Tracking says pic has chance for best opening of '06

Will “V for Vendetta” become B for boffo?

Amid high hopes after a four-month delay, Warner Bros. is launching the sci-fi thriller starring Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving at 3,365 playdates domestically.

“Vendetta,” produced by Joel Silver and written by the Wachowskis, debuts amid a market that’s lagging last year by 2% so far. Tracking indicates the pic has a decent shot at posting the best opening of 2006, eclipsing the $30 million launch for “Madea’s Family Reunion” the weekend of Feb. 22.

“Vendetta” also is likely to dominate internationally, launching on about 2,000 prints in 16 markets including the U.K., Germany, Italy, Mexico, South Korea and Taiwan. Thriller’s facing little direct competition and may tap into pent-up foreign demand following several weeks of biz that has been lukewarm at best.

Pic, directed by James McTeigue, has received generally positive notices and should benefit from buzz over its combo of action and political content. Portman portrays a woman recruited by a mysterious revolutionary wearing a Guy Fawkes mask to battle a fascist government.

Warners first promoted “Vendetta” at last summer’s Comic-Con and has heavily campaigned for the R-rated film since then, highlighting its extensive special effects, Portman’s shaved head and the Wachowskis’ connection to the “Matrix” trilogy, which grossed $1.6 billion worldwide.

“Vendetta” was originally set for release in November, a date that would have coincided with the anniversary of Fawkes’ unsuccessful attempt to blow up the British Parliament in 1605. However, it was moved back to March after the London subway terrorist bombings in July. Warner attributed the delay to the need for additional post-production work.

Paramount is launching the frame’s other wide opener, PG-13 comedy “She’s the Man” starring Amanda Bynes, at 2,623 engagements. Inspired by Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” pic has Bynes’ character disguising herself as a boy. It’s aimed at female teens and should draw coin similar to Bynes’ 2003 comedy “What a Girl Wants,” which opened with $11.4 million and cumed $36 million.

“She’s the Man” also marks the first DreamWorks film released by Par since its $1.6 billion purchase of the former closed.

Paramount’s other entry, “Failure to Launch,” should show solid legs among adult moviegoers in its soph sesh, after handily winning its first frame with $24.4 million. “Failure” also is launching internationally in France, Germany, Mexico and Norway via UIP.

Disney family laffer “The Shaggy Dog” is likely to continue to draw well among its target kid demo in its second weekend, while Fox Searchlight’s second frame of “The Hills Have Eyes” may lose potential viewers to “Vendetta.”

The weekend also will see Yari Film Group’s limited launch of Sidney Lumet’s courtroom drama “Find Me Guilty,” starring Vin Diesel, at 439 playdates. Freestyle’s opening “Don’t Trip … He Ain’t Through With Me Yet,” shot at a Steve Harvey comedy concert, at 57.

Key platform openings include Sony Classics’ “Don’t Come Knocking,” directed by Wim Wenders and starring Sam Shepard as a Western actor, at six sites in New York and Los Angeles, and Searchlight’s “Thank You for Smoking” on five screens. Searchlight outbid Paramount Classics for the dark comedy, directed by Jason Reitman and starring Aaron Eckhart as a tobacco lobbyist, at the Toronto Film Festival last fall.

On the foreign side, Fox is counterprogramming “Vendetta” in the U.K. with the launch of “The Pink Panther,” which led overseas last weekend and has cumed $35 million internationally and $110 million worldwide.

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