'Salt' taking aim at 'Inception' this weekend

5:37 PM PST 07/22/2010 by Carl DiOrio, AP
"Salt," left, and "Inception"

VIDEO: Angelina Jolie film eyeing up to $40 million opening

Critics have lamented bland summer fare dominated by film sequels and franchise extensions, but for the second consecutive weekend moviegoers will be dished up an original big-screen concoction expected to reap tasty boxoffice.

A week after Warner Bros. raked in $62.8 million in domestic coin with the Christopher Nolan-helmed fantasy thriller "Inception," Sony's Angelina Jolie starrer "Salt" will try to shake the Leonardo DiCaprio pic from the top spot in the rankings. "Salt" opens in more than 3,500 locations starting Friday.

A broadly targeted action thriller, the PG-13 pic's prerelease media blitz has been peppered with the message: Angelina is back to kicking butt. The return to the action genre for the one-time tomb-raiding topliner appears headed for a lucrative debut, with tracking surveys suggesting "Salt" will collect up to $40 million in first-frame loot.

Produced for upward of $100 million, "Salt" originally was conceived as a Tom Cruise vehicle until being retooled for the female lead. Though expected to do big foreign business eventually, the pic isn't getting an immediate global bow as many overseas markets are still sorting out theatrical inventory in the wake of soccer's World Cup.

The first international markets to unspool "Salt" kick in next week, with notable foreign debuts set to continue through August.

"It's going to work in both the U.S. and internationally but will probably gross more internationally," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said.

Helmed by Phillip Noyce ("The Quiet American"), "Salt" weaves a tale of CIA intrigue that has Jolie character Evelyn Salt accused of being a Russian double agent. Co-stars include Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor ("2012").

Also this weekend, Fox sends out the G-rated comedy "Ramona and Beezus."

Family pics have worked well this summer, but Disney's misfire with "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" last weekend shows that segment of the moviegoing public still may be sated from previous releases such as Universal's "Despicable Me" and Disney's "Toy Story 3." Limp tracking data suggest "Ramona" will register just $5 million-$7 million through Sunday.

"It's a very charming mothers-and-daughters movie," Fox distribution topper Bruce Snyder said.

"Ramona" production costs were modest at an estimated $15 million.

Directed by Elizabeth Allen ("Aquamarine"), "Ramona" stars young big-screen newcomers Joey King and Selena Gomez. John Corbett ("My Big Fat Greek Wedding") co-stars in a comedy inspired by a series of kids books.

"Ramona" is set for 2,719 playdates.

Also starting today, Focus Features' platforming dramedy "The Kids Are All Right" adds 163 theaters for a total of 201, with the R-rated pic toting $1.8 million in cumulative boxoffice heading into its third frame in limited release.

Sony Pictures Classics begins a limited release of the 1992 period drama "Orlando," starring Tilda Swinton, with solo engagements in New York and L.A.

On an industrywide basis, the weekend will be compared with a $152 million session topped by the $31.7 million debut of Disney's "G-Force."

Year to date, Rentrak data show the industry boxoffice is up 4% from a comparable portion of last year at $6.22 billion.
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