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Award laden ''Traffic'' fights for box office success

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Michael Douglas, Traffic (Movie - 2000)
Traffic: USA Films

BOX OFFICE Stephen Soderbergh‘s ”Traffic” has already earned so many honors — including a Golden Globe nomination for best drama — that it SHOULD motor straight to box office success when it hits 1,000 plus theaters this weekend. But some analysts say that distributor USA Films might have decided to release the Academy Award favorite widely too soon. The heady drug running drama will have to battle two lightweight crowd pleasers — ”What Women Want” and ”Miss Congeniality” — and one indefatigable titan — ”Cast Away” — for box office success.

Despite ”Traffic”’s critical acclaim and Page Six stars (Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones), mainstream America might not be ready for the politically charged film, says Robert Bucksbaum of box office tracking firm Reel Source. ”People stay away from movies about politics,” says Bucksbaum, citing the low earnings of the election timed White House flick ”The Contender.”

Most industry watchers are certain that ”Traffic” will be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, but nominations won’t be announced for a few weeks. ”People will go see it if it’s nominated, so that they can watch the ceremony on TV and follow along,” he says. ”If ‘Traffic’ can hold out until the nominations are announced, then it will be fine. But by then, it might be too late.”

LEGALESE Courtney Love has filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against Lesley Barber the ex- wife of her current squeeze, Geffen Records exec Jim Barber. The rocker cum yoga queen claims that Barber blames Love for the end of her marriage to Jim. The suit alleges that the estranged ex threatened to burn down Love’s home and plant cocaine in her car. Furthermore, it also claims that Barber ran over Love’s foot with her Volvo — causing an injury that forced the actress to drop out of a film, ”John Carpenter’s Ghosts From Mars.” Now we really know that we should never believe what publicists say: They told us Love pulled a muscle at the gym.

REEL DEALS Sharon Stone is desperately seeking a partner. The sequel to Paul Verhoeven‘s ”Basic Instinct” — the 1992 megahit about a sociopathic exhibitionist cum novelist — has met an unfortunate snag. The David Cronenberg helmed feature lacks a leading man, according to Variety. Rehearsals were slated to begin in February. But Michael Douglas declined to reprise his role in the film and Robert Downey Jr. turned down the chance to star in his stead.

Meanwhile, Stone is still hoping to find someone to chase with an ice pick. ”Sharon is ready, willing and able to play the role,” her manager Chuck Binder said. ”She is in shape, she loves the screenplay and wants to make the movie. ‘Basic Instinct’ is a huge part of her career, and she has really been looking forward to reprising the role.” Maybe the casting directors should start looking for costars somewhere other than the tabloids.

CONTROVERSY We knew it wouldn’t be long before The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation spoke up about the THREE Grammy nominations for Eminem‘s vitriolic ”The Marshall Mathers LP” (Em received a fourth nod for a collaboration with Dr. Dre.). GLAAD released a statement calling the Grammys ”a high profile platform for Eminem’s messages of violence.” It goes on to ask the media to cover the Slim Shady’s work responsibly — and take particular note of his lyrics. ”It was a reminder to the media about why we’ve been working on this issue for almost the past year,” GLAAD’s Cathy Renna told RollingStone.com.

TV NEWS Never mind its complicity in Em’s success, MTV is going out of its way to draw attention to the pervasiveness of hate crimes. The network is planning to break from regular programming for an extreme 17 hours next week, as they run a continuous list of hate crime victims’ names across the screen. The move — which starts on Wed. at 10 p.m. EST — will cost MTV about $2 million in advertising and kick off a yearlong hate crime awareness campaign. ”Our hope is it really gets the attention of our audience and motivates them to get involved,” network prez Brian Graden said…. In other MTV news, the network may not show the video of “Malcolm in the Middle”‘s annoyingly catchy theme song “Boss of Me” — performed by They Might Be Giants and starring the cast members of the show. Instead, the clip will have its world premiere during the Sunday, Jan. 7, broadcast of the Fox sitcom in place of the show’s usual intro. “Boss of Me” is the first single from the “Malcolm in the Middle” soundtrack, due out on Feb. 6 (Restless Records).

SHUFFLE NBC has decided to pull ”The Weber Show” (initially — and appropriately, some say — titled ”Cursed”) from its Thursday night offerings during February sweeps. This means that ”Survivor: The Australian Outback” is likely to face tougher competition in its second half hour — following ”Friends” — than first expected. There is speculation that the network will slide ratings powerhouse ”Frasier” into that slot. Not a peep from the Peacock.

SPLIT Courtney Thorne-Smith — best known for her roles as Georgia on ”Ally McBeal”’s and Allison on ”Melrose Place” — has separated from her husband, Andrew Conrad, a genetic scientist. ”Andy and I have mutually decided to separate,” Thorne-Smith said in a brief statement released by her publicist. ”There are no third parties involved. We remain good friends and will share custody of our dogs.” The two were married last June.

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