Gore score: 'Saw III,' mercy zero

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For the third year in a row, the diabolical character Jigsaw is back to rule the boxoffice the weekend before Halloween. Lionsgate is looking to continue the winning streak with the third installment of its R-rated "Saw" franchise, which is on track to be the biggest opener yet for the series that has generated $142 million at the domestic boxoffice.

The other studios appear to be getting out of its way this weekend, with only Focus Features bowing its political thriller "Catch a Fire" on 1,305 screens and Paramount Vantage unveiling its Oscar hopeful "Babel" in limited release. It means that last weekend's holdovers will have a chance to do significant business during their second frames.

One holdover that will be watched closely is Paramount Pictures' "Flags of Our Fathers," from director Clint Eastwood. The R-rated film bowed last weekend to a soft $10.2 million, and all eyes will be on the strength of its hold. Speculation about the film's ultimate performance has been the subject of many conversations in Hollywood this week. Will the movie play like a typical Eastwood film, holding strong? This weekend could tell the story; the studio will expand its "Flags" run from 1,876 theaters in its opening frame to 2,190 this weekend.

Director Darren Lynn Bousman is back for his second installment of "Saw," with Tobin Bell back for a third time as Jigsaw. In this chapter, the serial killer uses a doctor to help keep him alive while his new apprentice puts a second victim through a game.

"Saw II" bowed to nearly $32 million, and tracking suggests that the new film will garner an even larger opening number. From screenwriter Leigh Whannell, who penned all three installments, "Saw III" co-stars Shawnee Smith, Angus Macfadyen and Bahar Soomekh. The film will bow in 3,167 theaters.

"Fire," from director Phillip Noyce ("The Quiet American," "Clear and Present Danger"), centers on the anti-apartheid movement in Africa. The PG-13 film stars Derek Luke ("Antwone Fisher") as a family man who joins the African National Congress after he is arrested for a terrorist act he did not commit. Tim Robbins stars as the policeman forced to hunt down Luke's character.

Paramount Vantage will open Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Babel" on seven screens in Los Angeles and New York. The R-rated movie starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal follows three interweaving stories dealing with how a rifle shot in the desert sparks a chain of events. From writer Guillermo Arriaga, Inarritu's writing partner on his past two movies ("21 Grams" and "Amores Perros"), "Babel" has received positive early reviews.

Newmarket Films is opening the controversial "Death of a President" in 91 theaters. The faux documentary from director Gabriel Range, which debuted at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, centers on the hypothetical ramifications of the assassination of President Bush. Three national exhibitors refused to book the film, and advertising has been pulled from some networks, so it will be interesting to see how the film performs.

The Weinstein Co. will open its political documentary "Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing" in four theaters. From co-directors Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck, the film chronicles the country trio's journey after they ignited a political firestorm when singer Natalie Maines told a London audience in 2003 that she was embarrassed that Bush came from her home state of Texas. The film sneaked last weekend to a sold-out audience in Lubbock, Texas.

Magnolia Pictures will bow its documentary "Cocaine Cowboys" in 12 theaters. The R-rated film from director Billy Corben chronicles the Colombian cocaine barons who invaded Miami in the 1980s.
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