Moviegoers cry for their 'Mama'

With 'Marshall,' new 'Harold,' comedy looks likely to laugh best

Universal hopes to laugh all the way to the bank.

One week after bowing its R-rated comedy "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" with $17.7 million, Universal today unspools its PG-13 laugher "Baby Mama."

Starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler of "Saturday Night Live" fame, "Mama" has been registering big prerelease interest among 12- to 16-year-old girls in tracking surveys during the past few weeks. "Mama" was written and directed by former "SNL" scribe Michael McCullers, who also co-produced with "SNL" creator Lorne Michaels.

In the meantime, it appears that "Marshall" will show some leg this weekend. Certainly, the daily grosses for the film, written by and starring Jason Segel, have been promising since its strong second-place opening last weekend.

"The Forbidden Kingdom" — from Lionsgate, the Weinstein Co., Casey Silver Prods. and Relativity Media — topped the most recent boxoffice frame with $21.4 million. If "Kingdom's" sophomore session features a big decline compared with its opening tally and "Marshall" manages a superior hold from its first weekend, there could be a battle for third place for the frame.

New Line's R-rated stoner comedy "Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay," which now is being distributed by Warner Bros., should easily take second place this weekend thanks to avid support from younger males.

The first "Harold & Kumar" was a bigger hit on DVD than in theaters, where it opened to $5.5 million domestically in July 2004, so solid franchise awareness should power the sequel into the teen millions during the three-day period.

Elsewhere among the weekend's wide openers, Fox unspools its crime thriller "Deception." That's the third title for the Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams starrer before its release — which might be all anyone needs to know to gauge the film's opening boxoffice prospects.

Prerelease interest has remained limp throughout all such iterations in tracking data. Barring a last-minute name change to "Gone With the Wind II," "Deception" is unlikely to gross higher than the single-digit millions during its opening frame.

Some might wonder about Universal's strategy in releasing "Mama" so soon after "Marshall." The Universal newborn also is tracking well with older women, and there could be concern about audience overlap.

Yet the situation just might turn out to be more like a win-win for the studio as the films feature significantly different comedic aesthetics and thus are likely to draw from separate constituencies.

"Marshall" has attracted lots of press about a Segel scene with full-frontal nudity, and the studio has made much marketing hay out of edgy comedy producer Judd Apatow's connection to the film. "Mama," on the other hand, is filled with maternity jokes, and its theaters will be y-chromosome-free this weekend.

Figure on a "Marshall"-like $17 million session for "Mama" and perhaps a $10 million weekend for its studio cousin.

Limited openers this weekend include MGM's "Deal," a poker-competition film starring Burt Reynolds and Shannon Elizabeth that's set for 51 playdates. Directed by Gil Cates Jr., the Seven Arts-produced film is getting a marketing push from the World Poker Tour and expands into additional markets during the coming frames.