Weekend pronouncement: 'Chuck'

Sandler comedy poised to beat 'Phoenix,' 'Hairspray' to altar

Entering its second weekend, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is facing off against a couple of muggle movies. The odd-couple comedy "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" looks as if it could elbow its way to the top of the North American boxoffice heap, while the upbeat musical "Hairspray" could establish itself as a singing-and-dancing summer hit.

Warner Bros. Pictures' "Phoenix," which burst on the scene July 11, grossed $159.3 million in its first seven days. But this weekend it faces competition not just from other movies but also from the release of author J.K. Rowling's final volume in her monumentally magical series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."

With the book scheduled to go on sale at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, die-hard Potter fans presumably will spend the weekend on a reading binge rather than taking in the big-screen Harry; on the other hand, hardcore Pottermaniacs probably already checked out the movie.

Having grossed $77.1 million the previous weekend, the PG-13 "Phoenix" is expected to fall 50%-55% this round for a weekend take of $33 million-$38 million.

That opens the door for Universal Pictures' "Chuck," playing in 3,495 theaters, to power into the top spot. The PG-13 comedy stars Adam Sandler as a New York firefighter and resolute ladies man who agrees to get hitched to his straight firefighting buddy Kevin James so they can collect domestic partnership benefits. Dennis Dugan, who helmed Sandler's "Happy Gilmore" and "Big Daddy," directs.

Sandler's comedy vehicles have been proven boxoffice draws for nearly a decade. (His dramatic turns, such as in "Reign Over Me" and "Spanglish," are another story.) From 1998's "Waterboy" to last summer's "Click," Sandler's broad comedies have consistently opened in the high-$30 million to low-$40 million range — his biggest opener was 2005's "The Longest Yard," which bowed to $47.6 million.

"Chuck," flirting as it does with the issue of gay marriage, could alienate a few in Sandler's regular-guy fan base, but the comedy still should approach $40 million, which should allow it to outshine "Phoenix."

Female moviegoers are likely to flock to New Line Cinema's "Hairspray," the 1960s-set musical built around an "American Bandstand"-like dance show. Based on the 1988 John Waters film — which was turned into a Broadway musical in 2002 with a score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and now returning to the big screen — the latest film boasts a someone-for-everyone cast that includes John Travolta in the drag role of Edna Turnblad, Queen Latifah, "High School Musical" heartthrob Zac Efron and newcomer Nikki Blonsky. Drawing on his roots as a choreographer, Adam Shankman ("The Wedding Planner") directs.

Although the movie will be competing against "Phoenix" for the attention of younger females, it could dance to something approaching the $20 million mark in 3,121 theaters.

In limited release, Fox Searchlight will launch its sci-fi space exploration movie "Sunshine," directed by Danny Boyle, who had a hit five years ago with Searchlight's "28 Days Later." The R-rated film, about an attempt to save the dying sun, opens in 10 theaters.

Sony Pictures Classics will take out its Oscar-winning foreign-language film, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's "The Lives of Others," for a final victory lap. Although the film has been in theaters for 23 weeks and was on 19 screens the previous weekend, SPC is moving it into 253 theaters with hopes of establishing a record for an American release of a German feature; the current record holder is 1982's "Das Boot," with $10.9 million.