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Laughter’s looming

Bullock, Mac pix going for Easter bounty

Easter weekend brings two new comedies to theaters, Warner Bros.’ Sandra Bullock sequel “Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous,” which bows today in 3,183 theaters, and Sony’s family laffer “Guess Who,” unspooling in 3,147 venues on Friday.

Fox Searchlight, meanwhile, is expanding Woody Allen’s “Melinda and Melinda” to 92 screens after its bow last week on a solo Gotham screen.

As holidays go, Easter is not known to provide a big bump at the weekend box office, although the Good Friday closings of many schools and businesses does pump up Thursday evening and Friday grosses. Warners is hoping to capitalize on that additional biz by bowing “Congeniality” a day earlier than normal.

Sequel has been tracking well across the board, but it’s showing particular strength among women both under and over age 25. Original pic grew off a moderate $10 million opening on Christmas weekend in 2000, outgrossing its opening the next two weekends and eventually cuming $106.8 million.

“Congeniality 2” has a good shot at doubling the original’s opening and could dislodge DreamWorks’ “The Ring Two” from the top spot.

With high interest among femme auds, “Congeniality 2” may end up hurting the second week of the “Ring” sequel, which on opening weekend attracted an aud that was around two-thirds female. A 50% drop in “Ring’s” soph sesh would give it around $17 million this weekend.

Meanwhile, laffer “Guess Who,” loosely based on the classic “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” and starring Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac, is finding its strongest appeal among Kutcher’s young fans, who helped push “Just Married” to a $17.5 million opening in 2003.

“It plays as a broad comedy and a romantic comedy,” said Sony distrib chief Rory Bruer. “The chemistry between Bernie and Ashton is terrific.”

Over the last five years, Easter has been a good weekend for holdovers. Openers have won the week only twice: “Panic Room” claimed $30.1 million in 2002, while “U-571” surfaced with $19.6 million in 2000.

Last year, when Easter fell on April 11, “The Passion of the Christ” won its seventh frame with $15.2 million, a 43% improvement from its previous week.

Among new films in limited release, IFC opens “The Ballad of Jack and Rose” in Gotham and L.A., and ThinkFilm’s doc “Mondovino” started on a solo Gotham screen Wednesday, while Wellspring’s “Nina’s Tragedies” bows in Gotham. Also opening this weekend is Goldwyn and IDP’s “D.E.B.S.”

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