Studios aren't sweating big game


Sony Pictures and Universal Pictures are taking a page out of their own playbooks for Super Bowl weekend, revisiting genres that have scored at the North American boxoffice on the weekend of the big game.

Sony opens the Pang brothers' horror film "The Messengers" with hopes of mimicking the

$21 million gross generated last year when the studio bowed "When a Stranger Calls." Universal is trying to lure female moviegoers, usually less interested in football, with the Diane Keaton-Mandy Moore starrer "Because I Said So," a strategy the studio used when it released "The Wedding Date" on Super Bowl weekend in 2005.

"Messengers" marks Chinese horror directors Oxide and Danny Pang's English-language debut. Starring Dylan McDermott, Kristen Stewart and John Corbett, the PG-13 film revolves around a family that moves to a North Dakota farm and is haunted by mysterious apparitions. "Messengers," from Sony's Screen Gems label, was produced by Sam Raimi's Ghost House Pictures in conjunction with Mandate Pictures.

The film is set to bow in 2,528 theaters and is likely to mark the largest opening-weekend gross for the directing duo by getting at least into the midteen millions.

Universal's "Because" is another romantic comedy from Gold Circle Films. The company produced "The Wedding Date," starring Debra Messing and Dermot Mulroney, which opened on the comparable weekend in 2005 to $11 mil-lion in 1,694 theaters. "Because," from director Michael Lehmann ("40 Days and 40 Nights"), opens in 2,526 theaters and should bow to a larger number than "Date." Co-starring Tom Everett Scott, Lauren Graham and Piper Perabo, the PG-13 "Because" centers on an overbearing mom (Keaton) who tries to set her daughter (Moore) up with the right man.

Among the holdovers, Universal's R-rated "Smokin' Aces" has been dominating the midweek numbers, topping last weekend's boxoffice winner "Epic Movie." Both films are likely to take a tumble this weekend because of the Super Bowl. "Epic" might benefit from its less restrictive rating but is still likely to fall pretty far from its opening-week numbers because of the dismal audience reaction as measured Monday by exit pollster CinemaScore. In contrast, "Aces" could hold on to the older audience but is still going to get hit by the game.

In limited release, MGM bows the Weinstein Co. release "Factory Girl" in three theaters. The long-awaited biopic centering on Andy Warhol's muse Edie Sedgwick had a long gestation period when it was in development, with actresses falling in and out of the role. From veteran documentary filmmaker George Hickenlooper, "Girl" stars Sienna Miller as Sedgwick and Guy Pearce as Warhol. Hayden Christensen co-stars as Edie's rock-star love interest, a character modeled after Bob Dylan, who at one point briefly threatened legal action over his portrayal in the feature. Jimmy Fallon, Mena Suvari and Illeana Douglas also are featured.

IFC's First Take series bowed the Ralph Nader documentary "An Unreasonable Man" on Wednesday in one theater. From directors Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan, the film takes an admiring but not uncritical look at the consumer advocate and politician who some commentators said cost Al Gore the presidency in 2000.

Strand Releasing bows "Puccini for Beginners" on two screens in New York. The unrated romantic comedy from Maria Maggenti stars Elizabeth Reaser, Justin Kirk and Gretchen Mol. It debuted at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize.