Pep rally at B.O.

Pom-pom pic 'Bring it On' powers to $17 mil

Gimme a “T!” Gimme an “E!” Gimme an “E!” Gimme an “N!”

What’s that spell? Boffo!

Universal’s cheerleading pic “Bring It On” connected with coveted young auds over the weekend, grossing a studio-estimated $17.4 million. Tally topped the charts by a $6 million margin and nearly doubled most tracking predictions.

If the estimate holds, the debut will be the best ever for the weekend prior to Labor Day. That may be a dubious distinction, but it’s welcome news for U and its partner on the pic, Beacon Entertainment.

“This turned out to be a great date,” said Stacey Snider, chairman of Universal Pictures. “Everybody felt like the summer was over, but we felt there were still moviegoers out there.”

Frame’s two other wide debuts paled in comparison. Warner Bros.’ “The Art of War” met expectations with an estimated $11.2 million, while Disney’s “The Crew” wheezed its way to a mere $4.1 million.

Despite the heady start for “Bring It On,” overall B.O. spent a fifth straight week in the red compared with 1999. ACNielsen EDI estimated total receipts at $90 million, down about 5% from the $94.7 million recorded last year. Summer is now 5% behind last year and year-to-date grosses are clinging to a 1% lead after entering May up 10%.

Week-to-week declines among ongoing pics ranged from 30% to 45%. New Line’s “The Cell,” last week’s champ, slipped 45% and held down third place with an estimated $9.6 million. Jennifer Lopez serial killer chiller has pocketed $33.7 million.

Warners’ “Space Cowboys” solidified its rep as the legs pic of August. Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, it enjoyed a fourth straight week in the top five, adding $6.6 million to its $63.8 million cume.

Durability of “Cowboys” helped Warners shrug off the so-so bow for “Art of War.” Wesley Snipes actioner is the third release of 2000 from Elie Samaha’s Franchise Pictures.

Though still an unqualified smash, Paramount’s “The Original Kings of Comedy” didn’t quite live up to the hype in its sophomore outing. Highly profitable $3 million concert comedy film produced by MTV Films fell from second to fifth. A $6.1 million frame, off 45%, brings its tally to $21.4 million after 10 days.

In the end, the weekend began and ended with cheerleaders. And no one in the industry had predicted such a payday for a $10 million teen movie.

Cheerful mystery

The question of the weekend was, Why did auds flock to a pic that seemed to target such a narrow — albeit free-spending — demo?

Exit poll results, which could have helped provide an answer, were not available. But Marc Abraham, prexy of U-based Beacon, ventured a theory.

“We never made this as a teen movie,” he said. “It was based on a very specific idea and it was a fun comedy about something. We always felt that if it had the right intelligent tone to it, audiences would respond.”

From a star perspective, the weekend proved puzzling. Few predicted “Crew” topliners Burt Reynolds and Richard Dreyfuss would sleep with the fishes while Kirsten Dunst, star of two recent theatrical duds, “Dick” and “Drop Dead Gorgeous,” would triumph.

The specialized arena, grinding its way to the end of a spotty summer, offered little new to cheer about.

Saying ‘Grace’

Leading the limited-release list again was Fine Line’s “Saving Grace,” which took in $966,808 to average $3,791 in each of its 255 locations.

With a healthy $3.4 million cume, comedy will expand Friday to around 850 runs. Soft September sked should allow it some daylight, and its skinny dip of 6% from last weekend (on the same number of screens) bodes well.

Artisan’s “Cecil B. Demented” expanded to 69 sites in its third weekend, averaging $2,899 for an estimated gross of $200,000. Cume of John Waters’ latest is $642,000.

Another $133,000 for Paramount Classics’ “Sunshine” pushed it past $5.5 million. The Shooting Gallery’s “Croupier” isn’t far behind, at $4.9 million.

Shooting up

Rock-steady “Croupier” began its 19th week of release by adding new Canadian markets. Move helped its weekend gross of $210,000 rise 7% over last weekend’s even though its screen count fell 10 to 121.

A trio of small-scale debuts put up small-scale numbers. Stratosphere/IDP’s “Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire” mustered $12,000 on one screen at Gotham’s Angelika. Lions Gate’s “Love and Sex,” starring John Favreau and Famke Janssen, averaged $8,000 on its eight Gotham and L.A. screens, for a total of $64,000. And Sony Classics’ “Solomon and Gaenor” reaped $19,237 from five houses — possibly a record for a Welsh-lingo pic.

The approaching Labor Day weekend will cap the summer season with a typical whimper. Only wide bows are Destination Films’ “Whipped” and Miramax’s “Highlander: Endgame.”

Don’t expect any pic to truly “bring it on.” No Labor Day opener in history has reached even $10 million.

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