'Love Guru' lacks box office karma

Mike Myers topliner “The Love Guru” suffered from bad karma in its box office bow, while Warner Bros.’ “Get Smart” had enough brains to easily win the weekend and possibly launch a film franchise for Warners and Village Roadshow.

“Get Smart,” starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway, grossed an estimated $39.1 million from 3,911 runs, introducing a new generation to the spy spoof property created for television in the 1960s by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry.

The race between the two comedies wasn’t even close. “Guru,” from Paramount and Spyglass, placed only No. 4 for the weekend, grossing an estimated $14 million from 3,012 runs. That’s a blow for Myers and partners Par and Spyglass.

Paramount had much better luck with DreamWorks Animation toon “Kung Fu Panda,” which essentially tied with Universal and Marvel’s “The Incredible Hulk” for the No. 2 spot at the weekend box office.

“Panda” declined a mere 35% in its third weekend to an estimated $21.7 million from 4,053 theaters for a cume of $155.6 million.

That put the toon slightly ahead of “Incredible Hulk,” which fell off a sizable 61% in its second weekend to an estimated $21.5 million from 3,508 theaters; pic has a hearty cume of $96.5 million in its first 10 days.

M. Night Shyamalan’s R-rated eco-thriller “The Happening” took an expected tumble in its second frame, declining 67% to an estimated $10 million from 2,986, placing No. 5 for the frame. Cume is $50.3 million.

On the specialty side, Bob Berney’s Picturehouse scored a boffo per location average of $44,539 with “Kit Kittredge: An American Girl,” which played in five cities where American Girl doll stores are located, including Los Angeles. Film, starring Abigail Breslin, grossed an estimated $222,697. It opens nationwide on July 2.

Overall, it was another strong weekend at the summer B.O. Sesh was up more than 5% over the same weekend last year, when Carell comedy “Evan Almighty” led with a $31.2 million opening. As of Sunday, and for the first time in months, total box office revs for the year were running slightly ahead of 2007 levels on the strength of a surprisingly strong June.

Many had questioned the decisions of Warners and Paramount to open “Get Smart” and “Guru” on the same weekend, saying the two comedies would divide the audience. Both are rated PG-13.

But “Get Smart,” directed by Peter Segal and also starring Dwayne Johnson and Alan Arkin, played much more broadly. Film was produced by Mosaic Media.

“We always knew we had the goods, and we couldn’t have asked for a better start,” said Warner prexy of domestic distribution Dan Fellman.

Audience was evenly divided among men and women but skewed older, with 60% of the audience over age 25. However, younger moviegoers gave the movie better marks — a good sign for any future franchise. Fellman said the high marks from the younger crowd was impressive considering that kids have probably never seen the TV show upon which the pic was based.

Warners will wait to see how the movie plays out before pursuing a sequel. Fellman said the pic should remain a strong player over the next few weekends, even with the entry of Will Smith topliner “Hancock” over the July Fourth holiday.

Heading into the weekend, tracking showed “Get Smart” safely ahead of “Guru.”

Still, “Guru” was expected to see box office in the high teens but wasn’t helped by scathing reviews. Directed by Marco Schnabel, pic also stars Jessica Alba, Justin Timberlake and Ben Kingsley.

“Guru” did best among younger men and boys. Of the audience, 56% was male, while 55% were under age 25. Movie marks Myers’ first live-action project since “Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat” five years ago.

Myers created the title character, Guru Pitka, much as he created the Austin Powers character. Thesp heavily promoted “Guru,” including a special spot on the “American Idol” finale.

“Guru’s” opening gross is one of Myers’ lowest tallies in years, although the original “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” opened to only $9.5 million in May 1997 on its way to cuming $53.9 million and birthing a successful franchise. The next two “Austin Powers” pics opened to $54.9 million and $73 million, respectively.

Paramount and Spyglass co-financed “Guru,” which cost under $60 million to produce. “Get Smart” cost $80 million or more.

The frame was notable elsewhere. Paramount’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” neared the $300 million mark at the domestic box office, ending the weekend with a cume of $290.8 million.

Late last week, Paramount and Marvel’s Robert Downey Jr. starrer “Iron Man” became the first film released in 2008 to cross $300 million. Through Sunday, the domestic cume was an estimated $304.8 million.

“Iron Man” opened to $102.8 million and then declined 50% in its second frame vs. the 61% dip for “Incredible Hulk.” Both summer tentpoles were fully developed, financed and produced by Marvel Studios.

“Incredible Hulk” opening was considered a victory, since it’s only been five years since Ang Lee’s “The Hulk” played on the bigscreen. That pic fell off a steep 70% in its second weekend.

Marvel predicts that “Incredible Hulk” will ultimately gross more domestically than did 2003’s “Hulk” ($132 million).

The specialty side of the biz was energized by Picturehouse’s “Kit Kittredge,” based on the historical American Girl doll, book and magazine line. At the Grove in L.A., the theater teemed with young girls and their moms throughout the weekend.

Berney, known for being one of the industry’s most innovative marketing and distribution execs, said the film’s initial limited release is designed to promote word of mouth, much as Berney accomplished with “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

“This movie isn’t just an advertisement for a product. The reviews were good across the board. It’s a phenomenal family story,” said Berney, predicting that parents will begin relying on grandparents to take girls back to the theater for repeat viewings.

Picturehouse scored a second time over the weekend with more traditional arthouse pic “Mongol,” which nabbed a per screen average of $7,210 in its third week when grossing $744,368 from 94 locations. Domestic cume is $1.1 million.

Among other new specialty offerings, Sony Pictures Classics’ “Brick Lane” grossed $50,470 in its debut in seven theaters for a per location average of $7,210.

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