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MOVIE PROJECTOR

'Disaster' will try to steal 'Tropic's' thunder

August 29, 2008|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

Hollywood's 18-week summer season ends this weekend with two new flicks in the fight for No. 1 at the box office: "Disaster Movie" and a movie that critics -- and even the director -- call a disaster of a movie, the sci-fi thriller "Babylon A.D."

Both are tracking to open at $10 million to $13 million through Labor Day. They will tussle for the top spot with DreamWorks/Paramount's action comedy "Tropic Thunder," which could win a third straight weekend thanks to the soft competition.

With folks surely primed for mindless laughter after a week of Democratic speeches and Republican responses, Projector gives a slight edge to "Tropic Thunder" over "Disaster Movie," from the spoof-meisters who brought you "Meet the Spartans" -- whether you wanted it or not.

The R-rated "Tropic Thunder," starring Jack Black, Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr., is far from a blockbuster, considering its production cost of more than $90 million. But it has hung tough in the market and looks headed for $12 million to $15 million over four days with a modest third-weekend drop, and ultimately more than $100 million in domestic grosses.

Consumer tracking shows "Disaster Movie" and "Babylon A.D.," both rated PG-13, drawing young moviegoers.

"Disaster Movie," produced for $20 million by Grosvenor Park and distributed domestically by Lionsgate Films, features an ensemble including Vanessa Minnillo, G. Thang and Carmen Electra surviving a series of natural disasters and, of course, a string of gags parodying "Juno," "Enchanted" and other recent movies.

Writer-director-producers Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer have built a bankable brand, not unlike Jim Abrahams and the brothers David and Jerry Zucker, the "Airplane!" and "The Naked Gun" guys, did in the 1980s. Since helping to write the first "Scary Movie," Friedberg and Seltzer went on to make "Date Movie," "Epic Movie" and "Meet the Spartans," which opened to weekend totals of $19.1 million, $18.6 million and $18.5 million, respectively.

The March release "Superhero Movie," from different filmmakers, launched to only $9.5 million, and "Disaster Movie" hasn't tracked quite as well as "Spartans," raising the specter that audiences could finally be suffering from SGFS, or spoof genre fatigue syndrome.

Yet even with a dip from the Friedberg-Seltzer norm, "Disaster Movie" could be No. 1.

"Babylon A.D.," a post-apocalyptic adventure starring Vin Diesel, shows tracking strength with males under 25. Twentieth Century Fox, which financed the film with European partners, says the production cost $45 million, though reports speculate it was higher.

As of Thursday, all 10 reviews compiled by RottenTomatoes.com were negative. In an interview with a blog at AMCTV.com, director Mathieu Kassovitz slammed Fox and the film's producers, calling the movie "pure violence and stupidity" and blaming editing-room interference. The French auteur, whose world view appears to be shaped by pop songs, said the film was "supposed to teach us that the education of our children will mean the future of our planet."

Kassovitz could not be reached. Fox declined to comment on the kerfuffle.

Among this weekend's other releases is the spy thriller "Traitor," starring Don Cheadle as a mysterious terrorism suspect and Guy Pearce as a straight-laced FBI agent.

The PG-13 "Traitor," made for about $22 million, is Overture Films' first in-house production to hit screens. Overture, a Liberty Media Corp. subsidiary, opened the film Wednesday to encourage word-of-mouth for a picture it sees as appealing to serious-minded and popcorn crowds alike.

"We have a shot at establishing ourselves as the quality alternative for a more discerning, older audience," said Chris McGurk, the mini-studio's chief executive.

Overture's first four releases were acquisitions. Up next are a high-profile acquisition, the Robert De Niro-Al Pacino crime thriller "Righteous Kill," followed by two more original productions, "Nothing Like the Holidays" and "Last Chance Harvey."

"We're getting into the meat of our batting order," McGurk said. After opening Wednesday to $800,000, however, "Traitor" appears unlikely to start out with a home run.

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josh.friedman@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Weekend Forecast

The holdover action comedy "Tropic Thunder" could battle the new spoof "Disaster Movie" and the science-fiction thriller "Babylon A.D." for No. 1 at the box office. Along with the films listed below, contenders to make the top 10 include "Hamlet 2" and "Star Wars: The Clone Wars." These figures are The Times' predictions. Studios will release four-day estimates Monday and actual results Tuesday.

*--* Movie 4-day Through the Weeks prediction (studio) (millions) weekend

1 Tropic Thunder $14.1 $87.4 3 (DreamWorks/Paramount)

2 Disaster Movie (Lionsgate) 12.8 12.8 1

3 Babylon A.D. (20th Century Fox) 11.5 11.5 1

4 The House Bunny (Sony) 11.1 31.3 2

5 The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.) 9.8 503.7 7

6 Death Race (Universal) 7.4 24.9 2

7 Traitor (Overture) 5.9 7.3 1

8 Mamma Mia! (Universal) 5.5 132.4 7

9 Pineapple Express (Sony) 4.4 81.1 4

10 College (MGM) 4.4 4.4 1 *--*

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Source: Times research

Los Angeles Times

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