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Box office gets crowded

Four new films aim for adults

The weekend box office could prove a slugfest as four prominent films all aimed at adults bow — Focus Features’ “Burn After Reading,” Lionsgate’s “Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys,” Overture’s “Righteous Kill” and Picturehouse’s “The Women.”

The film biz is hoping that the crowded class of new wide releases invigorates the fall box office after a rocky start last weekend. All four pics are tracking well in their respective target demos.

Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton topline “Burn After Reading,” Ethan and Joel Coen’s follow-up to best pic winner “No Country for Old Men.”

Both “The Family That Preys” and “The Women” — an update of George Cukor’s 1939 classic film that was based on the 1936 play by Clare Booth Luce — are rated PG-13, while “Righteous Kill” and “Burn After Reading” are rated R. “The Women,” opening in 2,962 runs, is the final release from Bob Berney’s Picturehouse. “Burn After Reading” opens in 2,651; “Righteous Kill,” 3,152; and “The Family That Preys,” 2,070.

Given Perry’s popularity among African-American auds and the fact that “Righteous Kill” and “Burn After Reading” are going after the same aud, at least to some extent, “The Family That Preys” could win the weekend crown.

The dramedy, which marks a departure for Perry in that one of the pic’s lead characters is white, stars Alfre Woodard, Kathy Bates, Jennifer Hudson, Sanaa Lathan and Perry, who wrote and directed. Film concerns two matriarchs who come from opposite sides of the tracks but must both navigate family intrigue. Pic is Perry’s sixth for Lionsgate.

“Burn After Reading” is a comedy romp along the lines of the Coens’ “The Ladykillers” and “Intolerable Cruelty,” both of which bowed to roughly $12.6 million. “Burn After Reading” will likely do more than that, but its opening performance will depend upon how much it splits its aud with Jon Avnet’s cop drama “Righteous Kill,” which teams Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.

The Coens’ latest outing concerns an ex-CIA agent whose memoir falls into the hands of a bumbling gym staffer and a co-worker determined to find a way to pay for plastic surgery. John Malkovich and Richard Jenkins also star. Working Title Films produced for Focus.

“Burn After Reading” has been receiving mixed reviews. Pic made its North American debut at the Toronto Film Festival last weekend. Many of the Coen brothers’ films have begun as limited releases, including “No Country for Old Men,” which went on to cume $74.3 million domestically — the best gross of any film made by the duo. Like “Burn After Reading,” “Ladykillers” and “Intolerable Cruelty” were wide releases.

“Righteous Kill,” produced and financed by Millennium Films and Emmett/Furla Films, should skew more male than “Burn.” Pic was penned by Russell Gewirtz and also stars Carla Gugino, Donnie Wahlberg, 50 Cent, Brian Dennehy and John Leguizamo.

Pacino and De Niro have appeared together in two films, “Heat” and “The Godfather: Part II,” but only had a few scenes together in “Heat” and none in the “Godfather” sequel. “Kill” revolves around two veteran NYPD detectives who track a serial killer.

“The Women” will seek to replicate the success enjoyed by recent female-skewing films, although it’s appealing mostly to femmes over age 25, according to tracking. Comedy stars Meg Ryan, Eva Mendes, Annette Bening, Debra Messing and Jada Pinkett Smith.

In keeping with the original film and stage play, there are no men in the film. One twist: Smith’s character is openly gay.

“The Women” marks the feature directorial debut of TV showrunner Diane English, creator of TV sitcom “Murphy Brown” (Candice Bergen appears in the film).

Film is Picturehouse’s widest release ever. English produced “The Women” with Mick Jagger’s production shingle, Jagged Films.

On the specialty side, Warner Bros. bows “Towelhead,” from Warner Independent Pictures, which, like Picturehouse, has been shuttered by Warner Bros. and Time Warner. “Towelhead,” about an Arab-American girl, opens at four theaters in New York and Los Angeles.

Slowhand Cinema Releasing will bow its G-rated doc “Proud American” at an estimated 750 sites. Pic takes a cultural look at various aspects of the heartland. Frosh distrib Oscilloscope, headed by Beasties Boys member Adam Yauch, will unspool the environmental doc “Flow: For Love of Water” in New York and L.A. at two venues.

Among other limited fare, Distrimax’s Mexican romantic comedy “Tired of Kissing Frogs” opens in 14 theaters; NewStyle’s “Greetings From the Shore,” 31; Emerging’s “Loins of Punjab Presents,” four; and First Run’s Southern plantation doc “Moving Midway,” two in New York.

After playing exclusively in Austin, Texas, last weekend, Anchor Bay’s Matthew McConaughey comedy “Surfer, Dude” will up its theater count to 75.

On the foreign front, summer titles will dominate as studios move high-profile pics into targeted markets.

“Mamma Mia!” looks likely to win its second frame in a row thanks to launches in a quintet of markets — Belgium, Brazil, France, Hong Kong and Mexico — plus a continuation of its dazzling holdover biz.

The Universal pic had topped $288 million in foreign box office as of Wednesday, led by $113.5 million in the U.K, where the feel-good tuner is the top film of 2008. Germany’s hit $33 million, Australia’s added $28 million, and the four Scandinavian markets have combined for $40 million.

U’s “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” — which has turned in a strong overseas performance with $260 million — should remain a significant player with launches in Australia and New Zealand plus its second Chinese frame.

Disney’s expanding “Wall-E” into Australia, Greece and New Zealand after holding off on many markets during the summer. Foreign biz has been solid for the Pixar toon and should cross the $200 million mark this weekend.

Universal, which remains the most active studio in the foreign market, expands “Wanted” into Spain and Sweden with overseas box office at $150 million.

Other launches include “Get Smart” in France, “Step Brothers” in Germany and “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” in Poland.

(Dave McNary and Anthony D’Alessandro contributed to this report.)

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