MAX PAYNE WINS THE (BOX-OFFICE) GAME

Despite a nearly universal critical drubbing, 20th Century Fox's Max Payne, based on the video game, led the weekend box office with an estimated $18 million. Upsetting several forecasts, the low-budget The Secret Life of Bees from Fox Searchlight appeared headed for third place with an estimated $11.1 in its opening weekend, a tad behind the second week of Disney's Beverly Hills Chihuahua, which earned about $11.2 million. However, the figures were so close that analysts cautioned that the two films could reverse position in the standings when final results are announced later today (Monday). Close behind was Oliver Stone's W. from Lionsgate with about $10.6 million. On the other hand, Sex Drive, was spurned by audiences (it took in just $3.6 million) and critics alike. Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times called it "an exercise in versatile vulgarity." Manohla Dargis in the New York Times dismissed it as "aggressively puerile." On the other hand Kyle Smith in the New York Post had this to say about it: "Sex Drive is "a filthy little low-budget sex comedy that contains perhaps more jokes about urine - fat ropy streams of it, splooshing in from every angle - than you may require, and on the surface it reminds you of a lot of other movies. But this one is actually funny."

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

1. Max Payne, $18 million; 2. Beverly Hills Chihuahua, $11.2 million; 3. The Secret Life of Bees, $11.1 million; 4. W., $10.6 million; 5. Eagle Eye, $7.3 million; 6. Body of Lies, $6.9 million; 7. Quarantine, $6.3 million; 8. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, $3.9 million; 9. Sex Drive, $3.6 million; 10. Nights in Rodanthe, $2.7 million.

MAMA MIA! CROSSES $400-MILLION THRESHOLD OVERSEAS

The Universal musical Mama Mia! crossed another box-office milestone over the weekend as it reached $400.1 million in total overseas ticket sales, making it the studio's second-highest-grossing film in history, behind Jurassic Park. In the U.K. it has now earned $112.6 million, making it the third biggest release in that country's history, behind Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone ($113.2 million) and Titanic ($118.2 million).

SAG CALLS FOR FEDERAL MEDIATION

The Screen Actors Guild's National Board of Directors on Sunday agreed to seek federal mediation in an effort to end the stalemate in negotiations with movie and TV producers. It also kicked the issue of whether to seek strike authorization back into the bailiwick of its negotiating committee, giving it authority to seek a strike vote if it "determines in its sole discretion that the mediation process has failed." It was not immediately clear whether the producers would agree to mediation, but the odds seemed against their doing so given their initial reaction to the SAG resolution. "There is simply no justification for SAG to expect a deal that is in excess of what the other guilds negotiated in better times," the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the negotiating arm of the major film and TV producers, said in a statement. Notably, federal mediation failed to resolve last year's dispute between the Writers Guild of America and the AMPTP. The vote of the SAG board in favor of the resolution was 96.7 percent in favor, 3.3 percent opposed, indicating that the hardline Membership First faction received backing from the so-called Unite for Strength moderates elected to the board last month. In an article appearing on the Huffington Post website, attorney Jonathan Handel, who has represented the WGA, commented: "Membership First outmaneuvered the newly-elected Unite for Strength faction and its [New York] and regional allies and is taking the union down a path that may well lead to a strike." Handel predicted that a long and costly strike is now likely to occur and that the union will lose even the increases that the studios have already offered. "Come next September, Membership First will blame AFTRA for having done a deal that undercut SAG's leverage, and will blame Unite for Strength for its pro-merger platform."

PLAYBOY TO DROP DVD SALES

With hard-core pornography easily available on the Internet, Playboy is shutting down its softcore DVD business and says its will now make its products available for purchase online. Video Business reported that Playboy Chairman and CEO Christie Hefner sent a message to staff members last week saying that the move is part of an effort to cut expenses by $10 million in hopes of returning to profitability in 2009. In addition the company plans to lay off 80 employees and consolidate office space at its Los Angeles headquarters.