AY, CHIHUAHUA!

Disney's Beverly Hills Chihuahua took a $29-million bite out of the box office over the weekend, scampering far ahead of a field of six other new films. Last week's No. 1 movie, Paramount/DreamWorks's Eagle Eye, slid to second place with an estimated $17.7 million. Sony's low-budget Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, which received better-than-average reviews, also saw better-than-average box-office results as it took in $12 million, about what it cost to make. In its second week, Warner Bros.' Nights in Rodanthe placed fourth with $7.3 million. Several of the other low-budget flicks released over the weekend performed reasonably well. Warner Bros.' Appaloosa, which expanded into wide release, came in at No. 5 with about $5 million. Vivendi Entertainment's political satire An American Carol opened with $3.8 million in 1,639 theaters for ninth place. And Bill Maher's anti-religion documentary Religulous opened in tenth place with $3.5 million, despite playing in just 502 theaters. At the opposite end of the belief spectrum, Fireproof from Samuel Goldwyn Films placed eighth in its second week with $4 million from 852 screens. Several other new films failed to make the top ten. They included Universal's Flash of Genius, which scraped up $2.3 million; Miramax's Blindness, which brought in just $2 million; and MGM's How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, with only $1.4 million from 1,750 theaters. (The film, which stars British comedian Simon Pegg, also opened in the U.K. with $2.1 million from just 449 theaters.) The biggest surprise was the sold-out screenings of Rachel Getting Married in nine theaters in New York and Los Angeles, where the movie averaged $33,659 per theater (compared with $9,020 for Chihuahua).

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

1. Beverly Hills Chihuahua, $29 million; 2. Eagle Eye, $17.7 million; 3. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, $12 million; 4. Nights in Rodanthe, $7.4 million; 5. Appaloosa, $5 million; 6. Lakeview Terrace, $4.5 million; 7. Burn After Reading, $4.08 million; 8. Fireproof, $4.07 million; 9. An American Carol, $3.8 million; 10. Religulous, $3.5 million.

MOVIE REVIEWS: AN AMERICAN CAROL

Last week writer-director David Zucker told the Los Angeles Times that Vivendi Entertainment, which is distributing his anti-liberal spoof An American Carol, had decided not to screen the movie for critics because "most reviewers don't agree with the politics, which put the movie at risk." Well, the critics got a look at the film over the weekend and demonstrated that the studio had good reason to be concerned, although politics may not have been the only factor driving the film's largely negative notices. Gary Goldstein's review in the Los Angeles Times runs just 207 words. "If An American Carol contained any real bite or intelligence, those so inclined could've legitimately griped about its shallow anti-liberalism," Goldstein comments, "But given that this supremely silly satire ... plays more like something slapped together to beat an expiration date, it's hard to get too worked up about it." Rafer Guzmán in Newsday does get worked up about the movie, writing, "With this hamfisted, haranguing film, Zucker joins the ranks of those who are so convinced of their own correctness, so full of hatred for anyone with other views, that they've crossed the line from humorists to dogmatists." And Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer concludes that the movie "is about as not-funny as a comedy can get."

MOVIE REVIEWS: APPALOOSA

Appaloosa , which is directed, co-written by and co-stars Ed Harris, returns the Western to the screen after a considerable absence. Most critics praise the performances of Harris and co-star Viggo Mortenson. "The movie's undeniable highlight is the chemistry and camaraderie between" the two men, Claudia Puig remarks in USA Today. Although the film is no Brokeback Mountain, Roger Ebert comments in the Chicago Sun-Times, "The two men collaborate so well, in fact, that the real love match of Appaloosa is between the two of them and no one else." Michael Sragow in the Baltimore Sun writes that the two actors "know their own strength, and, like their characters, use it wisely and without apology." A.O. Scott in the New York Times concludes that it is the acting that makes the movie worth watching. "It's not a great western, and, as I've suggested, it doesn't really try to be. Some potentially interesting political themes -- about what it means for a polity to privatize its apparatus of justice and security, about the relationship between righteousness and force -- are left for other, more earnest pictures to explore. This one shows a square jaw and a steely gaze, but also a smile and a wink."

DREAMWORKS TO PARAMOUNT: UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN

DreamWorks and Paramount on Sunday announced that they had reached an amicable divorce settlement under which DreamWorks co-founder Steven Spielberg and CEO Stacey Snider would leave Paramount to start a new venture with Indian entertainment conglomerate Reliance ADA. DreamWorks' cofounder David Geffen, who negotiated the deal with Reliance, will not be a part of the new venture, which is also expected to be called DreamWorks. Under the separation agreement, the new company will continue development work on some 15-20 films that it had already been working on with Paramount. Both DreamWorks and Paramount issued cordial comments about the separation. Paramount Chairman/CEO Brad Grey said, "We have had a great run with the DreamWorks team both creatively and financially. ... We look forward to building on our joint successes as Paramount plans for the future." Said Spielberg: "Brad is a friend, and I am pleased to be able to continue to work with him and his team with whom we have shared many successes."

NOTE:

A summary of reviews of Flash of Genius and How to Lose Friends... will appear here on Tuesday.

Cinemark Movie Club