'Grindhouse' eyes the penthouse


Americans might be marking such religious celebrations as Passover and Easter this week, but at the boxoffice this weekend, the stage is set for bloody mayhem and broad slapstick.

Dimension Films and the Weinstein Co. are likely to top the list with "Grindhouse," a marathon of B-movie tropes from Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, while Sony Pictures will court laughs with its this-old-house comedy "Are We Done Yet?"

In what is shaping up as a competitive frame, the weekend's other new arrivals, Warner Bros. Pictures' "The Reaping" and 20th Century Fox's "Firehouse Dog," probably will find it harder to gain a solid footing.

None of the newcomers is likely to outperform the film that was No. 1 during the comparable weekend last year -- Fox's "Ice Age: The Meltdown," which grossed $33.8 million in its second weekend.

"Grindhouse" is the big-buzz movie among legions of hardcore thrill-seekers. The novel packaging -- the movie is set up as a double bill, complete with trailers of coming attractions -- encompasses Rodriguez's "Planet Terror," in which Rose McGowan blasts away at nasty zombies, and Tarantino's "Death Proof," in which Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike faces off against some fast-driving chicks.

Precedents look to put the movie in the low- to mid-$20 million range. Two years ago on April 1, Rodriguez's "Sin City" opened to $29.1 million. And Tarantino's past two films, "Kill Bill-Vol. 1" in 2003 and "Kill Bill-Vol. 2" in 2004, opened to $22.1 million and $25.1 million, respectively. "Grindhouse's" biggest handicap is not its R rating but the fact that it runs more than three hours.

Sony's PG-rated "Done," from Revolution Studios, is both a sequel -- stars Ice Cube and Nia Long, whose characters were dating in 2005's "Are We There Yet?" are now married with children -- and a remake of sorts: It's loosely based on 1948's "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House," with Ice Cube stepping into the Cary Grant role of a new homeowner who stumbles into a money pit.

Its predecessor, the road trip comedy "There Yet?" attracted families and urban audiences, opening at No. 1 with $18.6 million in 2005. The sequel, directed by Steve Carr ("Daddy Day Care"), could do comparable business, but its three-day weekend number will likely be lower because of the movie's Wednesday opening, timed to take advantage of school vacationers.

"Done" will end up jousting with last weekend's No. 1 film, the comedy "Blades of Glory," for the second spot. "Blades" bowed at $33 million last weekend, so a 40%-50% drop would put it in the $16 million-$20 million range. It also will be competing with the second weekend of Buena Vista's animated "Meet the Robinsons."

Warners' "Reaping," which opens today, might have some resonance given the surrounding religious holidays. The R-rated horror movie written by Carey Hayes and Chad Hayes from a story by Brian Rousso centers on a religious skeptic investigating what appears to be a series of biblical plagues in a Southern town. But it will be up against "Grindhouse" and "300."

Still, the film, directed by Stephen Hopkins -- whose credits range from "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" to the pilot of Fox's "24" -- and produced by Joel Silver, among others, does offer Oscar winner Hilary Swank in the lead role. While that should lure a female audience, the movie could have difficulty climbing above the $10 million mark.

On the family front, Fox's release of Regency Enterprise's PG-rated "Firehouse Dog," which opened Wednesday and is directed by Todd Holland, will compete with "Robinsons" and the Warners holdover "TMNT."