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Mel Gibson's ''Soldiers'' will prove most macho

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Mel Gibson, We Were Soldiers

At the movies this weekend, it’s all about testosterone, with Mel Gibson channeling his into warfare in ”We Were Soldiers” and Josh Hartnett trying to ignore his in ”40 Days and 40 Nights.”

But in the hunk-off, bet on Mel. It’s a rare Gibson film that doesn’t open at more than $20 million. This one, based on a true story of an early battle in the Vietnam War, plays to his action hero strengths. (The movie reunites him with ”Braveheart” screenwriter Randall Wallace.) Of course, the film’s attention to the home front (led by Madeleine Stowe as Gibson’s wife) will help the movie appeal to both sexes.

Also, the film’s unwavering jingoism should play well in the post-Afghanistan, post-Olympics climate. With the movie opening very wide (nearly 3,200 screens), the only obstacle ”Soldiers” faces is possible military fatigue. This is the fourth combat movie in three months, and the presence of Bruce Willis couldn’t keep the most recent entry, ”Hart’s War,” from bombing. Still, even with a war glut, ”Soldiers” should open at $21 million.

War movie veteran Hartnett (”Pearl Harbor,” ”Black Hawk Down”) will face a test even greater than that of his ”40 Days” character, who tries to give up sex for Lent: Can this star of various ensemble pictures open a movie all by himself? He certainly has been getting a lot of buzz as a heartthrob, and his much-touted assertion that he gave up his Method-acting attempt to emulate his character’s celibacy after just a couple of weeks only adds to his sex appeal.

Plus, this is the only comedy option this weekend, unless you find the campy ”Queen of the Damned” or oddball ”Dragonfly” uproarious. Still, Hartnett’s numbers in movies aimed at teen and young adult viewers (”The Faculty,” ”The Virgin Suicides,” ”O”) haven’t been huge, and he has yet to prove himself as a comic or romantic lead. Opening fairly wide on about 2,200 screens, ”40 Days” should earn about $14 million for the No. 2 spot.

Poor word of mouth should result in ”Queen” (”Hey, Aaliyah’s only in this for, what, 20 minutes?”) and ”Dragonfly” (”Huh??”) losing 40 to 50 percent of last week’s business. Last week’s No. 1, ”Queen,” should fall to No. 3, with just over $8 million, while ”Dragonfly” will drop to about $6 million for fifth place. In contrast, audiences like ”John Q,” which should continue to coast on the ”Training Day” Oscar buzz for Denzel Washington and Americans’ inexhaustible contempt for the HMO industry. It should come in fourth, dropping only about a third, to $8 million.

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