Fox weekend at the movies

It was Fox’s turn to shine at the box office as “Rising Sun” peaked highest over the weekend with a gross of $ 15,195,941. The thriller, based on the Michael Crichton novel, got the media spotlight as Asian-American groups across the country protested the film’s depiction of Japanese and Japanese-Americans. Its debut of 1,510 playdates translated into very healthy averages of $ 10,064.

Fox’s second freshman, “Robin Hood: Men in Tights,” kick-started last Wednesday and had already chalked up $ 3.2 million by Friday. During the weekend , it added $ 6,883,315 to rank sixth. The spoof had solid averages of $ 5,417 from 1,263 engagements.

The two other new entries were smarting from the lack of public response.

TriStar’s “So I Married an Axe Murderer” was nudged out of the top 10, finishing 12th with $ 3,466,930. The hip black comedy just didn’t seem to benefit from sneak previews. It wound up with averages of $ 2,570 from its initial run of 1,349 dates.

Miramax/Turner/Live’s “Tom and Jerry: The Movie” wasn’t very animated with a $ 1,255,912 launch and 15th rank. With averages of $ 1,202 from 1,045 cat and mouse encounters, the film posed no threat to Disney’s turf. Amusing, but sheer coincidence, was the fact it was sandwiched on the charts between Disney’s discount house launch of “Aladdin” and the company’s “Snow White” reissue.

The arrival of “Rising Sun,” and the public’s eager appetite for it, prompted some questions about the current crop of popular movie thrillers. The summer has been dominated by the genre with “Jurassic Park” and “The Firm” routinely at the top of the weekly charts. It is virtually predestined that next weekend’s opening of WB’s “The Fugitive” will be the most popular film in the land.

Add “In the Line of Fire” and “Cliffhanger” to the mix and you’re looking at fivepictures that have collectively grossed more than $ 550 million this summer — about 30% of seasonal revenues. Is the marketplace oversaturated with this type of fare? Obviously, if it is, someone has yet to inform the audience.

What the season has failed to produce is a breakthrough comedy, unless you include the more romantically inclined “Sleepless in Seattle.” The only other potential summer sleeper is “Free Willy,” a drama targeted to family audiences.

Which is not to say that the season has been boom or bust. In the niche arena , both New Line’s “Menace II Society” and Goldwyn’s “Much Ado About Nothing” have been considerable successes. Fox’s “Rookie of the Year” is one of those quiet entries that’s about to creep past $ 40 million and will be very profitable.

Still, the absence of a good, solid, satisfying comedy remains the biggest current puzzler. Certainly quite a few films with a humorous bent have been well received critically. But none has opened gangbusters or sustained box office on an ongoing basis. And certainly none of the comedies currently onscreen have managed to tickle the collective funny bone.

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