Joshua Rich's weekend box office wrap-up: ''Ice Age: The Meltdown'' brings in another $34.5 million, followed by ''The Benchwarmers''
Credit: Ice Age 2:The Meltdown: Blue Sky Studios

If for some strange reason you’re still not buying the whole global-warming thing, just look at the box office. Ice Age: The Meltdown thawed a bit in its second weekend, dropping 49 percent to earn $34.5 million, according to Sunday’s early estimates. That’s a respectable total for sure, and it was good enough to keep IA: TM at No. 1, bringing its two-week total to $116.4 million. But make no mistake: Headline writers have gotta be relieved to know that they won’t need to come up with more winter-weather puns after next week, when IA: TM will get passed by Scary Movie 4.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. After trailing last year’s super-lousy box office for three months, 2006 finally pulled ahead this week by 1 percent. One beautiful, glimmering little percentage point. And there was more ”good” news: The Career Renaissance of the Week Award goes to Rob Schneider. Yes — him. With The Benchwarmers‘ $20.5 million bow at No. 2, the erstwhile European Gigolo scored his best opening as a leading man since The Animal opened with $19.1 million in 2001. (That’s right, his latest did even better than The Hot Chick.) In fact, The Benchwarmers‘ first-weekend gross is greater than those of his previous two films — Grandma’s Boy and the Deuce Biglaow sequel — combined. So, you know, good on ya, Rob, you sexy thing!

Antonio Banderas’ dance drama Take the Lead (No. 3) tangoed to a moderate-but-expected $12.8 million, less than the $16.3 million brought in by Banderas’ The Legend of Zorro last October. Inside Man (No. 4) held strong in its third weekend, grossing $9.2 million on a 40 percent drop. The $45 million-budgeted Denzel Washington-Jodie Foster-Clive Owen thriller now has $66.1 million in the bank. And the first release from the revamped MGM distribution house, the star-studded Pulp Fiction knockoff Lucky Number Slevin, filled out the top five, with slevin-point-one million bucks. Not so lucky.

Moving on down the chart: Phat Girlz waz a non-starter, earning a thin $3.1 million. The Mo’Nique comedy was, following The Benchwarmers, the 11th wide release of 2006 to shun advance critics’ screenings — a tactic that studios employ when they feel like their movies stand to be slammed. Sometimes it works (Underworld: Evolution, When a Stranger Calls, and Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion all opened at No. 1); sometimes it doesn’t (the aforementioned Grandma’s Boy, Doogal, and Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector were fast lost to history). But on the other hand, Lucky Number Slevin and Take the Lead — the weekend’s two best-reviewed wide releases, according to critic-tracker and audience-tracker CinemaScore — stumbled in their debut performances. So…well, you try to figure it all out.

Among small-release indies, Sony Pictures Classics’ femme dramedy Friends With Money, with Jennifer Aniston fronting a powerhouse cast, was the big winner, averaging a strong $22,739 on 28 screens. (Hey, Vince, give her a hug!) ThinkFilm’s 86-minute afikomen joke, When Do We Eat?, and Focus’ inspiring Full Monty/World’s Fastest Indian retread, On a Clear Day, failed to shine. Ditto IFC’s I’m a Sex Addict. (And I’ll leave the puns alone on that one.) Until next time…

Friends With Money
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