Can Diesel drive weekend B.O.?

Tracking points to 'XXX' success, but overall numbers fuzzy

The B.O. notion of a rising tide lifting all boats has been debunked of late, with “Austin Powers in Goldmember” and “Signs” opening spectacularly as the B.O. has shrunk.

A similar recipe could be cooking for this weekend, with expectations sky-high for “XXX.”

The Sony release, arriving today, is the kickoff to the first major franchise for Revolution Studios. A sequel is already green-lit, and Vin Diesel’s stock is the anti-WorldCom.

At 3,374 playdates, the pic is wide for mid-August, but a few hundred runs short of “Spider-Man” level. Still, like Spidey, Diesel’s Xander Cage alter-ego offers a new wrinkle to an industry obsessed with them.

Tracking suggests it has a good shot at surpassing the $45.1 million pulled in last year by “American Pie 2” in the identical weekend. But will it actually serve as a catalyst? Time will tell.

Despite all the big numbers lighting up the scoreboard, the pace of summer has slowed. Overall grosses have posted year-over-year declines for three successive frames.

The only thing preventing a fourth straight slide could be demographic diversity.

Debuting with “XXX” are Warner Bros.’ “Blood Work” and Miramax/Dimension’s “Spy Kids 2.” The latter got a head start on the weekend by collecting a stellar $4.5 million in its Wednesday bow.

As a Clint Eastwood vehicle, “Blood Work” should have plenty of room to operate among adult auds. “Spy Kids 2” will vie with carryover “Master of Disguise” for young moviegoers and families.

Summer now stands 6% ahead of the 2001 edition, with year-to-date B.O. up 15%. Like the Dodgers, however, grosses have slumped since the All-Star break.

August is not usually a season for rallies. The month tends to see grosses contract, and there are indications of similar inertia this year.

Universal, Imagine and even some rivals liken next weekend’s “Blue Crush” to the classic August sleeper “Bring It On.” The other wares on display through Labor Day, however, seem suspiciously discounted.

Attendance has spiked up this summer, to the relief of embattled studios and exhausted exhibs. Still, the next couple of weeks figure to be a somewhat anxious time at the B.O., unless your initials are “XXX.”

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