Natural 'Bourne' killer returns with $60 mil in sights

No identity crisis in franchise's third mission

Jason Bourne, the former political assassin who has searched for his identity through two previous films, should find himself atop the North American boxoffice this weekend as Universal Pictures unleashes "The Bourne Ultimatum."

Although Hollywood also is fielding three other wide releases and two more modest platform launches, the spy thriller is positioned to outrun the competition and even force the previous weekend's chart-topper, 20th Century Fox's "The Simpsons Movie," into second place.

The PG-13 "Ultimatum," which takes the globe-trotting Bourne (Matt Damon) to Tangier and New York, again is in the hands of director Paul Greengrass -- who also helmed the second installment, "The Bourne Supremacy" -- as well as co-screenwriter Tony Gilroy, who has been involved in all three films.

"The Bourne Identity," the first film in the series based on the novels by Robert Ludlum, opened to $27.1 million in 2,638 theaters in 2002. "Supremacy" bowed to $52.5 million in 3,165 theaters three summers ago. "Ultimatum," debuting in 3,660 theaters, looks poised to hit the high-$50 million range, possibly even pushing into $60 million territory.

That would put the film well ahead of Fox's "Simpsons," which bowed last weekend to a resounding $74 million and should cross the $100 million mark today. A typical 50%-55% decline would see the animated film take in an additional $33 million-$37 million during the weekend.

In a bid for the family audience, Buena Vista Pictures is releasing Walt Disney Pictures' "Underdog," a live-action version of the 1960s cartoon series about a canine superhero. Frederik Du Chau, who guided a talking zebra through 2005's "Racing Stripes," had the honors of directing the loquacious beagle, voiced by Jason Lee, and Peter Dinklage as the villainous Dr. Simon Barsinister. A bow-wow in the $11 million-$14 million range appears to be on the horizon for the PG vehicle, which opens in 3,013 theaters.

Andy Samberg arguably is the latest breakout star of this season's edition of "Saturday Night Live" on NBC thanks to his parody music videos like "Lazy Sunday," but his first big-screen role in "Hot Rod," from Paramount Pictures and SNL Films, probably will find itself somewhere in the middle of the weekend pack. Directed by his frequent collaborator, Akiva Schaffer, the PG-13 film stars Samberg as an Evel Knievel wannabe. At the starting gate in about 2,500 theaters, it's expected to race to about $7 million-$10 million.

While "Bratz: The Movie," a Lionsgate Films release from MGA Entertainment, Crystal Sky and Avi Arad Prods., is based on the popular doll line, the PG film is something of a high school musical. Sean McNamara, a veteran of TV series like "That's So Raven," directs, and the movie will take over 1,509 theaters. But handicappers will be surprised if it rises much higher than the $5 million mark in its first weekend.

Utilizing a more selective rollout, Picturehouse is raising the curtain on the musical drama "El Cantante," a biopic about salsa singer Hector Lavoe starring Marc Anthony. Jennifer Lopez, who is married to Anthony, produced and also stars in the R-rated film, directed by Leon Ichaso ("Pinero"), which should find favor among Latino audiences as it debuts in 542 theaters.

Miramax Films also will introduce "Becoming Jane," a period romance in which Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) takes center stage. Directed by Julian Jerrold ("Kinky Boots"), the movie zeroes in on a flirtation that Austen enjoys with Irish lawyer Tom Lefroy, played by James McAvoy ("The Last King of Scotland"), in the manner of one of Austen's novels. The PG-13 film will dance into 100 theaters.

On 25 screens, ThinkFilm is venturing out with the R-rated "The Ten," a skit comedy directed by David Wain that is built around outrageous infractions of the Ten Commandments.