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Slam dunk for Will Ferrell?

The funnyman’s ”Semi-Pro” will be No. 1, but an R rating might hinder its business

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Semi-Pro, Will Ferrell
Frank Masi

Hey, everybody! How about those Academy Awards, eh? Pretty cool, right? The folks from Once stole the show, Owen Wilson returned, Daniel Day…wait, what? You didn’t watch them? I see. Sounds as if you’re not alone. Oh well. Here’s what happened: A bunch of movies that haven’t grossed anywhere near $100 million won prizes, and a bunch of foreign actors who a lot of people haven’t heard of walked away with those little golden trophies. (Ah, yeah…it’s all starting to make sense to me now.)

Well, anyway, that was that. On to a new week and a new post-Oscar season at the box office. Three major wide releases open today — Semi-Pro, The Other Boleyn Girl, and Penelope — and it’s a stretch to believe that any of them will contend for Academy Awards a year from now. Not that that matters. As we’re seeing more and more, the box office and the Oscars are two completely separate things in the collective mind of Hollywood. Here’s my take on what the studios clearly believe is the more important of the two.

THE (LIKELY) TOP FIVE

Semi-Pro
New Line · R · 3,121 theaters · NEW
Wouldn’t you know, I just picked up my copy of last week’s Entertainment Weekly and found out that Will Ferrell is a huge movie star! No kidding: The SNL alum’s previous release, Blades of Glory, debuted with $33 mil last spring, and his 2006 summer comedy, Talladega Nights, opened to $47 mil. So this fellow sports film is going to do just as well, right? Not so fast. It’s worth remembering that those aforementioned flicks were rated PG-13, while Semi-Pro (in which Ferrell plays a ’70s-era basketball player) is rated R. Even the most popular R-rated comedies open to relatively soft numbers: Wedding Crashers debuted with $33.9 mil; Superbad had $33.1 mil; Knocked Up got $30.7; and The 40-Year-Old Virgin premiered to $21.4 mil. And all of those films were high-profile summer releases, to boot.
Weekend prediction: $28 million

Vantage Point
Columbia · PG-13 · 3,150 theaters · 2nd weekend
That $22.9 mil opening was sweet indeed. Now get ready for the big drop.
Weekend prediction: $11 million

The Spiderwick Chronicles
Paramount · PG · 3,654 theaters · 3rd weekend
Lucky for the folks who poured tens of millions of dollars into this three-week-old, slow-building family fantasy flick, kids still haven’t gotten the memo that you need to see a movie on the first weekend before it vanishes into thin air.
Weekend prediction: $9 million

Jumper
Fox · PG-13 · 3,128 theaters · 3rd weekend
My records tell me that this was the No. 1 movie two weeks ago, but I had forgotten.
Weekend prediction: $6 million

Step Up 2 the Streets
Touchstone · PG-13 · 2,528 theaters · 3rd weekend
Apropos of my veiled dare that Disney wouldn’t be able to come up with a title that includes the number ”3” for a third installment in this strangely successful dance series — now there’s news that the next one will be called Step Up 3-D. Duh, I shoulda seen that coming. Touché, Mouse House, touché. But thanks for reading.
Weekend prediction: $5 million

THE OTHER NEW RELEASES

The Other Boleyn Girl
Columbia · PG-13 · 1,196 theaters · NEW
In this artsy period literary adaptation, Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman play sisters vying for the affection of the same randy King of England (Eric Bana). Kinky!
Weekend prediction: $4 million

Penelope
Summit · PG · 1,166 theaters · NEW
Christina Ricci plays woman with a pig’s snout. Kinky!
Weekend prediction: $2 million