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Action anemia

'Wedding' vows trump high-octane wows

New Line celebrated good times yet again this weekend, as “Wedding Crashers” finally locked up the No. 1 spot in its third week of release with $20.5 million.

Take reps a drop of just 20% from last week and brings the cume to $116 million. Pic is the first wide release to hit No. 1 for the first time later than its second week since 1998’s “There’s Something About Mary,” which hit the mark in its eighth week.

There was no partying at Sony, however, as “Stealth” took off to just $13.5 million on 3,495 screens. Budget on the high-flying pic was $138 million.

Following last week’s similarly weak bow for “The Island,” perf calls into question assumptions that big-budget actioners are guaranteed to do at least decent business in the summer.

Sophomore sesh of “The Island” did nothing to allay DreamWorks’ and WB’s problems, as pic fell 55% to $5.6 million, bringing its total to $24 million.

Lack of a strong debut put the overall weekend’s estimated take of $122 million 22% behind last year — when “The Village” opened to $50.7 million — according to Nielsen EDI. For the year, $5.183 billion tally is 8% behind 2004, while summer season’s $2.683 billion lags last year by 10%.

As for “Stealth,” Sony distrib prexy Rory Bruer tacked its turbulence in part on larger problems for the action genre. “It’s certainly disappointing, but it just doesn’t seem action is what the public wants this summer,” he said. Pic skewed 59% male, with 56% of auds over 25.

Weak perf continues a disappointing run for Sony, which also struck out with “Bewitched,” “Lords of Dogtown” and “XXX: State of the Union.”

Laughs looking good

Meanwhile, with “Wedding Crashers” showing possibly the best legs of any pic this year, studios undoubtedly are rethinking the appeal of R-rated comedies.

Auds’ hunger for mature humor was reinforced by a royal bow in limited release for ThinkFilm’s raunchy unrated comedy “The Aristocrats,” which had the second highest per-screen gross of any pic this year.

Success of “Crashers” is being fueled in part by an expansion beyond its core demos. “We’re getting more viewers under 25 and a sizable portion of people over 60,” observed domestic distrib topper David Tuckerman. Production prexy Toby Emmerich also noted what he called “good timing” in terms of the appeal of stars Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. “One plus one really equaled three for us here,” he said.

Weekend’s other two wide openers did relatively well given their smaller ambitions. Disney’s “Sky High” debuted in third place with $14.6 million on 2,905, while WB’s “Must Love Dogs” generated $13.1 million from its 2,505 theaters, putting it just barely behind “Stealth” in fifth place.

‘Chocolate’ tasty

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” continued to hold strong for Warner Bros., declining 42% to $16.4 million for a comfortable second-place finish in its third week of release. Cume is now $148.1 million.

“War of the Worlds” had a strong fifth week, falling just 39% to $5.4 million to tie with s other wide release, “Bad News Bears,” which fell 52% in its second week. Pics have now grossed $218.3 million and $22.5 million, respectively.

“War” is Tom Cruise’s best grosser ever, passing “Mission: Impossible 2.”

“Fantastic Four” held on OK for Fox, bringing in $6.8 million in its fourth week of release, down 46%. Cume is now $136.1 million.

Lions Gate’s “The Devil’s Rejects,” helmed by Rob Zombie, showed the weakest staying power for a recent release, falling 63% to $2.65 million in its second week for a cume of $12.4 million. Coming on top of poor showing for “Dark Water,” perf signals a slowdown for the formerly hot horror genre.

‘Sky’ not so high

“Sky High’s” bow put it on the low end of late-summer family pics such as “Freaky Friday” and “Spy Kids 3-D,” but Mouse House was pleased it came out ahead of expectations and with high aud ratings. “This is a very good start and except for ‘Valiant,’ which plays younger, I don’t see anything significant in this arena coming up,” said Disney distrib topper Chuck Viane.

With the lowest budget of the closely matched openers, “Must Love Dogs” gave WB something to crow about. “It was a counterprogramming strategy that worked big for us,” WB distrib topper Dan Fellman said of the pic, which skewed 70% female. Pic outdid Diane Lane’s last romance, “Under the Tuscan Sun,” which bowed to $9.7 million in 2003.

Among wide-release indies, it was a much better weekend for Warner Independent Pictures than for Paramount Classics. “March of the Penguins” fell just 6% to $4.1 million on a small bump in screen count, bringing its cume to $16.4 million. “Hustle and Flow” declined 50% in its second week, bringing in $4 million for a cume of $14.6 million.

“Penguins” is well positioned as its screen count nearly doubles to 1,500 next week.

Niche pix

With $260,000 on two screens each in Gotham and L.A., “The Aristocrats” is the big story in limited release. At $65,000, it’s the second biggest per-screen perf for any pic this year after Woody Allen’s “Melinda and Melinda” and the best for any 2005 film playing more than one location.

ThinkFilm distrib chief Mark Urman said the pic crossed over well, with a surprising number of couples in attendance. Studio is expanding profanity-ridden comedy to between eight and 10 L.A. and Gotham screens next week before hitting the top 15 to 20 markets on Aug. 12. “By Labor Day we’re going to take this movie as wide as we can,” Urman predicted.

Indie studio’s “Murderball” added 49 screens over the weekend for its fourth frame, taking in $211,190 from 75 plays for an average of $2,816 per and bringing its cume to $528,726.

Tartan added two L.A. screens to last week’s solo Gotham play for “9 Songs,” bringing in $8,084 per play for a total of $24,252.

Miramax’s “The Warrior” brought in $7,417 from five screens in its third week, giving it $1,483 per and bringing its total to $38,723.

Sony Pictures Classics got $24,296 from 17 plays of “November” in its sophomore sesh. Pic made $1,429 per screen and upped its cume to $58,736.

In its fourth week, SPC’s “Saraband” made $47, 863. Averaging $2,991 on each of its 16 screens, Ingmar Bergman pic now has a cume of $224,158.

Also in its fourth sesh, SPC’s “Beautiful Country” generated $39,336 on 23 screens for an average of $1,710. Cume now stands at $188,193.

Lions Gate’s “Happy Endings” made $180,000 from 73 plays. Per-screen average was $2,466 and cume reached $818,716.

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