'Semi-Pro' set for slam dunk

Holdovers, female-aimed rookies likely won't offer much defense

"Semi-Pro" looks like it could be a full-on hit.

New Line unspools its Will Ferrell basketball spoof in more than 3,000 theaters today, and prerelease tracking shows solid must-see interest.

Yet for all the positive signs, it's unlikely that the R-rated comedy will see first-weekend grosses anywhere near those for Ferrell's "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby." Ferrell's PG-13 NASCAR spoof opened in August 2006 with $47 million en route to a $148.2 million domestic take.

It appears that "Semi-Pro" easily will open at least half as well as "Talladega." But with solid interest among men and women, something closer to $30 million isn't out of the question.

Two other wide releases open further down the weekend pecking order and are unlikely to make it out of the single-digit millions.

Sony's costume drama "The Other Boleyn Girl" is set for only about 1,165 engagements. That's because though Sony execs surely would like to see the Natalie Portman-Scarlett Johansson starrer take hold as a Saturday night date movie, the likelihood is that females will show good interest but males might show distinct disdain.

Still, some early reviews have been positive, lauding cast performances and overall production values of the PG-13 film.

That's got execs hoping that word-of-mouth coming out of its opening weekend will produce good playability for "Boleyn," which is likely to bow at about $8 million-$9 million. So the film's "multiple," or ratio between the opening grosses and final cume, could be outsized, execs said.

"We're in for the long haul," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said. "It's a picture that we think will have a very high screen average and that will translate into a very good multiple."

Summit Entertainment will be chasing many of the same prospective moviegoers as "Boleyn" as it unspools its Christina Ricci starrer "Penelope" in about 1,200 venues. Acquired by the fledgling producer-distributor for about $10 million, the PG romantic fantasy is expected to gross about $5 million with core support coming from women.

"Based on what we're seeing and what the tracking is telling us, we have a specific audience we've targeted (and) we expect them to come out and support the film," Summit distribution president Richard Fay said.

Elsewhere during this first post-Oscars weekend, Miramax will double the playdates for its best picture winner "No Country for Old Men" to slightly more than 2,000 runs. Toting a domestic cume of $65 million, "No Country" should figure in top 10 rankings for the first time in recent weeks, thanks to the afterglow of its Academy Awards success and the boosted screen count.

Among the frame's other holdover films, Sony's political thriller "Vantage Point" looks likely to compete strongly for a medal-position finish this frame. If the Dennis Quaid starrer can ring up even 50% of its opening grosses from a week ago, it would see more than $11 million during its sophomore session.

Paramount's family fantasy "The Spiderwick Chronicles" also stands a good chance of hanging around in the top rankings after grossing $13.1 million over its second frame last weekend.

Meanwhile, distributors and exhibitors will be trying to snap a recent downbeat trend in industrywide grosses. Last weekend represented the third consecutive frame in which the collective domestic boxoffice failed to match receipts from the same weekend last year.

Year-to-date, 2008 remains 11% ahead of the same portion of 2007 with $1.43 billion in industry grosses.