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''Hannibal'' is likely to devour the President's Day box office

Puffy’s driver testifies against him, DMX is going to jail, MTV to laud Janet Jackson, and more

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Julianne Moore, Anthony Hopkins, ...
Hannibal: Phil Bray

BOX OFFICE ”Hannibal” opened Feb. 9 weekend with a mind blowing $58 million box office take — but according to analysts this post- Valentine / President’s Day weekend is when everyone’s favorite cannibal will truly test his chops. ”If [”Hannibal”] takes a big drop in the second weekend, then we’ll know whether we can expect it to surpass $100 million,” Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, told EW.com.

With two new movies targeted at romancing couples, ”Sweet November” (starring Charlize Theron and Keanu Reeves) and ”Down to Earth” (Chris Rock), and a family flick, ”Recess: School’s Out,” entering the market, the $80 million budgeted horror sequel is likely to lose a percentage of its earnings to audiences who favor less fiendish fare.

But none of those movies arrives with the kind of buzz that’s likely to knock ”Hannibal” out of the No. 1 spot. Word of mouth about the film’s most notoriously stomach churning scenes may attract both repeat viewers and newcomers to the film — even if the gross out factor frightens off others, says Robert Bucksbaum of box office tracking firm Reel Source. ”People are going to be talking about the brain scene — nobody’s going to come right out and tell somebody all about it, but they’re going to say, ‘You have to see the brain scene,”’ he says. ”That’s what’s going to draw people. That’s what horror films are all about, certain significant moments that just draw people to it.” And no, that’s NOT a spoiler. –Lori Reese

LEGAL BRIEF Thursday’s testimony in the gun possession and bribery trial of Sean ”Puffy” Combs was reportedly the most damaging so far. The hip hop magnate’s part time driver Wendell Fenderson, 42, took the stand and said that on Dec. 27, 1999: ”I saw Mr. Combs holding a black handgun, an automatic.” According to Reuters, Fenderson went on to testify that Combs offered him $50,000 and a $300,000 diamond ring if Fenderson would claim the gun belonged to him.

At first, Fenderson did just that, but 30 minutes into his police interrogation, Fenderson recanted. ”I’m not going to take the rap for a bad guy,” he testified. Even after a 90 minute cross examination from Combs’ attorney, Fenderson’s testimony stayed exactly the same. The cross continues today, Feb. 16. If convicted, Puffy faces up to 15 years in prison.

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT Rapper DMX reportedly plans to surrender to the police and begin serving a 15 day jail sentence next week. According to the Associated Press, DMX, whose real name is Earl Simmons, was sentenced last May for driving without a license. Simmons was charged last March in suburban Buffalo, when he was pulled over three hours after a concert. After Simmons failed to meet a court ordered deadline last week for serving the term, the upstate New York authorities issued a warrant for his arrest.

”He has every intention of honoring the court’s mandate and plans to turn himself in immediately upon his return to the East Coast,” Simmons’ attorny Matt Middleton said. A double Grammy nominee for best rap album (”And Then There Was X”) and best rap solo performance (”Party Up”), DMX will definitely have to skip the awards show next week. Maybe he can tape an acceptance speech from the jailhouse.

HONORED Pop superstar Janet Jackson will receive the first ”mtvICON” tribute, a new annual MTV special celebrating the music of an influential artist. According to SonicNet.com, the music network has enlisted Destiny’s Child, ‘N Sync, Macy Gray, and Outkast to toast Jackson’s 16 year career in the industry. Each act will sing one of Jackson’s hits, and Jackson will perform the finale on the March 13 show. ”Her music has always kept me dancing,” Destiny’s Child singer Michelle Williams said in a statement. ”She is the total entertainer.”

SPLIT Another Hollywood couple is calling it a day. Sitcom actress Phylicia Rashad filed for divorce in New York City Thursday from her third husband, TV sports personality Ahmad Rashad. The actress, 52, claimed ”abandonment” as the grounds for divorce, but according to New York’s Daily News, the separation is amicable. The couple, who has a 14 year old daughter, Phylea, were married for 15 years. According to the AP, the Rashads were introduced by their mutual friend, Bill Cosby.

CASTING ”Will & Grace” lead Debra Messing will star opposite Téa Leoni and Treat Williams in director Woody Allen‘s latest comedy for DreamWorks. Messing, 32, will play 65 year old Allen’s girlfriend. Who did you expect — Phyllis Diller?

Jennifer Jason Leigh has joined the ensemble cast of ”The Road to Perdition,” the drama starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman. Based on the DC Comics graphic novel, the DreamWorks drama will be directed by Sam Mendes(”American Beauty”), who directed Leigh in the ”Cabaret” revival on Broadway.

Orlando Jones (”Double Take”) has signed on to play a smooth talking pimp (is there any other kind?) in ”The Reverend Pimp Daddy” for Columbia Pictures. Actually, the catch is that Jones’ character promises a dying minister that he’ll lead the reverend’s East Philly congregation. The comedy will be the feature directorial debut of Marcus Raboy, a music video and commercials veteran who has worked with Lil’ Kim, Mary J. Blige, and Santana.

HOST WITH MOST ”Daily Show” anchor Jon Stewart has been tapped to host the Grammy Awards next Wednesday, Feb. 21. The comedian announced Wednesday that he’s ready to step into the shoes of past hosts Rosie O’Donnell, Ellen DeGeneres, and Garry Shandling. ”I have a whole week now to buy some CDs,” Stewart said on ”Access Hollywood.”

Even if he isn’t familiar with the musicians, there’ll be plenty for Stewart to joke about — from Eminem and Elton‘s duet to Britney Spears‘ outfit. Asked on the show if he looked forward to meeting the voluptuous pop star, he answered: ”Yes, because I have so much in common with a 20 year old pop star. Who am I, Joey Buttafuoco?”

TUBE NEWS ”3rd Rock From the Sun” star French Stewart will star in a comedy pilot for CBS called ”Blind Men.” Based on the British TV series with the same name, the sitcom follows two incredibly competitive blind salesman. Yes, you read correctly, it’s about two window treatment salesman who try to outsell each other at all costs.