‘The Lover’ steamiest among exclusives

Los Angeles and New York audiences turned out for hot sex with a literary twist over the weekend, as director Jean-Jacques Annaud’s steamy tale of forbidden romance between a Chinese man and a young French girl–“The Lover”– became the biggest draw among the films in exclusive release in the two cities. The screen adaptation of Marguerite Duras’ novel pulled in $ 58,883 on three screens in Los Angeles; in New York, it grossed $ 37,191 at one theater.

“Reservoir Dogs,” which opened strongly a week ago, fell off sharply in Los Angeles, losing 37%, 52% and 48%, respectively, on the three screens where Quentin Tarantino’s ultraviolent but critically praised debut film played. The movie held up better in New York, where the box office fell off at more respectable levels.

New Yorkers demonstrated more interest in the Jeremy Irons-starrer “Waterland” than in Stacy Cochran’s “My New Gun,” a commentary on the current state of marriage, security and the suburbs. “Waterland,” the tale of a high school teacher who shares his troubled past with his students, opened in Gotham with nice B.O. of $ 18,373. “Gun,” starring Diane Lane, took in $ 9,968 on one screen.

Director Maurice Pialat’s French-language “Van Gogh,” depicting the last 67 days in the 19th-century artist’s troubled life, made its debut in New York, pulling in $ 5,206 on one screen.

In Los Angeles, at least two new movies in exclusive bows flopped big-time. Canada’s “Clearcut,” an outdoor pic about a kidnapping, and “Double Edge,” an Israeli pic starring Faye Dunaway as a reporter temporarily assigned to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Jerusalem, grossed a dismal $ 1,142 and $ 642, respectively, for the weekend.

These are the films in exclusive release in Los Angeles and New York for the three-day period.

Los Angeles

“The Lover” (MGM) a sexy $ 22,582 at the Cineplex Beverly Center, $ 21,859 at the AMC Century 14 and $ 14,442 AMC Santa Monica in its opening look at desire along the Mekong.

“Reservoir Dogs” (Miramax) a bruising 37% drop to $ 7,672 at the AMC Century 14; down 52% at $ 4,425 at the Landmark NuWilshire; off 48% at $ 2,813 at the Fine Arts; and $ 2,330 at the Los Feliz, a 62% fall, in its second violent explosion.

“Johnny Stecchino” (New Line) a 36% drop at $ 4,953 at the Goldwyn Pavilion, and a 39% slip to $ 3,812 at the Beverly Center in the slapstick comedy’s second laugh.

“Howards End” (Sony Pictures Classics) $ 2,769 in its 29th encounter with social change at the Royal, down 24%.

“Once Upon a Time in America” (Warner Bros.) $ 1,956 at the Landmark NuWilshire’s first showing of the 1984 film.

“Clearcut” (Alliance) $ 1,142 at the Monica in its first kidnapping.

“Double Edge” (Castle Hill) $ 649 at the Sunset 5, first weekend for the pic.

New York

“The Lover” a lusty $ 37,191 at the Loew Fine Arts in its first affair.

“Waterland” (Fine Line) $ 18,373 at the Lincoln Plaza in its first showing.

“Johnny Stecchino”$ 11,058, off 25% at the City 68th St. Playhouse in its fourth pratfall.

“My New Gun” (I.R.S.) $ 9,968 at the Angelika in its first shot.

“ReservoirDogs”$ 9,502 at the Chelsea, a 25% fall; $ 7,561 at the Loew Village Sevenplex, off 29%; $ 7,433 in its second assault at the Loew 84th St., a 21% decline.,

“In the Soup” (Triton) a 25% decline at $ 8,006 in its second weekend at the Angelika and $ 2,147 at the City Cinemas 1,2 and 3rd Ave., a 35% slip.

“The Panama Deception” (Empowerment Project) $ 6,473 in its second Bush-bashing at the City Village East, a 12% decline.

“Howards End”$ 5,547 at the City Village East; $ 3,460 at the Cineplex Cinema 3; and $ 3,525 at the Cineplex Metro Twin, first time at those three venues.

“Van Gogh” (Sony Pictures Classics) $ 5,206 at the Lincoln Plaza, first screening of the feature about the final days of the painter.

“Close to Eden” (Propaganda Films) $ 4,442 in the opening weekend at the Lincoln Plaza.

“Danzon” (Sony Pictures Classics) $ 4,424, a 23% drop in its sixth search for a dance partner at the Lincoln Plaza.

“Swoon” (Fine Line) $ 4,089 in the first showing of this update on Leopold & Loeb at the Angelika.

“Gas Food Lodging”$ 3,250 in its sixth showing at City Village East, down 20 %; and $ 2,166 at the Cineplex Carnegie Hall, first female bonding there.

“A Brief History of Time” (Triton) $ 3,063 at the Lincoln Plaza, a 39% slip in its 11th look at the cosmos.

“Venice, Venice” (Rainbow Releasing) $ 2,504 at the Valu Art East on its opening infatuation on the canals.

“Brother’s Keeper” (Creative Thinking Intl.) $ 2,380 at the Quad, down 18% in its fourth examination of hillbillies run amok.

“A Day in October” (Castle Hill) $ 1,460 at the UA Eastside; $ 801 at the Cineplex Worldwide; and $ 561 at the Quad, the first weekend for the World War II drama set in Copenhagen.

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