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''Save the Last Dance'' tops the holiday weekend box office

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Julia Stiles, Save the Last Dance

What does it take to stop Tom Hanks at the box office? Well, theaters full of probable Justin Timberlake fans is a good place to start. Music loving youngsters helped ”Save the Last Dance” earn $27.2 million over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, ending ”Cast Away”’s three week survival at No. 1. ”Dance,” an interracial teen romance starring Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas, sailed past the previous MLK record held by 1999’s ”Varsity Blues” ($17.5 million). ”Obviously it hit a nerve with the young female audience,” said Paramount’s distribution prez Wayne Lewellen. Studio data indicated that 78 percent of the audience was female and 61 percent was under 21.

”Cast Away” nevertheless lured a hefty $19.2 million from Hanks lovers to finish at No. 2, while Steven Soderbergh’s ”Traffic” continued to light up the No. 3 position with $13.3 million. Mel Gibson’s ”What Women Want” tumbled No. 4 ($11.8 million) with earnings only slightly higher than the weekend’s second best debut, the critically maligned heist caper ”Double Take” ($11.5 million).

CRITICAL MASS Paramount’s data showed that it took a whole lot of girls to defeat Hanks at the box office — and EW.com’s readers’ poll agrees. Overall, voters graded the teen romance a B, but the highest tally of A came from females under the age of 29. Guys allotted the Stiles/ Thomas tango a C+ (slightly better than the critics average of C-). Still, 74 percent said the film was better than they had expected, while 79 percent indicated they would recommend the ballerina turns hip hop tale to friends.

”Double Take,” meanwhile, didn’t fare nearly as well among EW.com readers — both male and female. Voters marked the film a C, with women giving the comedy a B- and men a subpar C-. (Critics gave the movie a D.) Moreover, 45 percent of voters said they will definitely not recommend the movie to friends. So much for the studio’s hope for a double take.

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