already feels overstocked with romantic comedies, "Confessions of a Shopaholic" arrives fashionably late and dressed to kill.."


If Confessions of a Shopaholicis being faulted for bad timing, The Internationalis being praised for its timeliness. Unfortunately, many critics have little else to praise the movie for. Tom Maurstad in the Dallas Morning Newscomments, "If ever a movie seemed made for its time, The Internationalis it. ... There's just one problem: The movie isn't very good." Lou Lumenick in the New York Post regards a key sequence. filmed at the Guggenheim Museum, as "preposterous" and the movie itself as a "remarkably dull thriller." Joe Morgan in the Wall Street Journal dismisses it as a "hollow new charade." Joe Neumaier in the New York Daily News thinks it "almost seems like a Monty Python spoof on spy-game thrillers." Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe & Mailacknowledges that he went to the screening of the movie with a "strong rooting interest." He writes: "Definitely, this is the sort of movie you want to prevail, and when it doesn't, when what first seems like intelligent intricacy ends in bamboozled confusion, all that remains is an acute sense of getting royally ripped off. Call me a whiner, but a studio flick about corporate villainy shouldn't leave the audience feeling like a corporate victim." But Ty Burr in the Boston Globefinds the scene that the Post's Lumenick regards as "preposterous" to be "so audacious, so supremely well crafted that I don't want to tell you anything more about it."


The presence of Rupert Murdoch in Los Angeles to meet with executives of his Fox businesses has increased speculation that Peter Chernin, News Corp's president and COO, may be leaving the company, the Los Angeles Timesreported today (Friday). The newspaper observed that last week, during a conference call at which Murdoch and Chernin discussed the company's $6.4-billion loss during its last quarter, "Chernin seemed to play a less prominent role that he has in the past." The Timesfurther noted that when the subject of Chernin's contract came up, Murdoch remarked testily: "Peter and I are continuing our conversations and they're private and that is all there is to it. ... Nothing more for me to say and we won't take any further questions on that. It is a confidential matter." The newspaper said that Chernin himself "has been particularly tightlipped about his plans."


Steve Martin has insisted that he was unfazed by the blistering reviews he received last week for his performance in The Pink Panther 2. Appearing at a news conference at the Berlin Film Festival, where the film is in competition for the festival's prestigious Golden Bear Award, Martin said, "I have received bad reviews my whole life. I received bad reviews for my stand-up act. The Jerk,one of my most enduring films, was universally panned and criticized in America. Comedians always have to overcome critical snobbery, that's just the way it is. ... Comedy is just not a critic's medium." Overcoming critical reaction may be one thing, but The Pink Panther, now playing in more theaters than any other film -- 3,245 -- averaged only $109 at each of them on Wednesday, suggesting that many theaters may be running it with no one in the seats.