'War' takes field as summer crowds wane

Quartet of newbies looking to take on 'Superbad,' holdovers

The end of the summer moviegoing season hangs just over the horizon, and after a few superheated sessions, the boxoffice could end up taking something of a vacation. While North America's multiplexes will continue to see business from holdovers like last weekend's champ, Sony Pictures' "Superbad," this weekend's debutantes, led by Lionsgate's "War," are looking to distinguish themselves simply by cresting the $10 million mark.       

"War" has the advantage of two marquee names in the action arena -- Jet Li and Jason Statham -- facing off against each other as assassin and FBI agent, respectively. Directed by Philip G. Atwell, who has handled music videos for Eminem and 50 Cent, the R-rated film should get pulses racing among younger males.

Li and Statham have proved themselves $10 million-plus men. Li's 2005 "Unleashed" and 2006 "Fearless" bowed to $10.9 million and $10.6 million, respectively, while Statham's "Crank" opened to a three-day gross of $10.5 million last Labor Day weekend. "War," shooting up 2,277 theaters, conservatively should grab $10 million-$12 million and could spike higher.

"The Nanny Dairies," on the other hand, will be appealing to female audiences. Selling itself as this summer's equivalent to "The Devil Wears Prada," it stars Scarlett Johansson as a nanny struggling to please a forbidding employer (Laura Linney). Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, the filmmaking team behind 2003's admired "American Splendor," adapted the screenplay from the novel by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus and co-directed the PG-13 film.

MGM is handling the 2,629-theater release for the Weinstein Co., with a likely opening gross in the $7 million-$8 million range that could push to $9 million-$10 million if recent tracking showing interest perking up among younger females bears fruit.

British comic Rowan Atkinson is celebrated around the world for his goofily inept creation Mr. Bean. "Bean" grossed more than $250 million worldwide in 1997, though only $45 million of that tally came from North America.

In his newest, family-friendly, G-rated outing, "Mr. Bean's Holiday," directed by Steve Bendelack, the very English Bean heads off for a vacation in France. The Universal Pictures comedy already has grossed nearly $190 million internationally.

But while awareness is high in America, there's a real question whether Americans will get the joke, and so "Holiday," setting up shop in 1,713 theaters, might end up loitering around the $5 million mark.

The Yari Film Group will attempt to counterprogram against the surrounding late-summer escapism by presenting a dramatic character study, "Resurrecting the Champ."

Critic-turned-filmmaker Rod Lurie ("The Contender") directs the based-on-a-true-story account of a journalist (Josh Hartnett) who learns life lessons when he stumbles across a homeless man (Samuel L. Jackson) who once was a boxing champ.

Based on a Los Angeles Times Magazine article by J.R. Moehringer and adapted for the screen by Michael Bortman and Allison Burnett, the film already has earned encouraging reviews. "Champ" is challenging itself by launching in 1,602 theaters and appears fated to enter the ring at somewhere less than the $5 million mark.

Debuting in 857 theaters -- Slowhand Releasing is handling its rollout -- "September Dawn" is set against Utah's Mountain Meadows Massacre, which took place in 1857 when a group of Mormons murdered a wagon train full of settlers.

It's a story whose retelling is controversial among Mormons, and its Western-garbed love story looks like a hard sell to the public at large. Directed by Christopher Cain and starring Jon Voight, the R-rated film is expected to trail well behind the weekend's other entries.

Similarly, director Franc. Reyes' Latino crime drama, "Illegal Tender," staking out 512 theaters, also looks like one of the weekend's also-rans.
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