Big ‘Momma’ bow puts drag on ‘Mission’

Lawrence pic debuts in second, 'Impossible' still leads with estimated $27 mil

She doesn’t climb rocks, race sports cars or save the world, but Big Momma has proved she can hang with Tom Cruise.

Fox’s “Big Momma’s House” opened to a studio-estimated $25.6 million weekend, closely trailing the $27 million Paramount projected for “Mission: Impossible 2.” The Martin Lawrence comedy’s bow is noteworthy for three main reasons: Pic had 800 fewer playdates than “Mission 2,” reviews were fair to poor, and tracking suggested an opening in the $20 million ballpark.

“This is an incredible start to our summer,” said Tom Sherak, chairman of Fox’s domestic film group. “Critics may have an opinion, but at a certain point the public is looking to laugh.”

David T. Friendly, a producer of the pic, agreed. “If the audience was a critic, we got 25 thumbs up.”

ACNielsen EDI estimated the overall weekend B.O. at $100 million, up 15% from the $86.6 million posted in the comparable year-ago period. The first weekend of June is historically weak due to the Memorial Day hangover.

Competish to toughen

“Big Momma” was the weekend’s only wide bow, and “Gone in 60 Seconds” will be the lone new gun in the next frame. From then on, though, summer will be marked by stiff head-to-head comp.

Par shrugged off a sharp 53% sophomore decline for “Mission 2” from the Memorial Day span, saying it’s almost identical to the dip on the first “Mission.” And its overseas launch was strong, execs noted.

“This is right where we expected it,” said Robert L. Friedman, vice chairman of Par’s film group. “When you come off that kind of weekend, there’s going to be a drop. Applause to Fox. ‘Big Momma’s House’ did very well.”

While “Mission 2” looks to be profitable overall, it hasn’t exceeded expectations at the domestic B.O. Its results thus far (last weekend’s $70.8 million bow and $130.7 million cume to date) are what all of showbiz predicted. Despite a record number of playdates and arguably the most want-to-see of any summer pic, sequel has been the B.O. equivalent of Microsoft Windows: dominant, if unspectacular.

Indeed, if the weekend showed anything, it’s that “Mission 2” is a bit vulnerable — certainly welcome news to rival studios. Disney’s “Gone in 60 Seconds” will further erode the core aud of “Mission 2” when it opens Friday.

Current “Mission” foe “Big Momma” scored some impressive exit poll results. About 60% of respondents rated the pic “excellent” and another 28% called it “very good,” giving the film a commendable 88% in the top two boxes. About 60% of auds were female and 80% of the crowd would recommend it to a friend.

New high for comic

Comedy about an undercover cop who must impersonate a corpulent Southern granny is by far the biggest opening of Lawrence’s career. Previous high was “Life” at $20.4 million. At $68.3 million, last fall’s “Blue Streak” is the top cume for any of his pics.

Jump of 39% from Friday to Saturday bodes well for “Momma,” but as with every other summer hopeful, sophomore weekend will tell the tale.

Speaking of sophomores, Mouse House’s “Shanghai Noon” lost a lot of traction. The Spyglass action-comedy, starring Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson, fell 56% to claim $8.6 million. Cume is $31.9 million — certainly respectable, but not indicative of the breakout hit the Mouse House had sought by sliding pic up to Memorial Day slot.

Disney also got some grim news in “Dinosaur’s” 63% drop — steepest in the top 10. With $96.8 million in the till, pricey toon is sure to make significant coin by the end of its worldwide jaunt, but domestic run hasn’t exactly recalled “Toy Story 2.”

D’Works trio hangs on

DreamWorks logged another solid week with its three charters, “Gladiator,” “Road Trip” and “Small Time Crooks.”

“Gladiator” grossed $8.1 million in its fifth weekend, slipping 40%. Russell Crowe starrer has collected $138.7 million and has an outside shot at $200 million. It would be just the fourth R-rated pic to reach that gross level.

Comedies “Road” and “Crooks” have rewarded DreamWorks’ strategy of a simultaneous launch. Entering Week 3, “Road” has totaled $45.5 million; “Crooks” $11.2 million — rare heights for helmer/star Woody Allen.

New Line won’t have a summer pic until the mid-August chiller “The Cell.” But minimajor is definitely enjoying a warm-weather bump on “Frequency.” Sentimental thriller spent a sixth weekend in the top 10, radioing in $2.1 million for a $37.8 million cume. Decline of 27% was slimmest of any ongoing wide release.

Sony debuted “Running Free” on 100 runs and averaged $545 per engagement.

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