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‘Hitch’ looking for lovers

Pix 'Hitch' from 'Pooh' to 'Throat' for weekend

Will Smith returns to his comedic roots this weekend in the romantic laffer “Hitch,” which Sony delivers to 3,575 theaters. Frame’s other wide release is Disney’s franchise extension toon “Pooh’s Heffalump Movie,” which bows in 2,529 locations.

And among the new limited releases, Universal bows NC-17-rated doc “Inside Deep Throat,” from Imagine and HBO Films, on 12 screens.

Though Valentine’s Day doesn’t come until Monday, Sony is hoping there’s plenty of love in the air over the weekend for “Hitch.”

Last year, the lovers’ holiday fortuitously fell on a Saturday, helping to power Sony’s Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore “50 First Dates” to a $39.9 million opening, more than $19 million of that coming on Valentine’s Day itself.

Though “Hitch” is expected to lead the frame, it probably won’t reach those heights as some couples may wait until their Monday dates to take in the pic.

Still, “Hitch” is attracting broad interest after getting a big boost from a well-received spot during last weekend’s Super Bowl. In USA Today’s ad ratings, “Hitch” was the top-ranked movie spot.

Over his 12-year bigscreen career, Smith has primarily played sci-fi (“Men in Black”) and action (“Bad Boys”). But the former rapper built his thesp career in comedy with “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

As is typical in romantic comedies, interest in “Hitch” skews slightly more female, but Smith also is bringing his male fans.

“It really is attracting all quadrants,” Sony distrib chief Rory Bruer said. “I think it’s going to play to everyone who can get into to a PG-13 film.”

‘Pooh’ spinoff

“Heffalump” is the third “Pooh” spinoff for Disney, following “Piglet’s Big Movie” in 2003 and “The Tigger Movie” in 2000.

Both of those pics opened modestly but one of the driving economic forces for such pics as “Heffalump” is the homevid market.

“Piglet” opened to $6.1 million and ultimately cumed $23.1 million, while “Tigger” bowed with $9.4 million and reached $45.6 million.

In the “Pooh” universe, a Heffalump is a mysterious elephantlike creature that lives in the Hundred Acre Wood.

‘Inside’ track

Though it’s only opening on 12 screens, “Inside Deep Throat” has the highest profile among the frame’s fresh limited pics. With no TV spots, U has been largely relying on print media to promote the documentary about the infamous 1972 porn pic.

Screenings and panel discussions in L.A. and Gotham, as well as a racy premiere party at Sundance, have attracted wide media coverage. Doc also hits screens at a time when media decency is an issue (again).

Still, the NC-17 rating and the typically moderate commercial potential of docs are keeping industry estimates for the opening frame’s grosses low.

According to U distrib chief Nikki Rocco, studio plans to add nine more markets next weekend, but the eventual pattern will depend on how high aud interest is in the doc, which was produced on a $2 million budget.

The others

Also opening this weekend is Magnolia’s martial arts pic “Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior,” which unspools on 387 screens.

In addition, Miramax will debut “Bride and Prejudice,” a Bollywood-style update of Jane Austen, on 32 screens. Pic is Brit helmer Gurinder Chadha’s follow-up to indie success “Bend It Like Beckham.”

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