'Grindhouse' fails to connect

Grindhouse,” the three-hour-plus genre double feature from helmers Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, was ground up at the multiplexes over the weekend, bowing in fourth place.

Pic, for which the Weinstein Co. had high hopes, picked up just $11.6 million in its debut, coming in under expectations and trailing Sony/Revolution family comedy “Are We Done Yet?,” starring Ice Cube, which took in $15 million and was the weekend’s biggest new pic at No. 3.

Easter weekend was a tough one overall for new releases, as “Blades of Glory” and “Meet the Robinsons” landed a 1-2 punch for the second straight frame with $23 million and $17 million, respectively.

Bob Weinstein called the “Grindhouse” opening weekend B.O. disappointing, but added “We hope that the strong word of mouth will overcome any initial resistance in smaller markets to its running time.

“Grindhouse,” two hard R mini-features separated by faux trailers and ads, had been tracking to bring in about $20 million. Tarantino and Rodriguez’s most recent releases, “Kill Bill Vol. 2″ and “Sin City,” were No. 1 in their debuts, and the directors’ collaboration, plus largely positive reviews, seemed a potentially potent draw. TWC even added 10 p.m. shows in top markets Thursday night to keep pace with fans’ interest.

But while biz for “Grindhouse” was solid Thursday and Friday, ticket sales dipped by about 18% Saturday, suggesting that the pic connected with its core young male demographic, but was unable to draw wider auds.

The running time of the movie, an ode to exploitation films of yesteryear, had been expected to be something of a drag on B.O., and Monday-morning quarterbacks may say the two parts should have been split and released separately, as they are abroad. TWC had reportedly toyed with the idea, but the filmmakers wanted their pics to remain as a double bill.

Harvey Weinstein defended the decision to keep the two together Sunday, telling Daily Variety it was artistically the right move and that the movie will be a moneymaker thanks to its foreign sales as separate films and an upcoming DVD rollout, which also will release the films as two separate titles.

But he acknowledged that it “has taken a while to educate the public” on how the pairing would work, as some moviegoers in areas outside Gotham and Los Angeles went into multiplexes not realizing they were in for two distinct pics.

Meanwhile, “Blades,” from Paramount/DreamWorks, has cumed $68.3 million after two weekends.

“Robinsons” cume now stands at $52.2 million after two weekends; release of the pic on 581 digital 3-D screens, which charge premium prices, have helped buoy biz.

“Are We Done Yet?,” about a suburban family man grappling with a money pit of a dream house, nailed $15 million in its debut. Cume is an estimated $19.2 million after a Wednesday release to get a jump on holiday family biz.

Like “Grindhouse,” Warner Bros.’ “The Reaping” also debuted out of the top three, with $10 million off 2,603 over three days. Supernatural thriller with religious overtones stars Hilary Swank. Released on Thursday, it grabbed $12 million over four days in release.

Fox family pic “Firehouse Dog” was a bit of a woofer, bowing at No. 10 with $4 million from 2,860 theaters. Movie was also released earlier in the week, and cume is $5.25 million.

“Grindhouse,” which posted a per-theater average of $4,417 off 2,624, is only the 17th wide release with a running time of more than three hours, according to Nielsen EDI. Data service also reported Sunday that the pic is the first R-rated film running more than three hours to be released since 2000.

Harvey Weinstein said the distrib will tweak the movie’s marketing materials to reinforce to auds that “Grindhouse” will only be a theatrical experience and won’t be rolled out on homevideo as one film.

But next weekend could make matters tougher for “Grindhouse” and other holdovers, as an unprecedented seven new pics go wide.

Besides “Blades” and “Robinsons,” some other holdovers stuck to their guns this past weekend.

Warner’s “300” dipped just 23% as its cume hit $193.8 million. Disney’s “Wild Hogs” has taken in $145.4 million over six frames and remained solidly in the top 10.

Warner Bros. and TWC’s animated “TMNT” stayed in the top 10 in its third weekend. But Sony’s “Premonition” and “Reign Over Me” were both pushed out.

In limited release, some new pics performed well, as movies playing to adults tend to do better over the Easter weekend frame.

Miramax’s “The Hoax” tricked up $1.5 million from 235 screens in its bow.

Sony Classics’ WWII pic “Black Book” wrote up $120,476 from nine screens in its debut for a cume of $144,989. Per-screen average on the Paul Verhoeven-helmed pic was a healthy $13,386.

ThinkFilm’s “The TV Set” bowed on eight screens and channeled $40,150 for a per-location average of just over $5,000. Pic, starring David Duchovny and directed by Jake Kasdan, is a sendup of the television biz.

Fox Searchlight’s Mira Nair pic “The Namesake” shot up more than 13% in its fifth frame. Pic has taken in $6.9 million.

Easter weekend brought in $107 million from the top 10, according to B.O. tracker Rentrak, down from last weekend, when the top 10 combined for $112.8 million. But the top 10 pics were still up from the same frame a year ago, when B.O. hit $98.3 million.

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