‘Terrace,’ ‘Ghost Town’ hit cinemas

Modest movies vie for weekend box office

After last weekend’s box office boom — led by the Coen brothers’ “Burn After Reading” — this weekend could prove a lull as several new modest players make their play before action-thriller “Eagle Eye” debuts a week from now.

Still, the sesh could spin some drama of its own, depending on how close is the race between Neil LaBute’s suspenser “Lakeview Terrace,” starring Samuel L. Jackson, and Kate Hudson-Dane Cook romantic comedy “My Best Friend’s Girl.” Latter has been picking up strength in tracking.

Lionsgate unspools the R-rated “Best Friend’s Girl” in 2,604 runs. Sony opens “Lakeview Terrace,” rated PG-13, in 2,464.

There are two other new wide releases — DreamWorks/Paramount’s comedic ghost yarn “Ghost Town” and Exodus Film Group’s family toon “Igor” — but they’ll face tough competition from holdovers.

Because of its smaller screen count, “Ghost Town,” starring Greg Kinnear, Ricky Gervais and Tea Leoni, is expected to gross in the single digits. Pic, billed as a romantic comedy, is earning strong reviews and will likely play to an older aud.

“Igor,” which MGM is distributing, could benefit as the only family film in the marketplace.

The specialty side heats up as Paramount Vantage opens Keira Knightley-Ralph Fiennes historical drama “The Duchess” in seven theaters and Warner Bros.’ opens Viggo Mortensen-Ed Harris-Renee Zellweger Western “Appaloosa,” directed by Harris, in New York, L.A. and Toronto. Redwood Palms opens Stuart Townsend’s action-drama “Battle in Seattle,” starring Charlize Theron, in 21 theaters.

Even if the new openers perform better than expected, the weekend box office will have trouble matching the same frame a year ago, when Sony’s “Resident Evil: Extinction” opened to $23.7 million and Lionsgate’s Dane Cook-Jessica Alba romantic comedy “Good Luck Chuck” debuted to $13.6 million.

At the same time, no one expected the box office to perform as well as it did last weekend, with “Burn,” “Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys,” “Righteous Kill” and “The Women” helping to deliver the second-best September weekend ever (not including Labor Day).

“Best Friend’s Girl” is tracking well among both younger women and men, while “Lakeview Terrace” should play heavily male.

Some believe that with the country reeling from the economic breakdown on Wall Street, moviegoers will go for comedy. That could boost overall ticket sales for “Best Friend’s Girl,” which also stars Alec Baldwin.

Generally speaking, the film biz has done well during tough economic times, since going to the movies remains a relatively inexpensive form of entertainment.

Cook has become a Lionsgate staple. “Best Friend’s Girl” revolves around a guy with little dating panache who is hired to take out someone’s ex-girlfriend.

Hudson has a good track record at the box office. Her last film, romantic comedy “Fool’s Gold,” cumed $70.2 million domestically despite dismal reviews.

“Lakeview Terrace,” also starring Kerry Washington and Patrick Wilson, centers on an uptight Los Angeles police officer who doesn’t approve of his new neighbors, an interracial couple.

LaBute’s last film, Nicolas Cage starrer “The Wicker Man,” didn’t perform as well as his previous works.

“Ghost Town,” produced for less than $20 million, revolves around a man who is brought back from the brink of death only to discover that he can talk to ghosts. One ghost implores the man to break up the pending marriage of his widow.

With a voice cast that includes John Cleese, Christian Slater and Steve Buscemi and Molly Shannon, “Igor” is about a hunchback who is sick of being a lowly lab worker and goes about creating his own monster.

Other specialty openers include Empire’s Dakota Fanning-Robin Wright-Penn drama “Hounddog” (11 runs), IFC’s “Elite Squad” (one), Magnolia’s “Thousand Years of Good Prayers” (one) and Regent’s “Playing With Fire” (one).

On the foreign front, biz will be typically moderate for an early fall frame as summer titles remain dominant via a combination of holdover biz plus expansions of high-profile pics into selected markets.

“Tropic Thunder” is making the biggest move with launches in Germany, Sweden and the U.K. The laffer’s still early in its international run as Paramount avoided head-to-head confrontations with tentpoles during the late summer.

“Tropic Thunder” has cumed $21 million from 17 markets so far, led by $7.7 million in Australia and $6 million in Russia.

Disney’s “Wall-E” will widen into Australia, Greece and New Zealand with $191 million already scooped up from 39 international markets. The Mouse House held back in many major markets during the summer and avoided confrontation with “Kung Fu Panda,” which has cumed a dazzling $405 million overseas.

Universal’s expanding “Mamma Mia!” into Indonesia and Singapore; foreign cume has hit $318.5 million from 44 markets. Holdover numbers have been phenomenal for the musical, with $117 million in the U.K., $34.5 million in Germany, $28.3 million in Australia and $18.7 million in Sweden.

U’s moving “Wanted” into Japan after a solid international run that’s hit $160 million. Other launches include “Hancock” in Greece, “The Love Guru” in France, “Meet Dave” in Spain and “Step Brothers” in Australia and New Zealand.