Brother 'Claus' is comin' to town

Holiday comedy looks to sleigh holdovers; 'Lions' hunt begins

This weekend's domestic boxoffice crown could be grabbed by a leggy "Gangster" or a still-hovering "Bee" who sounds like Jerry Seinfeld, but it more than likely will go to a newcomer with the last name of Claus.

A Middle Eastern yarn titled "Lions for Lambs," starring some guy named Tom Cruise, also unspools.

Yes, it looks like another busy weekend for anybody programming movie multiplexes.

Warner Bros.' "Fred Claus," a seasonal comedy starring Vince Vaughn as the ne'er-do-well older brother of Santa (Paul Giamatti), bows in 3,603 theaters during a period bolstered by better-than-usual Sunday and Monday grosses. That is thanks to the anticipation of help from the Veterans Day holiday, which falls on Sunday and will give many prospective moviegoers a day off from work Monday.

"It's a great family film and is really well-positioned going into the long weekend," Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said.

"Claus' " playability over the coming frames should be strengthened by the approach of the Thanksgiving holiday period. And as Fellman noted, "The thing about Christmas movies is that they play long."

During its first three days, "Claus" seems safe to do more than $20 million, but it's worth noting that Vaughn has starred in a few films opening above $30 million.

Vaughn's biggest starring bow came in June 2006 with "The Break-Up," which collected $39.1 million. His next best opening was $33.9 million for July 2005's "Wedding Crashers," followed by "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story" with its $30.1 million bow in June 2004.

Meanwhile, Universal/Imagine's "American Gangster" would seem to have at least a shot at repeating atop the weekend boxoffice, but it would have to avoid a drop of 50% or more. As a family film, DreamWorks/ Paramount's "Bee Movie" also should display a good second-weekend hold.

Arguably, each of those holdover films could ring up $20 million or so in three-day business during their sophomore sessions. Whether that proves to be enough to grab the frame's top spot depends on how moviegoers embrace "Claus."

"Lions," set for 2,215 playdates, is the first film in a new slate of movies at United Artists, recently resurrected as a division of MGM under the leadership of Cruise and longtime producing partner Paula Wagner.

"Lions" totes a relatively modest cost of $35 million, and executives' hopes lie in an opening approaching $10 million and sustained market traction into awards season. But promo stumping by the stellar cast of the thriller, directed by and co-starring Robert Redford, got off to a rocky start when a planned appearance by Meryl Streep on "Late Show With David Letterman" was canceled after the writers walkout pushed the program into reruns.

Cruise and company hope to go against a negative trend involving films set in the Middle East. The best performer in a recent slew of such films has been Universal's Jamie Foxx starrer "The Kingdom," with a domestic cume of $47 million.

"Lions" is a political drama involving three plot perspectives on the U.S. military's fighting in Afghanistan.

Also this weekend, Summit is looking for modest returns from 2,131 opening engagements for its horror thriller "P2," starring Rachel Nichols ("Resurrecting the Champ"), and After Dark begins its eight-film "Horrorfest," a succession of horror titles set to unspool in about 300 locations during the next several days. Both look to scare up low-single-digit millions.

Meanwhile, there's the question of whether this weekend also will bear further evidence of whether America has rediscovered its appetite for moviegoing. Last weekend marked a 3% improvement over the same frame last year, the first up weekend after six successive downticks.
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