Loading up on laffs

'Pacifier,' 'Be Cool' bow at weekend B.O.

Comedies will be the key this weekend at the nation’s theaters with a pair of high-profile openers: Disney and Spyglass’ Vin Diesel starrer “The Pacifier,” at 3,131 playdates, squares off against MGM’s “Get Shorty’ sequel “Be Cool,” at 3,216.

Frame also will see Warner Bros. pushing “Million Dollar Baby” and its Oscars to punch up grosses, which topped $67 million on Wednesday after five weeks in wide release, including $7.3 million last weekend. The studio has added 225 prints to play “Baby” at 2,350 engagements. The film won statuettes for picture, director (Clint Eastwood), actress (Hilary Swank) and supporting actor (Morgan Freeman).

Last year’s best picture, “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” saw its grosses jump 40% in the weekend after the Oscars to $3 million. But “King” had already taken in $364 million by Academy Awards night; it then took in $13 million more.

Early tracking shows both new pics generating respectable biz of about $20 million, with exhibs leaning toward John Travolta starrer “Be Cool” as the likely winner. “Get Shorty” turned in a solid performance a decade ago with $72 million domestically. Travolta remains a draw, with his last wide release, “Ladder 49,” generating $74 million domestically.

MGM, which is due to become part of Sony as early as next month, has focused on the not-inconsiderable star power of the cast, which includes Uma Thurman, Danny DeVito, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Vince Vaughn, Andre 3000 and Cedric the Entertainer.

“The Pacifier,” in which Diesel mocks his tough-guy image as a military expert assigned to guard a family, has been marketed to connect with parents and younger moviegoers. That sector of the audience showed support recently for similar fare with Sony’s “Are We There Yet?,” which has topped $77 million.

With “Pacifier” and “Be Cool” released in a saturation pattern, comedy fans should feel fully served, particularly given the holdover presence of two other laffers — last weekend’s surprise leader, Lions Gate’s “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” which has topped $25 million in its first six days, and Sony’s durable romantic comedy “Hitch,” which has gone past $125 million in three weeks.

Warner Independent/Mandalay will counterprogram with psychological thriller “The Jacket,” starring Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley, opening at 1,331 engagements.

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