'Kicking,' 'Monster' to battle at box office

A quartet of wide releases aims to reverse an 11-week weak streak at the box office.

Two laffers will duke it out as New Line’s femme-friendly “Monster-in-Law” bows in 3,424 theaters while Universal’s family pic “Kicking and Screaming” will debut at 3,457.

Also bowing today are Rogue’s martial-arts actioner “Unleashed” at 1,955 venues and Dimension’s thriller “Mindhunters” at 1,040.

On this weekend last year, “Troy” bowed with $47 million, lifting total receipts for the frame to $112 million.

New Line and Universal are optimistic about the prospects for their pics and believe the combo will lead to a boost at the wickets.

New Line distrib prexy David Tuckerman said he thought this weekend’s biz could improve on last year’s total. “Both our opening and ‘Kicking and Screaming’ are going to be good, and the holdover stuff is going to be solid,” he said. “You’ll know in a month or so whether there’s anything wrong with our business because there’s a lot of good films coming.”

Nonetheless, the matchup of the weekend’s biggest new entrants is an odd one. The PG-13 “Monster,” which stars Jennifer Lopez and marks Jane Fonda’s return to the bigscreen, is tracking very strongly with femme auds.

New Line held 849 sneaks last Sunday and was impressed by the 95% capacity turnout. “Normally sneaks are in the 70s,” Tuckerman said, “and this was a difficult day to sneak on because it was Mother’s Day at 4 in the afternoon.” He said the aud was 65% female, with 60% over age 30.

Meanwhile, U has promoted Will Ferrell’s PG-rated “Kicking” most heavily to family auds.

“We feel good about it,” said U distrib prexy Nikki Rocco. “It’s a family film, there’s nothing to compete with us, plus it’s Will Ferrell. So those are three things working for us.”

But the potential auds of the two pics may have a lot of overlap. Family films are famously difficult to track, but so far the pic’s strongest quadrant has been females under 25 — also a core demo for “Monster.”

In a slight twist on the usual counterprogramming strategy, Rogue is launching “Unleashed” as an alternative for young males not interested in either “Monster” or “Kicking.”

Star Jet Li’s “Black Mask” opened on the same weekend in 1999 with $4.5 million. But his subsequent pics have opened well, though played off quickly — typical for the genre.

“Cradle 2 the Grave,” which like “Unleashed” had some hip-hop tie-ins, opened with $16.5 million in 2003 and cumed $35 million. New pic is opening at several hundred fewer theaters than “Cradle,” and bow should end up somewhere in between those of “Black Mask” and “Cradle.”

Industry expectations for Val Kilmer-LL Cool J thriller “Mindhunters,” which has been gathering dust on Dimension’s shelf for several years, are more modest. Pic has been pitched to a similar aud as “Unleashed.”

Opening in limited release this weekend on 10 screens in L.A. and Gotham is Sony Pictures Classics’ “Layer Cake,” a Brit caper pic from Matthew Vaughn, who is next tackling “X-Men 3.”

Also bowing, on a solo screen in L.A., is “Tell Them Who You Are,” ThinkFilm’s doc on cinematographer Haskell Wexler by his son Mark.

Other releases include Paramount Classics’ “Mad Hot Ballroom” on two Gotham screens, TLA’s “Ma Mere” and Freestyle’s “Modigliani” on eight screens and Wellspring’s “Kings and Queen” on two in Gotham.

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