FIVE FILMS ENTER PRESIDENTS' DAY ELECTION

Analysts are predicting a big Presidents' Day weekend at the box office, with three films, each targeting a different demographic group, making their debuts. (Five, if one includes Music and Lyrics and Daddy's Little Girls, which opened on Valentine's Day.) Ghost Rider, based on the Marvel Comics character and starring Nicolas Cage, is expected to take top honors with a gross of around $45 million, analysts said today (Friday). The two other films are likely to earn in the neighborhood of $12-20 million in their debut. They include Bridge to Terabithia, based on the children's book, likely to earn about $20 million, and Breach, a spy drama aimed at older audiences that just screened at the Berlin Film Festival, likely to take in $8-10 million.

MOVIE REVIEWS: GHOST RIDER

There are only a smattering of reviews for Sony-Columbia's Ghost Rider, starring Nicolas Cage in the title role based on the Marvel Comics superhero. Most of the reviews agree that the movie is, well, comical -- and often in unintentional ways. (Variations of the word "cheesy" appear in virtually all the reviews.) Writes Kyle Smith in the New York Post: "When we get a glimpse of [Cage] shirtless, his CGI-built torso is so ridiculously ripped that the effect is like one of those carnival attractions where you stick your head through the hole in the giant photo of a bodybuilder." Peter Howell in the Toronto Star remarks that the movie is "20 minutes too long and the special effects are cheesier than Mickey Mouse's lunch." But Bob Strauss in the Los Angeles Daily News suggests that it's Cage's "oddball" performance that makes the movie work. "Whether you like it, hate it or just don't get it, this at least makes Ghost Rider an intriguing, witty/nutso acting experiment from beginning to end," he writes. And Matt Weiss concludes in the Dallas Morning News that the movie "achieves an emotional resonance and sheer enjoyability that, like a fine wine, complements the accompanying cheese."

MOVIE REVIEWS: BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA

Although billed as a fantasy film for kids, Bridge to Terabithia has found a warm reception among adult critics. "Consistently smart and delicate as a spider web, Bridge to Terabithia is the kind of children's movie rarely seen nowadays," comments Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. Many of the critics warn parents of the Very Sad Thing that occurs in the story. Claudia Puig in USA Today cautions: "The plot takes a sad turn that could be disturbing to some children." Echoes Melinda Ennis in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The twist may be too upsetting for younger children." Several critics suggest that to describe what it entails would be a spoiler. As Cristy LeMire writes for the Associated Press: "What starts out idyllic and wholesome can be heartbreaking by the end. That's all we'll say. After all, some things are better left to the imagination." Others suggest that the ending will not leave children traumatized. Indeed, writes Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News: "Everyone involved [in the making of the film] genuinely seems to believe in the power of imagination to enliven -- and enlighten -- the darkest realities, and that's a magic this film captures beautifully."

MOVIE REVIEWS: BREACH

Breach is the story of former FBI counterintelligence agent Robert Hanssen, now serving a life sentence for selling secrets to Russia for more than 20 years -- a story that occupied the front pages of newspapers and the first minutes of TV newscasts for days after he was arrested in 2001. Nevertheless, writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, the story works as "a thriller that manages to excite and unnerve despite our knowing the ending." The film is receiving almost universally solid reviews. Kenneth Turan writes these words in his opening paragraph in the Los Angeles Times: "Filled with tension, deception and bravura acting, Breach is a crackling tale of real-life espionage that doubles as a compelling psychological drama. Its core is not the minutiae of spying but the push-pull complexities of intricate human relationships, and in Ryan Phillippe, Laura Linney and especially the formidable Chris Cooper, it has the cast to bring it all intensely alive." Lou Lumenick in the New York Post observes: "Though it's being dumped in the wastelands in February, Breach is better than many of the pack of so-called prestige movies that were released at the end of last year." There are a few critics who breach the general praise. Rick Groen in the Toronto Globe and Mail comments: "There's only one reason to see Breach, and his name is Chris Cooper, who delivers a performance so magnificently creepy, so oozing in snake oil, that you quit the theatre feeling simultaneously soiled and bewitched. Alas, what he delivers it into is a complete and utter void."

MPAA CHIEF SAYS CHINA RENEGES ON PIRACY AGREEMENT

MPAA chief Dan Glickman has accused China of imposing tight restrictions on the distribution of theatrical films and legal DVDs while at the same time failing to crack down on the distribution of counterfeit product. Speaking at a Congressional hearing in Washington, Glickman outlined the bootlegging process. "Someone can illegally camcord a movie in Montreal, send the file by way of the Internet to someone in Guangzhou, who then dubs and subtitles the dialogue, and then illegally presses thousands of DVDs." The counterfeit DVDs, he said, are then distributed all over the world -- including the U.S. "A pirated disc made in China can, in a day or two, be on the streets of Los Angeles," he said. Glickman implied that China had made grandiose promises to crack down on piracy in order to gain administration into the World Trade Organization five years ago but has continued to drag its feet on the issue ever since.

STARS APPEARING AS THEIR CHARACTERS IN MOVIE PROMOTION

Following the success of its publicity campaign for Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan in which star Sacha Baron Cohen remained in character for TV and print interviews and other public appearances, 20th Century Fox is keeping the entire cast of Reno 911: Miami in character for the film's promotional push, USA Today reports. The cast is familiar to those watching their show on Comedy Central, but to those watching them on fake bike patrols on college campuses, they may appear like refugees from the Village People. In an interview with the newspaper, Hollywood Reporter columnist Borys Kit warned that Fox's strategy could backfire. "You have to be funny when you do it. If you aren't, you could turn people off to the character -- and the movies." The practice is not new. The late Peter Sellers once participated in a decidedly un-PC interview as his Pink Panther character, Inspector Jacques Clouseau. Asked how he had developed his interest in karate, Sellers (as Clouseau) corrected the interviewer: "Eet ees not karate. Eet ees zeh Israeli martial art of Jew-do. Vee get zeh leverage from zeh nose."

Brian B.