'Machete,' 'Going the Distance' face off

"Machete" and "Going the Distance"
"Machete" and "Going the Distance"
 
The summer box-office season concludes this weekend with a surprisingly diverse trio of wide openers.

The season-ending, four-day Labor Day frame often features an R-rated genre pic to lure older teens and young-adult moviegoers to multiplexes one last time before their return to college campuses. This year, it's Fox's blood-spattered crime actioner "Machete," co-directed by genre-meister Robert Rodriguez and tyro helmer Ethan Maniquis and produced by Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino and Rick Schwartz.

The other two pics represent more novel gambits, as Focus Features debuts the George Clooney thriller "The American" -- which got a two-day jump on the action with a Wednesday bow -- and Warner Bros. unspools the romantic comedy "Going the Distance." There is recent precedent for such moves, but the results have been mixed.

For Labor Day weekend last year, Fox unspooled the rom-com "All About Steve." The Sandra Bullock-Bradley Cooper starrer topped the $125 million holiday-stretched frame -- which also featured the bows of R-rated sci-fi thriller "Gamer" and R-rated comedy "Extract" -- but its sub-$34 million domestic run ranks among the less lucrative theatrical outings for Bullock or Cooper.

Directed by Nanette Burstein ("American Teen"), "Distance" was produced by New Line for an estimated $32 million. Targeting date-night couples, the R-rated pic should skew significantly female based on casting.

Set to play in 3,030 theaters, "Distance" should run into the low-double-digit millions through Monday.

"Our core audience will tend to be female, but we're going after all moviegoers [ages] 18-40," Warners distribution boss Dan Fellman said.

Also toting a restricted rating and set for 2,669 locations, "Machete" boasts an ensemble cast including Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Lindsay Lohan, Steven Seagal, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson and Danny Trejo as the blade-wielding titular assassin. Tracking surveys suggest a four-day bow of $10 million-$12 million. Fox acquired distribution rights for $8 million.

Helmed by one-time music video director Anton Corbijn ("Control"), "American" rang up $1.7 million on Wednesday in 2,721 theaters and is set for about 2,800 locations starting Friday. The R-rated pic appears on track for $10 million or more through Monday.

In a limited bow, Sony Pictures Classics unspools Mandarin-language crime dramedy "A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop" -- based on the crime thriller "Blood Simple," the Coen brothers' 1985 debut -- in four Los Angeles theaters and one in New York.

Meanwhile, with the three wide openers carrying restricted ratings and soft prerelease interest, Sony Screen Gems' crime thriller "Takers" has a shot at repeating at No. 1. The PG-13 pic topped domestic rankings last weekend with $20.5 million, so a sophomore session in the teen millions might prove doable thanks to the extra day of playdates.

Overall, the industry hopes to shake off the weekend declines that marked the past two sessions after two months of successive year-over-year weekend upticks.
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