'Straw Dogs' isn't the only wide release hiding some potential audience-alienating elements in its marketing campaign. Out Friday, 'Drive' has been positioned as a revenge tale-cum-love story, with handsome Ryan Gosling and perky Carey Mulligan trying to make it in Los Angeles' seedy underbelly. Sounds great! And it mostly is -- provided you can stand the sight of someone getting their head blown off. (Literally.)

'Drive' might not be the most violent wide release of the year based on sheer body count -- 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' is arguably more violent since that film basically kills every citizen of Chicago -- but the carnage in Nicolas Winding Refn's art-house thriller is brutal, sloppy, squishy and shocking. Which is exactly what Refn had in mind. As he told Moviefone last week, "The first half is very champagne. Very much the purity of love. When it goes to the dark side, it becomes very extreme and violent." And how!

Which raises the question: just what will audiences think? Box office figures during opening weekend are invariably the result of marketing campaigns, and the 'Drive' campaign has been a mixed bag. The posters -- built around out-of-context stills from the film -- are coolness cat-nip to those 'Drive'-heads who have already seen the film through press screenings, festivals and the like, but they don't really say much to potential ticket buyers. (Though the cheeky pink-script font certainly may recall 'Grand Theft Auto: Vice City' for some.) The trailers are better, showcasing the romance, stakes and conflict. As the Yahoo! Projector blog points out, 'Drive' had an unavoidable presence during NFL opening weekend -- prime placement for a film looking to grab male viewers by the handful. Which, seemingly, is the audience FilmDistrict is gunning for.

That's what makes 'Drive' an interesting box-office case. It's not an indie release hitting a handful of theaters in New York and Los Angeles with an expanded roll-out to follow: 'Drive' is on 2,886 screens this weekend, more than fellow new releases 'Straw Dogs' and 'I Don't Know How She Does It.' The film is certainly the best of that bunch -- its Rotten Tomatoes rating almost doubles 'Dogs' and 'Does It' combined -- and the studio is likely hoping massive advance word-of-mouth, critical love and the comet-like star-power of Ryan Gosling will help 'Drive' top its new-release competition.

Will it work? Per BoxOffice.com, mostly. 'Drive' is tracking to earn around $12.7 million this weekend, good enough for third place behind the re-issue of 'The Lion King 3D' and weekend two of 'Contagion.' If that happens, FilmDistrict, Refn and movie lovers who demand more from the usual Hollywood product will breathe a sigh of relief. How 'Drive' does beyond that, however -- when word-of-mouth about its violence, as well as its art-house leanings, begins to spread -- is still a question mark. For some, that might make 'Drive' more of a destination; for others, it'll be a huge turn-off.

Not that Refn is worried either way. When Moviefone asked him about the pervasive images in 'Drive,' he responded like a man comfortable with his own film. "The better the drama, the better the entertainment." Hopefully audiences agree.

Photo: FilmDistrict

How much money will \'Drive\' make this weekend?
Less than $12 million37 (28.2%)
More than $12 million94 (71.8%)