Universal’s in the ‘Fast’ lane

'Furious' could be biggest April opener

Universal’s “Fast and Furious” hopes to tear up the box office when it opens today, marking the fourth outing for the action franchise and reteaming Vin Diesel and Paul Walker for the first time since the original pic.

Weekend’s other wide opener is Miramax’s coming-of-age dramedy “Adventureland,” from director Greg Mottola (“Superbad”). Film opens in 1,862 runs.

The fourth “Fast” goes out in 3,462 theaters domestically. Pic is making an aggressive push internationally, opening day-and-date in 3,015 runs in more than two dozen markets, including France, Mexico, South Korea and Spain.

U is looking for the pic to restore the shine to the franchise. Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster, who starred alongside Diesel and Walker in the first film, also return.

The last pic in the franchise, 2006’s “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” opened to $24 million, less than half the $50.3 million opening of “2 Fast and 2 Furious” in 2003. Original “The Fast and the Furious” debuted to $40.1 million in 2001.

Combined, the first three titles in the franchise grossed $334.2 million domestically and $267.9 million internationally for a worldwide tally of $602.1 million.

All three previous films debuted in June. U had initially planned on opening the fourth in June as well, but moved the picture to April to take advantage of a less-crowded playing field. So far, 2009 has been unusual in that a number of pics have done boffo business; the first few months of the year are traditionally a quiet time at the box office.

Judging by the strength of the tracking, “Fast and Furious” has a shot at securing the biggest opening of all time for April. Current record holder is “Anger Management,” which debuted to $42.2 million in 2003. “Scary Movie 4” bowed to $40.2 million in 2006.

When it comes to reviews, however, “Adventureland” is the clear winner heading into the weekend.

Mottola wrote and directed the Miramax production, which stars Jesse Eisenberg, Ryan Reynolds and Kristen Stewart. Set in the late 1980s, storyline revolves around a college grad who goes to work for an amusement park.

The specialty side also sees a handful of openers and expansions. Sony Pictures Classics bows two titles: Spanish-language “Sugar,” which goes out in a total of 11 theaters in New York and L.A., and French film “Paris 36,” opening in seven runs in L.A. and Gotham.

Other limited bows include William H. Macy starrer “Bart Got a Room” (Anchor Bay); “Play the Game,” starring Andy Griffith and Paul Campbell (Slowhand Cinema Releasing); “The Escapist” (IFC); “Gigantic” (First Independent Releasing); and “Alien Trespass” (Roadside Attractions).

Among holdovers, DreamWorks Animation and Paramount’s 3-D toon “Monsters vs. Aliens” heads into its second weekend. Film opened to $59.3 million last weekend at the domestic box office.

“Monsters” should dominate at the international box office. Par expands the pic into nearly every major market, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K. as spring vacations start. So far the toon’s taken in $14 million from eight overseas markets, with most of the coin coming from Russia.

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