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Rookies torpedoed

'U-571' sinks 'Flintstones,' 2 other debuts

Universal outdid itself over the weekend. But that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Studio’s submarine actioner “U-571” repeated as B.O. champ, slipping a respectable 37% to pocket $12.3 million, according to weekend estimates. Pic handily beat yabba-dabba-debut “Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas,” which mustered a stony $10.8 million despite 3,037 playdates.

Those two pics plus “Erin Brockovich” gave U three titles in the top 10 for the second straight week.

Universal distrib chief Nikki Rocco professed to be “thrilled” with bow of “Flintstones” sequel, but its numbers proved a shadow of the 1994 original, which opened to $37.2 million over Memorial Day weekend. Even in its third weekend, “The Flintstones” took in $12.6 million on its way to a $130.5 million cume.

With “U-571” remaining No. 1, three debuts filled the next three spots. New Line’s “Frequency” radioed in with $9.1 million and Fox finally got a pic off the ground, securing fourth place with $8.3 million on “Where The Heart Is.”

While nothing jumped ahead of the pack, the pack surged well ahead of last year’s pace. ACNielsen EDI estimated overall receipts at $82.5 million, up 34% from the same weekend in 1999. (And this year had nothing even close to last year’s $20.1 million bow of “Entrapment.”)

“U-571,” from “Breakdown” director Jonathan Mostow, has brought in a sturdy $38.2 million in 10 days. But Matthew McConaughey starrer may go into a steeper dive when summer actioners take center stage, beginning Friday.

Lone consolation for “Flintstones” may be in kicking DreamWorks’ “The Road to El Dorado” out of the top 10.

Toon swooned 58% due in part to “Flintstones” comp, taking in $2.2 million to finish 11th.

Laden with pricey special effects and a Burger King tie-in, the poorly reviewed “Rock Vegas” won’t be one for the U scrapbook. Brightest prospects lie in ancillaries, though until “Dinosaur” launches May 19, pic should have free rein over tyke auds.

Like Universal, New Line charted three pics on the top 10. Along with “Frequency,” the sophomore “Love and Basketball” and sleeper “Final Destination” showed strong retention.

Future of “Frequency” will rest, even more than most pics, on its Week 2 numbers. Minimajor hopes supernatural thriller starring Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel (and scripted by New Line music exec Toby Emmerich) finds an audience over time, a la “Final Destination.” That teen thriller has rolled up $46 million in nearly seven weeks.

“Based on what we saw with the sneaks and this weekend, I think it’s going to be around for a long time,” said New Line distrib chief David Tuckerman. He added that “Frequency’s” weekend tally exceeded tracking projections.

Fox has urgently needed a pic to promote, following a long string of stumbles spanning “Fight Club,” “Anna and the King” and “The Beach.” It’s long been high on “Where the Heart Is,” even staging an unusual full screening at ShoWest in March. Crix have been unmoved, but launch of $8.3 million is biggest for Fox since “The Beach” in February and “Heart” should pump more cash.

Tom Sherak, studio’s motion picture group chairman, said corn-fed dramedy cost about $9 million to make.

Female stars Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing and Sally Field proved potent draws for women. About 80% of female auds listed pic as a “definite recommend,” with about 90% of overall auds rating it “very good” or “excellent.”

Limited engagements proved a mixed bag of new technology, new directors and a new pic that flopped.

“Timecode,” the Mike Figgis-helmed digital experiment released by Sony’s Screen Gems label, aroused plenty of curiosity with its improv structure and multi-frame look. On just seven screens in L.A. and Gotham, pic collected $95,000, or $13,571 per engagement.

“We feel we’re at the front of something with this,” said Sony’s Jeff Blake of the $4 million film, whose sound was mixed live by Figgis at a Friday screening in L.A. “It’s the type of project we formed Screen Gems to do.” Pic will add 16 new markets on Friday.

Elsewhere in the Sony family, the Classics division’s “Bossa Nova” gathered $23,780 from two screens in its opening frame.

With “American Psycho” fading, Lions Gate bowed “The Big Kahuna,” which is Kevin Spacey’s first screen appearance since his Oscar win. Debut helmer John Swanbeck’s drama about industrial lubricant salesmen recorded $88,000 in eight locales. Lions Gate likens that bow to that of last year’s $10 million sleeper “The Red Violin.”

Paramount Classics’ “The Virgin Suicides” added 11 theaters for a total of 29 and pulled in $176,000 for a $6,068 average. Execs said the figures — which edged those for Hombre De Oro’s “The Other Conquest” by $1,000 — bode well for further platforming. Pic will expand to about 80 runs this weekend.

Mouse House closed the books on “Fantasia 2000,” its four-month foray into large-format film. It’s due for June re-launch in 35mm form.

Full-length toon added $2 million from its 53 weekend runs, up 11% from the previous frame. Studio puts final domestic cume at $49.6 million and worldwide at $63.8 million.

Disney-owned Miramax came up with a cartoonish gross of its own. “Committed,” starring Heather Graham, managed a gaunt $12,000 from six L.A. and Gotham settings.

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