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A 'Wedding' banquet while 'Gigli' starves

'American Pie' sequel debuts at about $34.3 million, Lopez-Affleck project at $3.8 million.

August 04, 2003|R. Kinsey Lowe | Times Staff Writer

The geeks of "American Wedding" enjoyed a lively reception at the nation's theaters this weekend, but a celebrity couple chronicled ceaselessly in the entertainment media met with commercial disaster in their first on-screen pairing.

The third film in the raunchy "American Pie" comedies, "American Wedding" collected an estimated $34.3 million to debut at No. 1, Universal Pictures said Sunday. The movie, for which reviews were mixed, opened with about $11 million less than 2001's "American Pie 2" but about $15 million more than the 1999 original.

Living up to its negative pre-release reputation, the Ben Affleck-Jennifer Lopez vehicle "Gigli" took in an estimated $3.8 million. Individually, the romantic crime comedy represented the worst opening of a wide release (1,000-plus theaters) for Lopez since the Oliver Stone directed "U-Turn" debuted with $2.7 million in October 1997, and the worst for Affleck since "Phantoms" bowed in January 1998 with just under $3.1 million.

Although Affleck and Lopez already have completed another movie together -- writer-director Kevin Smith's "Jersey Girl" -- the foul reception of "Gigli" raises questions about the couple's working relationship.

"They'll continue to be big stars, and chances are they will not work together again -- and they shouldn't, by the way," said Revolution Studios partner Tom Sherak, which produced "Gigli" for Sony Pictures Entertainment. "You move on," he told Associated Press.

"It's rare for a movie with that level of star power to do so poorly," observed Brandon Gray of the box office tracking firm Boxofficemojo.com. With or without the Lopez-Affleck star power, Gray said the film may have been "doomed from the start" because "romantic crime comedies just don't do well" at the box office.

As examples, he cited the Brad Pitt-Julia Roberts pairing "The Mexican," one of the more successful of its type, which opened at No. 1 in March 2001 with $20.1 million but topped out at $66.8 million; "True Romance," which bowed at No. 3 with $4 million in 1993 and totaled $12.3 million; and the 1985 "Prizzi's Honor," which took in a total of $26.7 million but was never on more than 722 screens.

"Even when they are well-liked," Gray noted, "it's a tough genre."

As bad as it was for "Gigli," there have been worse wide-release debuts. For example, "The Adventures of Pluto Nash," which starred Eddie Murphy, opened last August in a comparable 2,320 theaters with just $2.2 million. Its per-theater average was a measly $940, versus "Gigli's" average of $1,715 in 2,215 locations.

Among openings of limited-release, adult-oriented films, "The Magdalene Sisters," Peter Mullan's chronicle of the abuse of young women sent to facilities run by an order of Irish nuns, opened strongly in five theaters in Los Angeles and New York, bringing in an estimated $83,000 or $16,600 per location, Miramax Films reported.

The French import from Claude Lelouch, "And Now Ladies and Gentlemen," also posted a healthy opening in art house terms, averaging $8,333 per theater in six sites in Los Angeles and New York venues for a weekend total of $50,000, Paramount Classics reported.

Manhattan Pictures' "The Secret Lives of Dentists" posted a healthy debut in limited release, averaging a solid $10,463 per venue in a dozen theaters, for an estimated weekend total of $125,552, the New York-based distributor said.

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