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''I Now Pronounce You'' No. 1

As expected, Adam Sandler and Kevin James’ comedy comes out on top — but ”Hairspray” is the weekend’s real winner

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On a remarkably competitive weekend at the box office, when a mere $7 million separated the top three movies, Adam Sandler’s I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry edged out Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (No. 2) and the musical version of Hairspray (No. 3) for first place, with a $34.8 mil gross.

In doing so, Chuck and Larry became the ninth No. 1 opener of Sandler’s career, and it beat Order of the Phoenix (which brought in a kinda disappointing $32.2 mil, probably because everybody was too busy poring over the just-released Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). Less impressive is the fact that Chuck and Larry actually ranks among the comedian’s worst extra-wide openers ever; no Sandler movie that has debuted on more than 3,000 screens has earned so little. Blame audience apathy (the film netted a so-so B+ CinemaScore from viewers) and a controversial plot in which the star and Kevin James pretend to be lovers.

In fact, as it turned out, the big gender-bending winner this weekend wasn’t the movie in which straight men were pretending to be gay — it was the film in which a man was pretending to be a woman. Yep, Hairspray, featuring John Travolta in the role of mammoth mama Edna Turnblad (portrayed by Divine in John Waters’ original film and popularized by Harvey Fierstein in the Broadway show), clearly wowed crowds, scoring the best premiere ever for a wide-opening musical. The remake sang up a stellar $27.8 mil, a total that exceeds most box office prognosticators’ projections by $10 mil or more. (For the record: I came a bit closer, saying it would earn $22 mil.) And considering that its solid A CinemaScore came from a crowd that was nearly three-quarters female and 55 percent over the age of 25, Hairspray should continue dancing through theaters well into August.

The same, of course, can be said about Transformers (No. 4), which added another $20.5 mil to its $263 mil total, and Ratatouille (No. 5), which dropped just 39 percent in its fourth week, earning another $11 mil and bringing its cumulative domestic gross to $165.6 mil. Rounding out the rest of the top 10: Live Free or Die Hard (No. 6 with $7.3 mil); License to Wed (No. 7 with $3.8 mil); 1408 (No. 8 with $2.6 mil); Evan Almighty (No. 9 with $2.5 mil); and Knocked Up (No. 10 with $2.3 mil).

Further down the chart, auteur Danny Boyle’s terrific sci-fi thriller Sunshine (with Cillian Murphy and Michelle Yeoh) averaged an impressive $23,548 in 10 locations, but auteur Milos Forman’s period piece Goya’s Ghosts (with Javier Bardem and Natalie Portman) found an average of just $3,400 in 49 theaters.

Overall, this bustling weekend at the multiplex was up 3.6 percent over the same frame a year ago (when Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Monster House, and Lady in the Water led the way). And, well, there you have it — you now may go back to reading about the Deathly Hallows, my dear wizards!