Will Ferrell's basketball comedy won a slow weekend at the box office, but its estimated $15.3 million gross was well below expectations
Will Ferrell, Semi-Pro

It was a remarkably slow weekend at the box office, and while Will Ferrell’s basketball comedy Semi-Pro finished at No. 1, you could hardly call its victory a slam dunk.

The R-rated farce grossed a weak $15.3 mil, according to Sunday’s estimates, a total that is only about half as much as what most prognosticators (including yours truly) thought it would accumulate. That’s among Ferrell’s poorest debuts ever as a lead star — only the dramedy Stranger Than Fiction ($13.4 mil) and the actor’s first major film, A Night at the Roxbury ($9.6 mil), opened worse. Why did Semi-Pro shoot such a financial air ball? Well, that R rating did restrict audiences, for sure: Just 41 percent of the movie’s viewers were under the age of 25. Also, the film’s B- CinemaScore grade shows that crowds were generally indifferent to its charms; we can assume that those who saw the movie didn’t call up their friends afterwards and rave.

On the whole, this good-and-bad box office news provides a bittersweet end to the 40-year-run of New Line, which is due to be wrapped into Warner Bros. as a specialty arm. While Ferrell played a part in several of New Line’s top releases — including Elf, Wedding Crashers, and the Austin Powers films — it doesn’t appear as if Semi-Pro will ultimately go down as one of the studio’s most memorable movies.

With the sports flick racking up such a soft point total, Vantage Point (No. 2) made it a close ballgame, grossing $13 mil on a moderate 43 percent decline; the political thriller’s two-week total is a nice $41 mil. The Spiderwick Chronicles (No. 3) held on well in its third weekend, banking $8.8 mil. Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson’s period drama The Other Boleyn Girl opened well at No. 4, with $8.3 mil and by far the highest per-theater average ($7,118) in the top 10. And on this leap-day weekend, Jumper clung to the fifth rung with a $7.6 mil take.

Elsewhere, the modern fairy tale Penelope (No. 8) premiered with a so-so $4 mil in 1,196 theaters. No Country for Old Men (No. 9) enjoyed a nice 67 percent boost following its big Oscar win, grossing $4 mil to bring its cumulative sum to $69.6 mil (it remains, however, the second-lowest-earning Best Picture of the past 20 years). And the Brazilian sequel City of Men averaged just $1,627 in 75 locations.

Overall, the total theatrical take was down a sharp 21 percent from the same frame a year ago, when Wild Hogs opened huge — the fourth ”down” weekend in a row. Where are all the middle-aged biker comedies when the box office needs them?

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