Truth: 'Borat' will hurt 'Fiction'

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Poor Will Ferrell. The popular comedic actor and proven boxoffice draw has taken a big risk with "Stranger Than Fiction."

Playing against type as Harold Crick, a sad sack who hears voices in his head, Ferrell has received high marks in early reviews, as have co-stars Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman. But a little movie called "Borat" is likely to steal the thunder from Ferrell and "Fiction." 20th Century Fox's "Borat" -- on its way to becoming a comedic phenomenon considering its stellar opening bow of $26 million from just 837 theaters -- has created something of a black hole for all other films bowing this weekend.

Expanding to 2,566 theaters today, "Borat" also is likely to eat up some of the grosses that would have gone to Fox's new entry, Ridley Scott's "A Good Year," starring Russell Crowe. Industry insiders are pegging the second-week grosses for "Borat" in the $30 million range. Coming off a phenomenal first-weekend bow that saw a per-theater average of $31,607, the R-rated film surely will dominate the boxoffice. Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, who has been likened to a modern-day combination of Peter Sellers and Andy Kaufman, "Borat's" midweek numbers have remained strong, averaging

$3 million each day.

That's not to say that Sony Pictures isn't trying with "Fiction." Directed by Marc Forster and based on a screenplay by Zach Helm, the film won early accolades at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Bowing in 2,264 theaters, the PG-13 film centers on Crick, an IRS auditor who suddenly finds that his thoughts and actions are being narrated by a voice in his head. Praised for its smart script and strong performances, the film could open decently and hold on through a crowded end-of-year moviegoing season. Insiders are predicting the film will bow in the $8 million-$10 million range but could get into the low teens.

That's about the same number many are predicting for "A Good Year." Crowe also plays against type as a romantic lead in the PG-13 drama set in Provence, France. Opening in 2,066 theaters, the Fox 2000 film centers on a high-powered British trader (Crowe) who learns that his uncle has left him a vineyard in France. "Year," which co-stars Albert Finney, Freddie Highmore and Archie Panjabi, is based on the novel written by Scott's friend and Provence neighbor Peter Mayle. It evokes similar themes to Buena Vista's "Under the Tuscan Sun," which bowed to $9.7 million in 2003. Expect similar numbers for the beautifully photographed "Year."

Focus Features will open Rogue Pictures' "The Return" in 1,986 theaters. Starring horror queen Sarah Michelle Gellar, the PG-13 film from Asif Kapadia ("The Warrior") centers on a woman who is troubled by vivid nightmares about the murder of a woman she has never met. It is expected to bow to single-digit millions.

MGM is going to be busy this weekend. The distributor will open Bauer Martinez's "Harsh Times" in 956 theaters. A high-profile acquisition out of last year's Toronto fest, the film comes from "Training Day" screenwriter David Ayer, making his directorial debut, and stars Christian Bale and Freddy Rodriguez. The gritty, R-rated drama centers on an Iraq War vet (Bale) who, upon being turned down for a job with the LAPD, recruits his childhood friend (Rodriguez) for a joyride through Los Angeles. Eva Longoria co-stars.

MGM also will open "Copying Beethoven" in limited release. The PG-13 film, from Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, stars Ed Harris as the composer in the last year of his life. Agnieszka Holland directs, and Diane Kruger co-stars.

Picturehouse will open "Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus" on four screens in Los Angeles and New York. The film from director Steven Shainberg ("Secretary") stars Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr.

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