Will Ferrell's funny bone is back in top form at the box office this weekend.
Allaying fears that last year's flop "Land of the Lost" signaled a decline in audience interest for his movies, buddy comedy "The Other Guys," in which Ferrell costars with Mark Wahlberg, opened to a solid $35.6 million, according to studio estimates.
It dominated a relatively slow weekend at the box office, as the only other new film in wide release, teen dance flick "Step Up 3D," opened to a soft $15.5 million — less than each of the last two movies in the series, despite the benefit of higher 3-D ticket prices.
After three weeks at No. 1, "Inception" finally slipped to No. 2 as it dropped a modest 32% on its fourth weekend in theaters and grossed $18.6 million, bringing its total receipts in the U.S. and Canada to $227.7 million. The Christopher Nolan-directed thriller remained No. 1 abroad, however, generating $46.6 million in 58 foreign markets and bringing its international total to a very strong $250 million.
Helped by an aggressive publicity push by Ferrell and Wahlberg, who play mismatched police partners, "The Other Guys" enjoyed an opening right in line with a number of Ferrell's other successful comedies, such as 2008's "Step Brothers," 2007's "Blades of Glory," 2004's "Anchorman" and 2003's "Elf," accounting for ticket price inflation.
It fell short only of Ferrell's 2006 NASCAR comedy "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," which opened to $47 million.
If the well-reviewed "Other Guys" performs similarly to the star's past comedies, it should end up with a little more than $100 million at the domestic box office, a good number given that it cost distributor Sony Pictures around $85 million to produce.
However, audiences, which tilted young and male, seemed lukewarm on the movie. They gave it an average grade of B-, according to market research firm CinemaScore. If that augurs poor buzz, "The Other Guys" might disappear from theaters more quickly than Sony is hoping.
"I do think it's going to hang in there for the rest of the summer," said Sony distribution President Rory Bruer. "Right from the first screening we knew we had a funny movie."
A strong domestic performance is critical for the picture, as Ferrell comedies typically don't do much business overseas. "The Other Guys" hasn't yet opened in foreign countries.
The disappointing start for the third "Step Up" film provided more evidence that, although many moviegoers like 3-D technology, it takes more than images popping out of the screen to guarantee a hit.
An impressive 84% of the film's receipts came from 3-D screens, and those who saw it that way gave the movie a very good CinemaScore of A-, compared with a B for those who saw it in two dimensions.
Nonetheless, "Step Up 3D" came in well below the $20.7-million opening of the original in 2006 and $18.9-million start for 2008's "Step Up 2 the Streets."
"We were on the high end of tracking," said Walt Disney Studios distribution President Chuck Viane, referring to estimates based on pre-release surveys, "but not as many people came to see the movie as I would have liked."
Disney and independent studio Summit Entertainment co-financed "Step Up 3D" at a cost of $30 million to $35 million. While Disney is releasing the movie domestically, Summit is handling it overseas, where it opened in 11 foreign markets to $12.3 million. In Britain, New Zealand and South Korea, it launched well above the first "Step Up" and slightly below the second, while in Australia, the Netherlands and Belgium, it started bigger than both of its predecessors.
Last weekend's top new release, the Steve Carell comedy "Dinner for Schmucks," declined 55% to $10.5 million, indicating that word of mouth wasn't good enough to help the picture combat the premiere of another comedy. Carell's last movie, the April hit "Date Night," dropped a much smaller 34% on its second weekend. "Schmucks," which costars Paul Rudd, has now brought in $46.7 million and will likely end with a so-so box office total of about $70 million.
"Charlie St. Cloud" tumbled 62% on its second weekend to $4.7 million, as the targeted teen-girl audience apparently didn't spread positive buzz on the romantic drama.
Indie family drama "The Kids Are All Right" showed resilience on its second weekend in wide release, dropping only 26% to $2.6 million.
Focus Features' Sundance Film Festival pickup now has total domestic ticket sales of $14 million and is performing a little below last year's indie hit "(500) Days of Summer," which ended up with a total of $32.4 million.