Thrillers chasing skater streak

'Disturbia,' 'Stranger' lead quintet of wide challengers

Consider this weekend at the boxoffice a kind of last call before the bar closes. Summer blockbuster season is fast approaching — Sony Pictures releases "Spider-Man 3" on May 4 — and then the competition for screens will become intense. So right now, Hollywood is dropping a lot of movies with midrange hopes into the marketplace, gambling that a few of them will manage to hook up with audiences and hold theater screens for a couple of weeks before they are pushed aside by the big boys of summer.

With "Blades of Glory," Paramount Pictures' release of the DreamWorks/MTV Films co-production, having already topped the winner's stand for the past two weekends, it could move down a notch or two, allowing one of this weekend's five new wide releases to claim the top spot. But the only two that look as if they have a chance of claiming that title are the dueling thrillers: "Perfect Stranger," from Sony and Revolution Studios, and "Disturbia," from Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks.

Looking to make a bid for older audiences, male and female, "Stranger" boasts the starriest cast of the weekend: In the R-rated film directed by James Foley ("Glengarry Glen Ross"), Halle Berry plays a reporter who goes undercover to investigate an ad exec (Bruce Willis) whom she suspects is guilty of murder. The last time the Oscar-winning Berry ventured into suspense waters, the result was 2003's "Gothika," which bowed to $19 million. Given all the competition, "Stranger" probably won't hit that mark but will be looking to achieve $15 million or better from the 2,661 theaters in which it is bowing.

That could put it on a collision course with "Disturbia," a teenage riff on "Rear Window" starring Shia LaBeouf as an angry kid under house arrest who grows suspicious that one of his neighbors (David Morse) is a murderer. With a PG-13 rating, "Disturbia," directed by D.J. Caruso ("The Salton Sea"), is looking to lure teens. Although LaBeouf, who was hailed as Male Star of Tomorrow at this year's ShoWest, isn't yet a full-fledged leading man, his earlier appearances on Disney Channel's "Even Stevens" and such features as "Holes" and "Constantine" might encourage audiences who have grown up with the actor to follow him into thriller territory.

The rest of the new arrivals are expected to battle it out below the $10 million mark, some of them significantly below.

Financed by real estate mogul and high-end auto aficionado Daniel Sadek, "Redline," directed by Andy Cheng (moving up from stunt coordinator and second unit director), stars Nathan Phillips ("Wolf Creek") and Nadia Bjorlin in a series of car chases. Sadek also is distributing the PG-13 film in 1,607 theaters through his own Chicago Pictures, a move that is always risky.

20th Century Fox is serving up "Pathfinder," an R-rated Vikings-and-Indians movie directed by Marcus Nispel (the 2003 "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" updated remake), in 1,720 theaters.

Lionsgate is chasing after moviegoers with the R-rated, urban-themed "Slow Burn," in which D.A. Ray Liotta faces off against gang leader LL Cool J. The film, directed by screenwriter Wayne Beach in his helming debut, sets up shop in 1,163 theaters.

For sheer novelty, there is First Look Pictures' launch of "Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters" in 877 theaters. The R-rated animated movie about fast-food friends Master Shake, Frylock and Meatwad is a spinoff of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim series. It's sure to have some cult appeal, which could allow it to trump some of the surrounding movies.
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