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''Baby Mama'' delivers a box office win

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s conception comedy was No. 1 on a weekend dominated by formidable funny films, while ”Harold and Kumar” finished in second place and ”Forgetting Sarah Marshall” held strong despite fierce competition

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Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, ...

It’s a bouncing baby No. 1 opener! Baby Mama, the female-friendly funny film from Saturday Night Live veterans Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, held off a strong challenge by the stoner-comedy sequel Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay to win the final weekend box office race before the start of the summer movie season.

Baby Mama grossed a solid $18.3 million, according to Sunday’s estimates. That’s better than most pundits’ predictions (though almost exactly in line with mine — woot!) and makes for yet another successful comedy starring women in 2008 (see: 27 Dresses, Fool’s Gold, Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns). The film did so on the strength of a decent B+ CinemaScore review from an audience that was, as you’d expect, 68 percent female. Although this was not the best debut for either Fey (Mean Girls brought in $24.4 mil in 2004) or Poehler (who has appeared in or lent her voice to a string of hits lately, including Blades of Glory, Shrek the Third, and Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!), Baby Mama did give Universal its second strong premiere for an inexpensive comedy in as many weeks (Forgetting Sarah Marshall debuted with $17.7 mil last time around), something of which everyone involved can be proud.

Blowing in at No. 2 was Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, which banked $14.6 mil. That’s a vast improvement on the $5.5 mil debut of 2004’s Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle — and nearly as much as the prior film earned in its entire domestic run ($18.3 mil). Here we have a case where a movie likely lived up to the hype that started when its predecessor became a cult hit on DVD: Not only did critics give Guantanamo Bay a passing grade, it was the best-reviewed movie of the week in the CinemaScore poll, scoring a sweet A- from an audience that was 60 percent male and 58 percent under age 25 (despite its R rating). Think they’ll make another one?

Last week’s champ, The Forbidden Kingdom (No. 3), was next with $11.2 mil on a 48 percent decline from its strong debut. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (No. 4) followed with $11 mil on an even smaller 38 percent drop, thus demonstrating that it was not hurt by the glut of comedies at the multiplex this weekend, as some had feared. And Nim’s Island rounded out the top five with a $4.5 mil take on a smaller-still 20 percent falloff. In fact, not a single movie in the top 12 declined more than 49 percent from last weekend, a sure sign of collective box office strength.

Which is impressive, because there were some disappointments. Hugh Jackman and Ewan McGregor’s sex thriller Deception (No. 10) tanked with $2.2 mil (its CinemaScore was a deadly C-). Helen Hunt’s directorial debut, Then She Found Me, underperformed with an $8,266 average in nine theaters. And Errol Morris’ Abu Ghraib documentary, Standard Operating Procedure, may have become the latest casualty of audiences’ disinterest in movies about the Iraq War, drawing a mere $7,458 average in two New York City locations.

Overall, the box office enjoyed its second consecutive ”up” weekend, faring more than 17 percent better than the same frame a year ago…which was, as it happened, the lowest-grossing weekend of 2007. Of course, all of this will be a fond memory when Iron Man and Made of Honor sweep into theaters on Friday. For the hit movies I’ve written about today — well, hey, it was fun while it lasted.

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