'Game Plan' hopes to win over families

Peter Berg’s action-thriller “The Kingdom” will test the appetite for films about fractured U.S.-Middle Eastern relations and the war on terror as it unspools this weekend at the domestic box office, while Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson comedy “The Game Plan” will look to win over families.

With awards season underway, a number of holdover specialty titles will continue to duke it out, including Paramount Vantage’s “Into the Wild,” which expands to 33 theaters in its second frame, and Warner Bros. “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” which stays put in its second frame at five runs.

In terms of new limited openings, the playing field will be somewhat less crowded after two weekends of several high-profile bows, with the two-most buzzed about titles debuting only in New York. Fox Fox Searchlight opens Wes Anderson’s laffer “The Darjeeling Limited” on Saturday in two Gotham theaters because the film, starring Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody, opens the New York Film Festival tonight. Focus Features opens Ang Lee’s NC-17 rated “Lust, Caution” in an exclusive run at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in Gotham.

Among wide players, Disney bows PG-rated “Game Plan” in 3,103 locations, while Universal unspools the R-rated “Kingdom” in 2,792 theaters. Although they appeal to distinctly different auds, the two could end up in a close race for the weekend crown.

The third new wide entrant is MGM-Lakeshore’s “The Feast of Love,” an ensemble drama whose cast includes Greg Kinnear, Morgan Freeman, Radha Mitchell, Fred Ward and Selma Blair. Film, which plays in 1,200 theaters, hasn’t generated much buzz.

“Kingdom,” which sneak peeked in 850 theaters two weekends ago, stars Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman as an elite FBI team recruited to hunt down a terrorist in Saudi Arabia who killed Americans working in the Middle Eastern country.

Film is more an actioner and thriller than political treatise, but it is among a handful of films coming from Hollywood this fall and winter that deal with the Iraq war and the Middle East.

Another one of those titles is Warner Independent Pictures’ “In the Valley of Elah,” directed by Paul Haggis. “Elah” stars Tommy Lee Jones as a father trying to find out why his soldier son was killed upon returning from fighting in Iraq.

This weekend, “Elah,” which also features Charlize Theron, makes a major push in expanding from 317 to 700 runs in its third frame. Film’s domestic gross through Wednesday was $1.8 million, according to Rentrak.

“Kingdom” marks Berg’s first film since sports drama “Friday Night Lights,” which opened to $20.3 million in October 2004.

Foxx has starred in several actioners, including “Miami Vice,” which opened to $25.7 million. He also toplined Iraqi war drama “Jarhead,” which opened to $27.7 million.

With Foxx on the marquee, “Kingdom” could see an additional boost from urban auds.

“Game Plan” marks Johnson’s first attempt at a family movie. Last year, Johnson starred in Sony’s PG-13 “Gridiron Gang,” which opened at $14.4 million on its way to a domestic cume of $38.4 million.

“Game Plan,” directed by Andy Fickman (“She’s the Man”), also stars Kyra Sedgwick, Madison Pettis and Roselyn Sanchez in the tale of a star quarterback and serial bachelor whose life is turned upside down when he learns he has a daughter.

On the specialty side, Searchlight is taking the same Saturday route with “Darjeeling Limited” that Miramax took with “The Queen,” which likewise was the New York Film Fest’s opening night film. “Limited,” also starring Natalie Portman, is about three brothers who reconnect for a train trip through India.

With “Lust, Caution,” Focus has to take great care in building an audience, since theater owners are reluctant to book films with the ultra-restrictive NC-17 rating. At the same time, Lee and Focus didn’t want to appeal the rating, letting the erotic spy thriller stand as is. “Lust, Caution” picked up the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Fest.

Among the weekend’s other limited debuts, Roadside Attractions unspools sex trade drama “Trade,” whose ensemble cast includes Kevin Kline, in 90 theaters. It is the second release for Roadside under its new deal with Lionsgate. Freestyle releases docu “Shardwater” in 60 theaters, while Lantern Lane opens laffer “Outsourced” in 8 runs.

Directed by Sean Penn and based on the best-selling book by Jon Krakauer, “Into the Wild” scored a boffo per screen average of $51,649 last weekend from four runs in L.A. and Gotham. Pic’s cume through Wednesday was $278,924.

Andrew Dominik’s “Jesse James,” starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck, scored a per screen average of $28,717 in its bow. Film’s gross through Wednesday was $194,594.

The foreign front will see a typical mix for an early fall frame — summer pics moving into new territories plus a few targeted launches of fall pics.

Thanks to solid holdover biz, Universal’s “The Bourne Ultimatum” could win for the fourth weekend in a row even without any expansion.

U, by far the most active studio since late summer, is expanding “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” into Germany, Mexico and Sweden. The laffer’s cumed $28 million from 30 markets.

U’s also opening “Knocked Up” in Holland and South Africa and “Evan Almighty” in Italy. “Knocked Up” has topped $52 million internationally from two dozen markets while the foreign cume for “Evan” has crossed $58 million in 36 territories.

Sony’s widening raunchy laffer “Superbad” into Israel, Russia and Thailand after seeing $10 million from eight markets in its early foreign run.

Summit’s expanding “Resident Evil: Extinction” into Austria and Germany. The zombie three-quel — split overseas between Summit and Sony — turned in a solid $7.6 million start internationally last weekend via first-places launches in Mexico, Russia and Taiwan.

Summit’s also launching awards season contender “Michael Clayton” in the U.K., a week before the George Clooney drama opens Stateside.

New Line’s “Hairspray” and “Rush Hour 3″ are expanding, with “Hairspray” opening in Italy and Russia and the three-quel going into Australia and New Zealand. “Hairspray” has $50 million overseas, half of that in the U.K.; “Rush Hour 3″ has topped $73 million outside the U.S., led by $21 million in the U.K.

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