Ratner-directed film opens Friday

Returning the “Rush Hour” martial arts buddy franchise to the bigscreen was anything but a rush job, yet the wait seems to have been worth it for New Line and director Brett Ratner.

“Rush Hour 3,” in which Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker reprise their roles as the comedic cop duo, has a clear shot at collaring the competish and cornering the weekend market. Pic opens today in 3,778 theaters, six years after the last installment played.

Paramount will have a much harder time luring auds to filmmaker Matthew Vaughn’s fantasy epic “Stardust,” which the studio admits is a tough sell. Ensemble cast includes Charlie Cox, Sienna Miller, Peter O’Toole, Michelle Pfeiffer, Claire Danes and Rupert Everett.

“Stardust,” rolling out in 2,540 theaters, is the last release of the year from Par proper. Studio, which said the film cost $70 million to make, put up $35 million; the rest of the coin came from private equity.

On the family front, Sony and Revolution’s sequel “Daddy Day Camp,” playing in 2,332 theaters, shouldn’t pose too much competition for Disney holdover “Underdog,” which heads into its second frame.

“Day Camp,” starring Cuba Gooding Jr., grossed $773,706 when it quietly opened on Wednesday. That’s well behind the $1.7 million posted by “Underdog” on Wednesday, as well as far behind the $7.6 million opening-day take for “Daddy Day Care,” toplining Eddie Murphy, in 2003.

After “Rush Hour 3,” holdovers “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “The Simpsons Movie,” “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” “Hairspray” and “Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix” are expected to display plenty of strength as they compete with the rest of the new entries.

Thanks largely to a bountiful July box office, summer 2007 is looking to be the best on record, running 9% over last summer and 5% ahead of 2004, the previous record-holder.

Heading into its second frame, filmmaker Paul Greengrass’ “Bourne” is close to breaking the $100 million mark at the domestic box office. Threequel had grossed $92.6 million through Wednesday, according to Rentrak.

“Simpsons,” entering its third frame, had a cume of $138.5 million through Wednesday, meaning animated pic will cross the $150 million threshold over the weekend.

“Rush Hour 3″ has a shot at matching the $67.4 million opening for “Rush Hour 2,” which bowed Aug. 3, 2001, and went on to make $226.2 million domestically.

The first “Rush Hour,” bowing in 1998, was Ratner’s first major commercial success.

As a result of the strong box office perf of the first two films, plenty of time passed before deals could be negotiated for the third installment, particularly when it came to Tucker.

Tucker, who has appeared in no other films since the “Rush Hour” franchise began, reportedly struck a deal giving him a $20 million-against-20% payday for the sequel. That kicked in a near-$20 million payday for Chan and a reported $7.5 million deal for Ratner. Pic reportedly cost north of $130 million to make.

Franchise appears to still resonate, with tracking particularly strong among the prized younger male demo. This time out, story begins in Paris. Roman Polanski plays a part in the film, marking his first role in an American pic in 15 years (“Back in the U.S.S.R.”).

Among specialty runs, Picturehouse bows filmmaker Jeffrey Blitz’s “Rocket Science,” starring Reece Thompson as a stuttering high schooler who joins the debate team. Blitz, who directed docu “Spellbound,” sold “Rocket” at Sundance. Film bows in six theaters in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Samuel Goldywn Films bows dramedy “2 Days in Paris” in eight locations in New York and Los Angeles. Pic was directed and written by actress Julie Delpy, who stars opposite Adam Goldberg.

Miramax expands Jane Austen biopic “Becoming Jane,” starring Anne Hathaway, to 601 locations in key markets.

After Dark Films makes its latest horror play with “Skinwalkers,” which opens in 737 theaters. City Lights bows thriller “Descent” in two locations in Gotham and L.A.

Overseas, “The Simpsons Movie” should win its third straight weekend. Comedy toon crossed the $200 million mark in international grosses on Wednesday and opens this frame in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand, followed by Brazil, Holland, Russia and South Korea later this month.

With major tentpoles starting to play out, there should be room for new competitors. The frame will see a day-and-date launch of “Rush Hour 3″ in the U.K., while Universal will launch “Bourne” in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand and the Mideast. In Japan, Warner Bros. opens “Ocean’s Thirteen,” while Fox goes with “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” in France, Korea and Spain. U also bows “Evan Almighty” in Germany.

Holdovers “Transformers,” “Phoenix” and “Ratatouille” should remain solid players. “Transformers” has become the fifth tentpole this summer to hit the $300 million mark after “Spider-Man 3,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” and “Shrek the Third.”

Fox’s “Live Free or Die Hard” should still show some punch as it opens in Australia. International cume is around $200 million.

(Dave McNary in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)

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