Laffer battle may goose summer B.O.

HOLLYWOOD — Jim Carrey squares off against a flock of animated chickens at the box office this weekend amid hopes that debuts of the much-anticipated comedies — Fox’s “Me, Myself & Irene” and DreamWorks “Chicken Run” — will kick-start summer moviegoing.

Both projects generated strong response during sneaks last weekend and arrive riding a wave of recognition during what’s potentially one of the top-grossing times of the year. The same weekend last year set a June record with $133 million as “Big Daddy” debuted with $41.5 million.

“Irene” will open at 3,016 theaters. “Chicken Run,” featuring the voice of Mel Gibson, goes into 2,491 locations after rolling out Wednesday with $47,328 at six theaters in Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Toronto.

“You have to feel confident about both these movies to draw broad demographics,” said Dan Marks, exec VP of industry tracker ACNielsen. “You stand a good chance of getting back the season’s momentum.”

With last weekend’s $106.1 million take down a startling 19% from the year-ago period, this year’s seasonal total is running dead even with 1999’s record-setting summer pace. “To be even at this point with last year is not that bad,” Marks noted.

“Irene” is Carrey’s first slapstick-style outing since 1997’s “Liar, Liar,” which opened with $31.4 million, and the first offering from the Farrellys since their 1998 hit “There’s Something About Mary.” Its only potential downside is an R rating, but the picture should still generate powerful business from both genders, according to Marks.

Tom Sherak, chief of the 20th Domestic Film Group, pointed out that the R-rated “Mary” generated over $176 million in box office. “The good news is that when you’re dealing with the Farrelly brothers and Jim Carrey, you’re dealing with the top of the line,” he said. “We’re just hoping the public has as much fun with it as we did.”

Eggcitement at DreamWorks

As for the G-rated “Chicken Run,” DreamWorks is aiming the claymation toon at kiddie and adults camps in hopes of joining the growing number of successful non-Disney animated entries including “Pokemon,” “Rugrats,” “Antz,” “Stuart Little” and “The Prince of Egypt.” Distribution chief Jim Tharp said the studio is counting on “Run” gaining legs through solid word of mouth and plans to add another 300-400 sites next weekend.

“This type of animation has a learning curve for audiences, so we think our second weekend could be our biggest,” Tharp said.

‘Shaft’ heft

Marks believes Paramount’s second weekend of “Shaft,” last weekend’s winner with $21.7 million, will also be a factor during the frame thanks to mostly upbeat reactions from those who have taken in the Samuel L. Jackson remake.

This weekend will likely be the launch pad to a potent Fourth of July period, with the holiday falling on a Tuesday. The openings of Warner’s “The Perfect Storm” and Sony’s “The Patriot” could generate massive coin, while Universal’s “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” is receiving a major marketing push.

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