Does ‘Bruce’ have B.O. power?

'Almighty' faces off against 'Matrix'; 'In-Laws' also visits

The looming Memorial Day weekend — always a monster for moviegoing — is shaping up as a smackdown match between two box office behemoths.

Universal unspools Jim Carrey starrer “Bruce Almighty” in a mega-wide 3,482 locations, while Warner Bros./Village Roadshow phenom “The Matrix Reloaded” matriculates to a soph sesh after posting record numbers in its first week.

“Bruce” heads into the frame fueled by positive early buzz. Hot pre-release tracking showed a $50 million bow well within reach over four days.

“Reloaded” debuted with the second-best weekend ever after jump-starting that perf with a record Thursday. Even a 50% drop from opening grosses would propel its take for the holiday weekend north of $50 million, with $60 million or more quite possible.

The “Bruce”-“Reloaded” combo could go far toward helping industrywide numbers match last year’s record Memorial Day haul of $200.5 million.

Or, as one industryite mused, “When you have two gorillas fighting like that, the numbers should get pretty interesting.”

Historically, this four-day weekend reps the biggest box office sesh of the year. Last year, B.O. rankings were topped by “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones,” which grossed $66.9 million in its holiday-lengthened second weekend.

Warners also opens its remake of “The In-Laws” this weekend. Unspooling in 2,652 locations, Michael Douglas-Albert Brooks comedy targets older demos in a counterprogramming ploy and was tracking toward a bow potentially in the teen millions.

Upping Aniston ante

Early buzz has Carrey in a return to form in “Bruce,” a romantic comedy that allows the famously elastic thesp broad comedic range. Playing God, Morgan Freeman makes a useful straight-man foil, and pic’s also drawing early kudos for co-topliner Jennifer Aniston.

In fact, there’s good reason to believe thesp, hugely successful on the small screen, could finally catapult into a true movie marquee draw after critical kudos in smaller vehicles such as last year’s “The Good Girl.”

“She has a real charm to her that hasn’t really broken through on the bigscreen,” observed an industryite, adding “Bruce” could change all that.

Sandra Bullock, now an established movie star, rocketed to that status almost overnight with 1994’s “Speed,” which unspooled to boffo B.O. Just a year earlier, Bullock was still being cast in much more modest fare such as Robert Duvall-Shirley MacLaine starrer “Wrestling Ernest Hemingway.”

U execs certainly will be hoping for similar propulsion for Aniston, who stars opposite Ben Stiller in their upcoming romantic comedy. Untitled pic is set to unspool in the first quarter and reps the helming debut of John Hamburg, a writer on U’s successful laffer “Meet the Parents.”

Meanwhile, they’re dusting themselves off over at 20th Century Fox after a weekend in which “X2: X-Men United” was predictably buzzsawed by “Reloaded.” Comicbook actioner tumbled 65% to $17.3 million in its soph sesh, though execs point to a $175 million-plus cume as evidence of potential staying power in future frames.

“We survived the ‘Matrix’ opening, and I expect we’ll kind of coast from here on,” Fox distrib boss Bruce Snyder said. “The picture has a big fan base.”

Keanu can do

Warners execs wouldn’t say so for the record, but it was clear optimism is running high that their megahyped action sequel will hold off all comers again this weekend.

“I’m anticipating a very successful weekend with ‘Matrix,’ based on the positive exit interviews that we have received,” Warners distrib topper Dan Fellman allowed.

More telling, perhaps, was pic’s record first week.

“Reloaded” grossed almost $151.9 million through Tuesday in just its first six days, which included some latenight previews the prior Wednesday. That bested the previous first-week B.O. record of $151.6 million, set by “Spider-Man” last May.

“Reloaded” cume moved to $158.2 million through Wednesday.

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