Residents brace for 'Extinction'

Screen Gems' vid game sequel should buck Liongate's 'Chuck'

Hollywood's resident handicappers say Sony/Screen Gems' "Resident Evil" sequel has the inside track on the weekend boxoffice crown.

The R-rated "Resident Evil: Extinction" — the third in a series of film adaptations of the video game of the same name — looks primed to plunder well into the high-teen millions and potentially north of $20 million in opening domestic coin when it bows today.

The first and second "Evil" installments opened with $17.7 million and $23 million, respectively. The franchise original, "Resident Evil," bowed in March 2002 and ultimately earned $40.1 million in domestic boxoffice; the September 2004 sequel, "Resident Evil: Apocalypse," grossed $51.2 million domestically.

"It's a pretty competitive weekend, but we're shooting to be No. 1, that's for sure," Sony marketing and distribution chief Jeff Blake said.

The "Evil" threequel bows in 2,828 locations.

Other wide openers this weekend are Lionsgate's "Good Luck Chuck," an R-rated date comedy starring Dane Cook and Jessica Alba, and Universal's college comedy "Sydney White," whose youthful ensemble is toplined by Amanda Bynes.

"Chuck," set for 2,612 engagements, could capture some Saturday night date business. Audience awareness has been improving in recent tracking data, and midteen millions seems a realistic target for the weekend.

"Dane Cook does have an audience," said David Davis of financial advisory firm FMV Opinions. "The question is how big."

The comedian-turned-actor's last film, October's "Employee of the Month," debuted with $11.4 million en route to grossing $28.4 million domestically.

The PG-13 "Sydney" — which Universal is distributing for Morgan Creek — appeals mostly to younger females. Bynes gained broad exposure during her four-year stint on WB Network's "What I Like About You" and appears in New Line's "Hairspray."

"We see an interest from young females, and there is a void in the market for a film that will appeal to this core audience," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said.

Still, appeal appears a bit narrow, so making it into the double-digit millions would represent a solid success for "Sydney," which unspools with 2,102 playdates.

Important limited openers this weekend include Warner Bros.' Brad Pitt starrer "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford." Also, Michael Bay's effects-laden blockbuster "Transformers" from Paramount — toting an 11-week domestic cume of $312 million — unspools in limited Imax release.

"Jesse James" will try to steal some of the same boxoffice riches that holdover Western "3:10 to Yuma" also will be chasing during its third frame. "Yuma" carries a domestic cume of about $30 million into its third weekend.

Among several platforming pics, this session's expansions for Focus Features' "Eastern Promises" and Sony's "Across the Universe" bear particular watching after their stellar limited bows the previous weekend.

"Promises," a thriller about the Russian mob in London starring Viggo Mortensen, widens into 1,404 domestic engagements. "Universe," Julie Taymor's Beatles-fueled romantic fantasy, broadens into 276 locations throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Meanwhile, the industry's biggest collective challenge will be posting an 11th consecutive weekend of year-over-year boxoffice gain.

During the same frame last year, Paramount's "Jackass: Number Two" bowed with $29 million to lead a solid industry performance of $98.3 million in collective boxoffice.

The year-ago weekend included the Jewish New Year holiday of Rosh Hashana. This weekend, it could prove notable that the more solemn Yom Kippur begins at sundown tonight.