BOX OFFICE A LAUGH-IN

Audiences were apparently in a mood to laugh as three comedies, two of them new, opened with solid results during what is usually a droopy weekend ending the spring season. The Tina Fey-Amy Poehler comedy Baby Mama from Universal topped the box office with an estimated $18.3 million, followed by Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantánamo Bay, which opened at No. 2 with $14.6 million. Last week's top film, Universal's Forgetting Sarah Marshall grossed about $11 million, a touch below The Forbidden Kingdom, which opened with $11.2 million. (Those two films might reverse positions when final results are reported later today.) Another new film, 20th Century Fox's Deception, starring Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams performed even worse than most analysts had expected. It pulled in only $2.2 million, but nevertheless wound up on the top-ten list -- albeit in tenth place. That so many comedies could do so well surprised many analysts. "This pokes a huge hole in that old myth that you can't open two comedies back to back or one comedy against another," Nikki Rocco, the distribution chief for Universal, which had Baby Mama competing against Sarah Marshall, told the Los Angeles Times. "The market did expand," she said, adding separately in an interview with Variety: "We had 40 percent of the market share this weekend, which is nice for any studio." Overall, the box ended on an up note, producing better results than a year earlier for the second week in a row.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Media by Numbers:

1. Baby Mama, $18.3 million; 2. Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantánamo Bay, $14.6 million; 3. The Forbidden Kingdom, $11.2 million; 4. Forgetting Sarah Marshall, $11 million; 5. Nim's Island, $4.5 million; 6. Prom Night, $4.4 million; 7. 21, $4 million; 8. 88 Minutes, $3.6 million; 9. Horton Hears a Who!, $2.4 million; 10. Deception, $2.2 million.

MOVIES PLAY AT NEARLY EMPTY THEATERS OVERSEAS

Overseas, the box office remained in the doldrums, with Forgetting Sarah Marshall placing first with just $7 million, according to Daily Variety -- $4.1 million from the U.K. alone. It was the best British opening for a Judd Apatow comedy yet and was likely helped by the fact that it costars stand-up comic Russell Brand, host of a popular Saturday night radio show that airs on the BBC. Sony's 21 and Fox's Horton Hears a Who! tied for second place overseas with $6.2 million, just ahead of Fox's Street Kings, which wound up with $6.1 million. Analysts suggested that the overseas box office was in a holding pattern until the launch of the summer season next weekend with the opening of Paramount's Iron Man.

AFTERSHOCK OF STRIKE: WIDESPREAD UNEMPLOYMENT

Aftershocks of last November's writers' strike and threats of an actors' strike in July continue to play havoc in the lives of film industry workers in Southern California, the Los Angeles Times observed today (Monday). In Los Angeles County alone, location permits since the strike ended have plunged, the Times noted, citing figures by FilmL.A., the quasi-public group that handles various permits. Ed Brown, a representative of the technical workers' union IATSE, said that 25 percent of its members are looking for jobs. With competition for remaining work so intense, many skilled film industry workers have been forced to accept jobs that pay far less than what they were previously accustomed to, the Times article suggested. Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., predicted that it could take several months before things return to normal, assuming that an actors' strike does not materialize. "It's going to be a nerve-racking year for 'below-the-line' workers," he said.

ITALY IS COUNTRY FOR COEN BROS.

The Coen brothers' Burn After Reading has been selected to open this year's Venice Film Festival, festival organizers announced today (Monday). The selection would seem to assure the festival of some glittering stars walking its red carpet on opening night, August 27, since the movie's cast includes Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton -- not to mention Joel and Ethan Coen themselves, whose film No Country for Old Men won the best picture award at this year's Oscars (and they took home the best director award). The festival's official lineup is expected to be announced in July.
Cinemark Movie Club

Brian B.