U actioner, 20th's laffer sequel blitz theaters

HOLLYWOOD — Competish for the top box office rungs should be “Fast and Furious” this weekend, especially in the race for young auds.

Universal’s street-racing actioner “The Fast and the Furious” is revved up for 2,628 theaters, while 20th Century Fox’s talk-to-the-animals sequel “Dr. Dolittle 2″ hightails it to 3,067 locations. Those pics take on a couple of youth-oriented pics that finished Nos. 1 and 2 in last weekend’s B.O. derby: Paramount’s vidgame adaptation “Lara Croft Tomb Raider” and Disney’s family toon feature “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” respectively.

Throw in the established draw of DreamWorks’ computer-animated smash “Shrek,” and the top of the B.O. table this frame could look like a playground rumble.

“Fast and Furious” enjoys a turbocharged screen count of 3,300, thanks to booking in double auditoriums at many venues. The actioner is tracking particularly well among 17- to 25-year-olds, but PG-13 pic also is expected to attract some younger teens (12-16).

Drawing women

Though pic has obvious appeal to young males, its hip aesthetic and a romantic plot thread has young femmes paying attention, too, U distrib prexy Nikki Rocco said.

“Fast and Furious” may not register on the tachometer of older moviegoers, but Rocco observed, “I don’t know that a picture like this ever does.”

To accelerate enthusiasm among the Clearasil set, U has made big use of promos and commercial spots on MTV. Pic soundtrack debuted well last week on record charts.

An aggressive MTV campaign has become almost mandatory for teen pics these days, U spokesman Jeff Sakson said. “You have to be there. It’s a high-profile and valuable marketing tool for pictures like this,” he said.

U also has fired up some public-service announcements warning teens not to mimic pic’s driving stunts.

Playing off ‘Shrek’ exposure

“Dr. Dolittle 2,” which is rated PG, reps not only an established franchise but the latest live-action outing for topliner Eddie Murphy, who voices the comic-sidekick Donkey in “Shrek.”

Boasting a saturation-level number of playdates, pic is expected to draw preteens and adults but probably not many teens. Tracking is similar to that for the first “Dolittle” remake, which bowed to $29 million in June 1998.

“If we do that, we’ll be off and running, because the playability of the picture is wonderful,” Fox distrib prexy Bruce Snyder said. “People love it.”

Meanwhile, “Tomb Raider” (PG-13) and “Atlantis” (PG) will be looking to hang on to their share of young auds as well.

“Raider” opened big at $47.7 million last weekend. On the other hand, “Atlantis” bowed at $20.3 million, the smallest wide opening for a Disney toon feature since 1986’s “The Great Mouse Detective.” A decent soph-sesh hold thus becomes even more important for the Mouse House pic.

In the specialty market, Sony Classics opens thriller love story “The Princess and the Warrior,” from “Run Lola Run” helmer Tom Tykwer, in Gotham and L.A. theaters. Tidepoint toon feature “Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade,” Artistic License docu “W.I.S.O.R.” and HBO docu “Lalee’s Kin: Legacy of Cotton” all bow in single Gotham sites.

Fox Searchlight expands Ben Kingsley starrer “Sexy Beast” to 55 top-market locations, and Fine Line’s ensemble drama “The Anniversary Party” widens to 100 venues. Lions Gate’s Appalachian songfest “The Songcatcher” adds four San Francisco engagements to Gotham and L.A. playdates.

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