‘Irene’ tops hen-pecked B.O.

Carrey, plucky 'Chicken' can't perk frame

Like Jim Carrey’s character in “Me, Myself & Irene,” the summer box office has a split personality.

For the third straight weekend, a couple of pics — mostly the debuting “Irene” from Fox and “Chicken Run” from DreamWorks — made an impact, yet the overall B.O. suffered a steep year-over-year decline.

That means this summer has now slipped behind last year’s pace, with the season about to peak over the July 4 weekend.

“Irene” opened with a studio-estimated $24.2 million, easily surpassing “Chicken Run’s” $17.5 million. Total B.O. came in at about $107 million, ACNielsen EDI estimated. That’s off 20% from the $133.2 million recorded in 1999, a period that included megahit “Big Daddy.”

“The marketplace is sleeping right now and we need something to wake it up,” said Tom Sherak, chairman of Fox’s domestic film group.

Decidedly decaf

B.O. caffeine didn’t come from Paramount sophomore “Shaft” or Disney actioner “Gone in 60 Seconds.” In finishing third and fourth, both turned in respectable outings.

“Shaft” declined 39% to grab $13.2 million and “Gone” retreated 36% for a $9.5 million take. “Shaft” has collected $42.9 million, “Gone” $68.9 million.

“Irene” may not have been the ideal stimulant either, but it’s the best bow ever for a non-sequel R-rated comedy.

On the Carrey-ometer, though, the needle didn’t really jump. Pic marks a comeback from the abyss of “Man on the Moon,” but it’s also $5 million-$10 million below releases such as “Liar, Liar,” “The Truman Show” and “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls.”

Exit polls produced mixed results, with the highest ratings predictably coming from men under 25. About 80% listed the pic as a definite recommend, and 80% considered it “very good” or “excellent”; 70% of young women checked the top two boxes.

Great gams for ‘Irene’?

Sherak opted to focus on the Farrelly factor. “Irene” bow is by far a career best for helmers Peter and Bobby, well ahead of smashes “There’s Something About Mary” and “Dumb and Dumber.”

“You’ve got to remember that ‘Mary’ opened to $13 million,” Sherak said. “Will ‘Irene’ have those kind of legs? I would need a crystal ball for that.”

Some B.O. observers have maintained the darker half of Carrey’s “Irene” role was as uncommercial as the one he played in “The Cable Guy,” which turned off many auds and took in just $60.2 million in 1996. But Sherak insisted the new pic “is no ‘Cable Guy.’ ”

Pecking at “Irene’s” heels was the G-rated “Chicken Run,” which set a record for DreamWorks animated fare.

Co-venture with Aardman Animations, creators of popular tyke skein “Wallace & Gromit,” launched Wednesday with one run apiece in six major markets. An extra 300-400 runs are planned for Friday.

DreamWorks distrib chief Jim Tharp heralded “Chicken’s” 29% jump from Friday to Saturday — more than double the spike on “Irene.” While some toons take far bigger leaps, especially when kids are in school, Tharp sees the surge of interest as proof of all-ages playability.

“You do have other family films out there, so to do this kind of business is incredible,” Tharp said. “Also, the concept of clay animation is a difficult one to market.”

Voices by Mel Gibson and a host of vet Brit thesps helped broaden the appeal of the first full-length toon from co-directors Peter Lord and Nick Park. Pair are not quite household names in America despite multiple “Wallace & Gromit” Oscar wins.

Sagging ‘Titan’

While DreamWorks has made modest headway in the Disney-dominated animated realm, Fox’s attempt at the same wound up “Titan AnEmic.” Toon swooned 60%, the worst drop of any wide release.

With just $16.9 million in the till to date, big-budget sci-fier is a longshot to reach $30 million. Bill Mechanic, who quit as Fox CEO last week, long championed Fox Animation Studios and its long-nurtured “Titan,” which sought fickle teen auds with edgy computer visuals and a soundtrack peppered with rock and techno.

“I don’t think it deserved its fate,” Sherak said. “I think this has to do with what’s going on in animation.”

Indeed, DreamWorks’ “Road to El Dorado” and Disney’s 35mm release of “Fantasia 2000” (which fell 45%, collecting $1.6 million from 1,313 playdates) join “Titan” as animated missteps of 2000.

Even Mouse House’s “Dinosaur,” trudging uphill toward a final tally of $150 million, has been a subdued performer in the studio’s rarified context.

While “Titan” may go down as one of Fox’s bigger theatrical stumbles, its New Regency co-production “Big Momma’s House” has been a welcome talisman. Well on its way to $100 million and beyond, Martin Lawrence comedy added $8.7 over the weekend, dropping just 25%. Cume stands at $85.4 million.

Monster milestones

Two summer battleships, Par’s “Mission: Impossible 2” and DreamWorks’ “Gladiator” reached major milestones.

With a laudable 30% hold and another $8 million, “Mission 2” sped past the original “Mission’s” $181 million take. Sequel is up to $189.3 million.

“Gladiator” fell just 25% to pocket $4 million. Roman epic is at $165.6 million and co-finance partner Universal reported pic has passed $300 million worldwide.

Par Classics was the only art pic purveyor to report results. Ralph Fiennes starrer “Sunshine” expanded to the top 25 markets and totaled $354,000. Cume is $607,008. “The Virgin Suicides,” still in 50 markets, posted $102,000 for a cume of $4.2 million.

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