Ferrell drives for another slam-dunk

Times Staff Writer

As a race-car driver in "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," he opened to a smokin' $47 million. As an ice skater in "Blades of Glory," he cruised to a cool $33 million.

Will Ferrell, who has enjoyed two of his biggest box-office hits playing buffoonish optimists in sports-themed spoofs, is likely to dominate the weekend once again, this time as a hapless basketball player in New Line Cinema's "Semi-Pro." The R-rated comedy, opening today in more than 3,100 theaters, looks like a slam-dunk for first place.

Two counter-programming efforts open against "Semi-Pro:" Sony Pictures' adaptation of the bestselling historical novel "The Other Boleyn Girl," starring Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson and Eric Bana; and Summit Entertainment's "Penelope," a modern romantic fable starring Christina Ricci. Both should draw well with women, though neither looks like a blockbuster.

"Semi-Pro" will snag around $26 million in opening-weekend ticket sales. Consumer tracking surveys indicate keen interest among young males, although the restrictive rating will limit that audience. "Talladega Nights" and "Blades of Glory" were both PG-13, making them available to wider crowds.

The release date will also keep "Semi-Pro" from approaching the business brought in by "Talladega." That movie came out in the heart of summer, when more kids turn out to theaters, especially on opening day.

In "Semi-Pro," which cost nearly $40 million to produce, Ferrell plays Jackie Moon, the owner-coach-player of the American Basketball Assn.'s fictional Tropics in Flint, Mich., during the swingin' '70s. Co-stars include Woody Harrelson, as a bench-warming veteran traded to the team for a washing machine, and Andre Benjamin of rap group OutKast.

The movie was slapped with an R for language and sexual content. For a taste of what raised eyebrows with the Motion Picture Assn. of America's ratings board, check out the age-restricted "red band" trailer online and see how colorfully Ferrell's character begs to differ with a referee's call.

Winning the weekend is usually a cause for celebration in Hollywood, but that won't be the case at New Line, of course, where the mood is glum after Thursday's announcement that the studio would be folded into Warner Bros. by parent Time Warner Inc. Hundreds of jobs will be cut as part of the cost-saving move.

Last weekend's No. 1 movie, Sony Pictures' political thriller "Vantage Point" will slip to second with about $12 million. And another holdover, Paramount Pictures' family fantasy "The Spiderwick Chronicles," could take third with $9 million.

The PG-13 "Boleyn Girl," produced by Sony, Relativity Media and Universal's Focus Features for about $35 million, opens only moderately wide at about 1,200 theaters, which seems appropriate for a movie that's halfway between megaplex and art-house fare.

It tells one of the classic stories in English history -- the tale of the beautiful Boleyn sisters, Anne and Mary, who competed for the love of King Henry VIII. Producer Scott Rudin has a reputation for classy adaptations, including Oscar winner "No Country for Old Men."

"Boleyn Girl" has an attractive cast and enough passion, intrigue and betrayal to appeal to a commercial audience, guys included, without seeming like a history lesson, said Jeff Blake, Sony's president of worldwide marketing and distribution.

"It's a bit of a bodice-ripper, as they say," Blake said.

Point taken. Projector is already checking the available showtimes.

Sony says it hopes for an opening similar to 2005's "Pride and Prejudice," which took in $7.2 million when it went wide. That would be good for fourth place over the weekend, but the picture could surprise and fare slightly better.

Online ticket merchant Fandango.com noted that "Boleyn Girl" was outselling "Semi-Pro" as of Thursday afternoon, although that might only confirm that women plan ahead better than men.

"Penelope," produced for less than $15 million by Stone Village Pictures and Reese Witherspoon's Type A Films, opens at 1,200 theaters. Witherspoon, James McAvoy and Catherine O'Hara also co-star.

The PG movie, the first release from upstart studio Summit Entertainment in its new incarnation, is about a young woman who must find true love to break a family curse. The core audience will be moms and daughters.

Look for the movie to open at $3 million, unless it can grab a solid share of the female audience from "Boleyn Girl."

In a just world the talented Ricci, whose credits include "The Ice Storm" and "Black Snake Moan," would be a big box-office draw. But that's not the world we live in.

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josh.friedman@latimes.com

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Weekend Forecast

The new Will Ferrell comedy "Semi-Pro" is expected to lead the industry this weekend in ticket sales. "No Country for Old Men" will get a boost from its best picture win at the Academy Awards. Along with the films listed below, contenders to make the top 10 include Paramount Vantage's "There Will Be Blood" and Universal Pictures' "Definitely, Maybe." These figures are Times' predictions only. Studios will release weekend estimates Sunday and final results Monday.

*--* Movie (studio) 3-day forecast (millions) Through Weeks the weekend 1 Semi-Pro (New Line) $26.0 $26.0 1 2 Vantage Point (Sony) 12.0 40.1 2 3 The Spiderwick Chronicles 9.0 55.4 3 (Paramount) 4 The Other Boleyn Girl (Sony) 7.0 7.0 1 5 Jumper (20th Century Fox) 6.0 65.3 3 6 Step Up 2 the Streets 5.0 47.9 3 (Disney) 7 No Country for Old Men 4.5 70.1 17 (Miramax) 8 Juno (Fox Searchlight) 3.5 135.4 13 9 Fool's Gold (Warner Bros.) 3.5 57.8 4 10 Penelope (Summit 3.5 3.5 1 Entertainment) *--*

*--* Source: Times research Los Angeles Times *--*

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