A new foursome is playing through

Rom-com, family toon, comedy sequel and sci-fi thriller vie for a piece of the action

There's no rest for the nation's weary movie theater operators this weekend as another bevy of wide openers does battle with award-consideration holdovers.

Four debutants wade into the crowded marketplace today, with at least a couple targeting distinct fan bases. But some audience overlap also is apparent, and it's likely that one or more of the new pics will struggle as a result.

Focus Features unspools the Dakota Fanning-voiced 3-D animated feature "Coraline," which totes a kid-friendly PG rating and a filmic sensibility likely to snag more than a few adults — certainly older fans of stop-motion auteur Henry Selick ("James and the Giant Peach").

Elsewhere, Sony has Steve Martin reprising his Inspector Clouseau role in the slapstick sequel "The Pink Panther 2," which looks likely to draw audiences skewing heavily toward family patrons. And Summit Entertainment also bows a Fanning film: "Push," a sci-fi thriller for young adults that co-stars Chris Evans ("Fantastic Four") and bears no connection to this year's similarly titled Sundance prize winner.

Finally, Warner Bros.' comedy "He's Just Not That Into You" features an ensemble cast including Jennifer Aniston and Scarlett Johansson. Based on the book popular with twentysomething women, "Into You" has chick-flick written all over it — though some early reviews suggest that it has the goods to attract a few guys as well.

As for predicting the pecking order of the weekend openers, that's something of a crapshoot.

"Coraline" and "Panther 2" are sure to compete for at least some of the same prospective moviegoers. Sony is marketing the latter MGM co-production lavishly, but "Into You" still seems the strongest of the wide openers and could gross in the upper-teen millions or more. An opening in that range should be sufficient to oust Fox's "Taken" from the top spot in the Liam Neeson starrer's sophomore session.

"Push," which has Icon Prods. as an equity participant in production costs totaling $38 million, appears the weakest of the market entrants and could find it tough to open above the single-digit millions. Must-see interest in "Push" could use a shove, with traction a bit better among male prospective moviegoers.

Meanwhile, many older adults will remain preoccupied with such Oscar-nominated films as Fox Searchlight's Indian drama "Slumdog Millionaire" and the Weinstein Co.'s Nazi-themed literary adaptation "The Reader." All of the Academy's best picture contenders are in wide release, but theatrical interest appears on the wane for Universal's "Frost/Nixon," Focus Features' "Milk" and Paramount's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

The Weinstein Co. also has set a limited bow this weekend for "Fanboys," its much-buzzed "Star Wars"-themed caper comedy set to launch with about 40 playdates. (partialdiff)
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