'Semi-Pro' dribbles to top

Ferrell hoops comedy shoots a $15.3 mil air-ball

Bewkes nukes New Line

New Line Cinema, which got word last week that it is being absorbed into Warner Bros., would like to have gone out with a slam-dunk. But its new Will Ferrell comedy "Semi-Pro," though it claimed the top spot, scored just an estimated $15.3 million.

The newly crowned best picture Oscar winner "No Country for Old Men" enjoyed a bounce, taking in $4 million, a 67% increase over its previous weekend. The cume for the Miramax release climbed to $69.6 million.

But with the weekend's two other new wide releases -- Sony's costume drama "The Other Boleyn Girl" and Summit's modern-day fairy tale "Penelope" -- picking up $8.3 million and $4 million respectively, overall boxoffice was down for the fourth weekend in a row compared with the same weekend last year.

According to Nielsen EDI, the weekend estimate of $101 million represented an 18% drop from the comparable weekend in 2007, when Disney's "Wild Hogs" took in $39.7 million in its first weekend. Nonetheless, for the year to date, at nearly $1.6 billion, domestic boxoffice is running 8% ahead of last year's total and should get an added infusion of cash when Warners' "10,000 B.C." opens this Friday.

Given the ease with which Ferrell's sports comedies have racked up points in recent outings -- 2006's "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" bowed to $47 million, while last year's "Blades of Glory" skated off with a $33 million opening -- his newest film hardly proved itself a contender, even if it did cinch the top spot in a low-scoring weekend.

Directed by Kent Alterman and also starring Woody Harrelson and Andre Benjamin, "Semi-Pro" offered up Ferrell as the owner-coach-player of the Flint Michigan Tropics in 3,121 theaters. But it may have been hampered by its R rating, as the ball bounced out of bounds.

New Line, which is loosing company co-founders Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne as Warners' downsizes the film unit, released Ferrell's top-grossing movie "Elf" ($174 million) in 2003, but in this case, the versatile comic wasn't able to repay New Line with a lovely parting gift.

Sony's Columbia Pictures joined forces with Focus to produce Justin Chadwick's PG-13 "Boleyn," in which Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson play two sisters competing for the attentions of Eric Bana's Henry VIII.

While it ranked fourth for the weekend, the film, which opened in a restrained 1,166 theaters, carved out an $8.3 million niche for itself, posting the best per-theater average in the top 10 -- $7,118 -- playing to an audience that was 72% female, 66% of which were under 35.

"It's a great start. We couldn't be happier," said Rory Bruer, Sony domestic distribution president. "The cast couldn't have been more terrific."

Also courting females, particularly younger girls, teens and their mothers, was "Penelope," the first official release from new distributor Summit Entertainment. ("P2," which the company released last year, was considered a holdover from the outfit's previous incarnation.)

After its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006, Mark Palansky's PG-rated ugly-duckling story starring Christina Ricci as a girl with a porcine proboscis was acquired by IFC Films and the Weinstein Co. But when the film's producers disagreed about distribution plans, Summit agreed to take over the movie and put up $10 million in prints and advertising.

The movie's release offered something of a shakedown cruise for Summit's operations as it readies for its first in-house movie, the martial arts flick "Never Back Down," which opens March 14. Opening in 1,196 theaters, "Penelope" ranked eighth, taking in $4 million for a per-theater average of $3,350.

"The film delivered, literally and figuratively," Summit distribution president Richard Fine said, who noted a solid Friday-to-Saturday increase of $57%. "The good news is that the machinery is all in place and working for us."

Meanwhile, last weekend's chart-topper, the Sony thriller "Vantage Point," proved resilient. Dropping just 43%, it attracted $13 million to bring its domestic cume to $41 million as it hung in in second place.

In third place, Paramount/Nickelodeon's fantasy "The Spiderwick Chronicles" fell by just 33% in its third weekend. With an added $8.8 million, its cume stands at $55.1 million.

Fox's action tale "Jumper" fell to No. 5, dropping 40%. Its weekend gross of $7.6 million brought its total to $66.8 million as of its third weekend.

Also in its third frame, Disney's street dancing film "Step Up 2 the Streets" picked up $5.7 million for a cume of $48.6 million and a sixth place showing.

And in its fourth outing, Warners' action romance "Fool's Gold" ranked seventh, turning up an additional $4.7 million to bring its purse to $59.1 million.

"No Country," the Miramax/Paramount Vantage production, was the chief beneficiary of an Oscar glow. With four statuettes in hand, the Coen brothers thriller added more than 900 theaters and shot up from 12th place the previous weekend to No. 8. Capturing an additional $4 million, its domestic total stands at $69.6 million.

Best original screenplay winner "Juno," from Fox Searchlight, settled into the 10th spot as it assembled an extra $3.4 million to bring its total to a resounding $135.1 million.

Although its Daniel Day-Lewis was named best actor, Paramount Vantage/Miramax's "There Will Be Blood" slipped to 15th place with a weekend take of $1.6 million and cume of $37.6 million.

In its second weekend of limited release, Sony Pictures Classics' "The Counterfeiters," which won the Oscar for best foreign film, minted $201,726 in 18 theaters for an impressive per-theater average of $11,207 and a total to date of $346,550.

In its seventh weekend, ThinkFilm's documentary Oscar winner "Taxi to the Dark Side" took in $18,430 in 18 theaters for a per-theater average of $1,024 and a cume of $131,664.

Roadside Attractions' launch of the docu "Chicago 10" found $44,814 in 14 theaters for a per-theater average of $3,201.

Miramax also bowed "City of Men," the sequel to the award-winning Brazilian drama "City of God," in 75 situations, where it rang up $122,000 for a per-theater average of $1,622.