i>NARNIA SET TO CONQUER BOX OFFICE

Some box office prognosticators are predicting that The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian could debut with $100 million this weekend -- about what Iron Man took in at its opening two weeks ago. Most, however, are taking a more conservative posture, saying that $70-80 million is a more realistic proposition. No other film is opening wide against it, and Caspian has grabbed nearly 4000 theaters. The movie has drawn solid if not rave reviews, but it is the kind of film whose success depends far more on word-of-mouth than on critical praise. Meanwhile, Iron Man, which has held the top spot at the box office for the past two weeks, is expected to slip to second place this weekend. At the same time it is certain to pass the $200-million mark.

MOVIE REVIEWS: THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN

Virtually all reviewers compare Prince Caspian with the earlier Narnia movie. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. A.O. Scott in the New York Times calls the newer film "more satisfying" than the first. He warns parents: "Its violent (though gore-free) combat scenes and high body count may rattle very young viewers, but older children are likely to be drawn into the thick political intrigue." Claudia Puig in USA Today remarks, "Fans of the first Narnia surely will enjoy this sequel, which is better made and more of an epic." Comments Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News: "Sure, it's a big-budget spectacle. But it's also the kind of grandly old-fashioned entertainment we don't get enough of anymore." Bob Strauss in the Los Angeles Daily News comments unenthusiastically, "Little of it may be exceptional, but much of it goes beyond the usual PG standard in thoughtfulness and craftsmanship as well as carnage." Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune insists that the new film "is roughly the same as the first in terms of quality and style. It delivers without much visual dynamism, and with a determined emphasis on combat." Kyle Smith writes in the New York Post that Prince Caspian: "doesn't quite equal the first film, but some may find this one a less-insistent piece of pure entertainment because it isn't so overtly Christian." Other reviewers are not so generous. Rick Groen of the Toronto Globe and Mail, who regarded the first Narnia as a "near perfect adaptation" of the C.S. Lewis novel, wails his disappointment over the sequel. "Why, oh why, are these sequels always bigger and louder and longer and bad?" he asks. And Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle minces no words, concluding tersely that the film is "one of this year's biggest disappointments."

A CARTOON AT CANNES?

A rather conventional computer-animated feature may seem like an unlikely choice for inclusion in the program of the Cannes Film Festival, but when it is voiced by the likes of Angelina Jolie, Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman, among others, and those celebrities are willing to come to Cannes to promote it, the film takes a back seat to the glitter -- a necessary component of Cannes' redoubtable red-carpet festivities. Critics for the trade press gave it polite applause. "Although it's aimed primarily at youngsters, Kung Fu Panda embraces humor that plays well across age groups and nationalities," wrote Kirk Honeycutt in the Hollywood Reporter. Todd McCarthy in Daily Variety called it "nice looking but heavily formulaic." Britain's Screen International described it as "warm and very likable Hollywood fare."

CANNES COMPETITORS CAN YELL "I WAS ROBBED" -- AND MEAN IT

Reporting on IFC Films' acquisition of the U.S. film The Pleasure of Being Robbed at the Cannes Film Festival -- it is set to close the Directors' Fortnight section of the festival next week -- New York Post film critic Lou Lumenick noted today that the title could serve as a motto for Cannes, "where a cafe au lait costs $10, a five-minute taxi ride goes for $20, and a daily Internet connection at a hotel will set you back $40. Not to mention the muggers and burglars who every year prey on the wealthy crowd that flocks to the Riviera festival."

PRIVATE EYE PELLICANO GUILTY

Although the trial of former private eye Anthony Pellicano did not produce sensational revelations about the inside workings of Hollywood executives or the lurid lives of celebrities, it did end as most expected -- a verdict of guilty on all but one of the 77 charges against him, mostly involving his wiretapping activities on behalf of his clients. After nine days of deliberations, the jury also convicted his four co-defendants, including a former police detective who provided him with illegal background checks and a retired phone company technician who set up the wiretaps and developed the software for them. It was not clear whether the prosecution intends to shut the books on the wiretapping case with Pellicano's conviction or whether it may now pursue the powerful Hollywood figures who hired him. In an interview with today's (Friday) New York Times, Columbia Law School professor John Coffee commented, "If the government has no plans to go higher than Pellicano, this is a depressingly pedestrian effort that shows a lack of ambition." Indeed, Brian Kabateck, who will be handling the civil case against Pellicano, suggested it may very well have a wide sweep. Daily Variety quoted him as predicting that the civil trial will result in "punishment for those who aided Pellicano's conspiracy but escaped prosecution in the criminal courts." One of his targets, Kabateck disclosed, will be AT&T, whom he accused of "complicity" in the wiretapping operation.

BLOCKBUSTER NOW BLACK AND BLUE

Although Blockbuster's decision to raise rental prices was expected to redound to the benefit of rival online renter NetFlix, the move apparently resulted in lifting it into the black. The struggling video rental company on Thursday reported first-quarter revenue of $45.4 million versus a loss of $49 million for the comparable quarter a year ago. The company also was helped by cutting its advertising expenditures and closing 412 unprofitable or marginally profitable outlets.

Brian B.