B.O. eyes escape with 'Madagascar'

DWA sequel could fetch $50 mil-plus; 'Role Models,' 'Soul Men' also look promising

Hollywood should jump back into the win column this weekend with three nicely diverse wide openers, including a broadly appealing animated sequel homing in on a possible $50 million domestic bow.

A built-in fan base and strong early reviews could help DreamWorks Animation's "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" outpace the 2005 franchise original's opening Friday-Sunday haul of $47.2 million. "Madagascar" bowed during a Memorial Day frame and thus posted a four-day opening of $61 million, en route to grossing $193.6 million overall domestically.

The Paramount-distributed sequel certainly should ring up at least $45 million-$50 million, but a big weekend could push the PG-rated comedy even a bit higher.

"I think the movie has a real shot at opening over $50 million," Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore said. "The only real wild card is the weather. If it rains, that's great news for any film that plays to a family audience. But if it snows, it kills you."

The CGI comedy represents DWA's final production in 2-D animation ahead of a move into 3-D for all future titles, beginning with "Monsters vs. Aliens" in March.

Like its predecessor, the new "Madagascar" was co-directed by Eric Darnell — who helmed 1998's "Antz" — and Tom McGrath, who directed two episodes of "The Ren & Stimpy Show" before getting his big-screen break. Its voice cast again features Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, David Schwimmer and Sacha Baron Cohen.

Elsewhere among the weekend debuts, Universal unspools the R-rated comedy "Role Models," while MGM sends out the urban-skewing "Soul Men," also rated R, from Dimension Films. Boxoffice from the new films will be padded by grosses for holdovers including Disney's "High School Musical 3: Senior Year," which has held the top spot the past two weekends.

That should make for a combo powerful enough to outpace the comparable year-ago weekend, a $114 million frame whose top opener was Warner Bros.' seasonal comedy "Fred Claus" with a disappointing $18.5 million. Industry boxoffice marked a year-over-year decline last weekend for the first time in six sessions.

"Role Models" has been drawing a favorable response from critics, and prerelease tracking indicates solid interest among young-male moviegoers for the Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd starrer, suggesting a bow in the low-single-digit millions. Anything higher would seem unlikely with "Madagascar" hitting the marketplace and the Weinstein Co.'s R-rated comedy "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" in just its second weekend.

"Soul Men" will be helped by core appeal among fans of Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac, and an inaugural weekend of as much as $10 million appears possible. (In an odd twist of fate, Mac actually has two films opening this weekend; he provides a voice in "Madagascar" as the father of Stiller's lead character Alex the Lion.)

Mac's death in August prompted helmer Malcolm D. Lee ("Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins") to add some poignant bio clips before the film's final credits. (partialdiff)
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