Lopez's 'Cell' Proves Top Seller

Monday, August 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A dark journey into a murderer's mind and a lively jaunt with four comedians led a slow weekend at theaters.

``The Cell,'' a glossy thriller starring Jennifer Lopez as a psychologist who ventures into a serial killer's head, debuted as the top film with $17.2 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Spike Lee's documentary-style ``The Original Kings of Comedy,'' capturing a hit comic tour both on stage and backstage, opened at No. 2 with $11.7 million.

Japan's favorite monster had a modest return to theaters as ``Godzilla 2000'' opened at No. 11 with $4.6 million. The movie is a lower-budget Japanese film, not a sequel to the Hollywood version from 1998.

While ``The Cell'' and ``The Original Kings of Comedy'' did a bit better than studios had forecast, the late-summer doldrums continued for Hollywood overall. The top 12 movies grossed an estimated $88.7 million, off 35.5 percent from the same weekend last year, when ``The Sixth Sense'' continued to rule the box office.

With just two weekends left, summer 2000 likely will come in about $200 million below last year's record $3 billion in revenues.

``It's a foregone conclusion that the summer record is not going to be broken,'' said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, which tracks movie attendance. ``Last year was an anomaly and impossible to beat.''

``The Cell'' co-stars Vincent D'Onofrio as the serial killer and Vince Vaughn as an FBI agent pursuing him. Directed by Tarsem Singh, a commercial and music-video veteran, ``The Cell'' features striking images to represent the killer's twisted mind.

``Visually, it's a stunning picture, and it's wildly inventive,'' said David Tuckerman, head of distribution for New Line, which released ``The Cell.'' ``And Jennifer Lopez is a star. It's those three ingredients that did it.''

Playing in just 847 cinemas, ``The Original Kings of Comedy'' posted an impressive $13,813 per-theater average, compared with $7,134 at 2,411 locations for ``The Cell.''

Lee shot two performances in Charlotte, N.C., of the comedy tour starring Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer and Bernie Mac.

Such concert films normally are niche releases, but distributor Paramount decided to open it more widely after it proved a hit with test audiences, said Wayne Lewellen, head of distribution. The weekend crowds were about 80 percent black, he said.

Though ``Godzilla 2000'' finished out of the top 10, it was a cheap release for distributor Sony, which probably will turn a small profit once it plays out in theaters and on video.

The studio's cost to acquire U.S. rights, re-edit the movie and dub it into English are estimated at less than $1 million. Sony spent a modest $10 million to $12 million on prints and advertising.

``Godzilla 2000'' is expected to gross $15 million to $20 million in theaters, said Ed Russell, Sony executive president for publicity.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures are to be released Monday.

1. ``The Cell,'' $17.2 million.

2. ``The Original Kings of Comedy,'' $11.7 million.

3. ``Space Cowboys,'' $9.9 million.

4. ``The Replacements,'' $7.5 million.

5. ``What Lies Beneath,'' $7.1 million.

6. ``Nutty Professor II: The Klumps,'' $6.4 million.

7. ``Hollow Man,'' $6.1 million.

8. ``Autumn in New York,'' $5.7 million.

9. ``Coyote Ugly,'' $5 million.

10. ``Bless the Child,'' $4.9 million.