RETREAT LIKELY TO ADVANCE TO NO. 1

David Linde and Marc Shmuger, who were ousted Monday as co-chairman of Universal, might very well have the satisfaction of learning that one of the films that they greenlit, Couples Retreat, turned out to be a hit. Box-office forecasters are saying that the romantic comedy -- the only film that is opening wide today (Friday), will probably take in $25-30 million over the weekend to take the lead position. The studio has not had a No. 1 hit since last April's Fast and Furious. Analysts are also keeping a close eye on the performance of Paramount's Paranormal Activity, the $15,000 scary movie that has been packing 'em in at midnight screenings in limited release. The film will be expanding to 159 theaters and play during regular hours beginning today.

MOVIE REVIEWS: COUPLES RETREAT

It's probably a good thing that Couples Retreat has the weekend to itself as the only movie opening wide. Critics are saying that the only thing funny about this romantic comedy are a few one-liners and the only thing romantic about it is the setting on the island of Bora Bora. "Despite the exotic locale, the film is drab and plodding," writes Claudia Puig in USA Today. Lou Lumenick in the New York Post calls it a "schmaltzy, smutty and mean-spirited quasi-satire set in a touchy-feely New Age resort." Roger Moore in the Orlando Sentinel concludes that the movie was only made "because of its sunny, sandy location." Judging from their light complexions, he also figures that "cast members slept late and took it pretty easy." David Hiltbrand in the Philadelphia Inquirer notes that although the movie is set in Tahiti, the plot is "skimpier than an Ipanema bikini." On the other hand, Peter Howell in the Toronto Star concludes that the movie was never intended to be the riotous comedy that some viewers may have expected it to be, given the trailers for it. "It's not your typical formula rom-com," he writes. "Beneath the ham acting and the relentless banter is a serious movie about relationships. We're being sold laughs, but a few sober thoughts are delivered."

MOVIE REVIEWS: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY

For a film that cost only $15,000 to make Paranormal Activity is piling up reviews that are generally as enthusiastic as box-office proceeds have been flourishing. Moving into a few hundred theaters today, the film is being called "ingenious" by the likes of Roger Ebert. "So well made, it's truly scary," he remarks. Without a chain-saw-wielding villain or expensive special effects, the movie "worms its way under our skin like a creepy parasite," writes Claudia Puig in USA Today. Peter Hartlaub in the San Francisco Chronicle figures that the $15,000 budget benefited the production. "In the end," he writes, "the budget seems about perfect. It turns out that a really cheap film and a filmgoer with a good imagination is more than enough for a scary and entertaining night at the movies." On the other hand, A.O. Scott in the New York Times dismisses it as "a crudely made, half-clever little frightener that has become something of a pop-culture sensation and most certainly the movie marketing story of the year."

SONY RETRENCHES, TOO

Even the studio with the most successful record at the box office this year is retrenching. The Los Angeles Times reported today (Friday) that Sony Pictures has put "a near freeze on new scripts" and movie development until next April, when its next fiscal year begins. The newspaper reported that the studio has also informed writers that it will not be paying them to start work on many projects already set up at the studio recently. In reporting on the studio's decision, the Times observed, "Though it's common for studios to run through their annual development budgets earlier than planned, it's somewhat unusual that Sony has done so halfway through its year." It speculated that the company is seeking to maximize profits from its 2009 slate "by not spending money on projects it may not need."

PIRATE BAY CLAIMS ANTI-PIRACY GROUP FAKED EVIDENCE

Efforts by Dutch authorities to shut down The Pirate Bay (TPB) after the four founders were convicted in Sweden of facilitating Internet piracy became more complicated Thursday when one of the TPB founders claimed that the Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN had introduced faked evidence during a court hearing. The court later ordered that a Dutch Internet service provider block further access to TPB. On Thursday a lawyer for TPB claimed that a document linking one of the TPB defendants to an offshore company in the Seychelles that purportedly owns it was fraudulent. The document, supposedly a credit report by Experian, indicated that Fredrik Neij, one of the TPB defendants, was the CEO of Reservella, the owner of Pirate Bay. But attorney Ernst-Jan Louwers claimed Thursday that everything about the report is misleading and false and that Experian itself has no record of the report. TPB now says it will bring criminal fraud charges against BREIN. Responding to the allegation, BREIN's director, Tim Kuik, maintained that his group had "sufficient reason" to link the TPB founders to Reservella, which he described as "a thin veil to cover up what is really going on."