Flashy 'Musketeer' skewers 'Rock Star'

Tuesday, September 11, 2001 at 1:00am

The Musketeer, Universal's latest take on the classic swashbuckling tale, lanced $10.7 million in estimated box office receipts to capture the first post-summer weekend, as the studio successfully hyped stunt sequences by a martial-arts master in the trailer and TV spots.

Sony Screen Gems' urban-skewing romantic laffer Two Can Play That Game opened at No. 2 with a surprising $8.3 million from only 1,297 engagements. But Warner Bros./Bel Air's Mark Walhlberg vehicle Rock Star seemed beset by stage fright, bowing at No. 3 with only $6.2 million, despite saturation-level releasing.

Meanwhile, New Line's action comedy Rush Hour 2 became the studio's biggest domestic success ever, driving to $206.1 million with another $5.9 million in its sixth weekend. That outpaced the $205.4 million domestic performance for the studio's 1999 laffer Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

Artisan bowed suspenser Soul Survivors with a barely wide 601 playdates in the top 13 domestic markets and scared up $1.1 million.

Industrywide, the box office was up 19% from a year ago with an estimated $73.5 million in total domestic grosses this weekend, according to data from tracking firm ACNielsen EDI. Last year, Universal's suspenser The Watcher topped openers in the same frame with $9.1 million.

The latest weekend represented 2001's softest session so far. But through that frame, '01 is up 9% over the same period of 2000 with almost $5.7 billion in total ticket sales, the increase due largely to higher ticket prices.

"While overall business was weak this weekend, it always is this time of year," EDI president Tom Borys noted.

Universal's campaign for Musketeer emphasized clips of sword-fighting scenes, in which thesps occasionally swayed on stunt wires of the sort used to such good effect in last year's Sony Classics smash Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

"The picture definitely has a different look to it," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco observed.

Musketeer skewed to moviegoers older than 25. But Universal cited the importance of broadening on that core audience by playing the trailer extensively for patrons of American Pie 2, a big Universal hit with younger audiences.

The second-week hold will bear watching, as reviews for Musketeer have been mostly negative. Universal paid $3.7 million for North American rights to the Moshe Diamant-produced picture and will split domestic and U.K. grosses 50-50 with U.K.-rights holder Miramax.

"It's certainly going to make a little money for us," Rocco said.

"Two Can Play That Game," an R-rated date picture, carries a slim $6 million negative cost. It played best with African-American young adults.

"It's a very funny picture, and we hope that in the fall it can last long enough to be found by other audiences," Sony marketing and distribution president Jeff Blake said.

Warners is getting a distribution fee only on Rock Star, whose wimpy opening comes from a failure to connect well with any particular demo.

Rock Star shone brightest with 18-to-35 moviegoers and played best in college markets. It skewed 55% female.

United Artists/American Zoetrope's horror pic Jeepers Creepers sneaked up on another $6.2 million despite a big 53% drop-off in its sophomore session. The modestly budgeted picture has spooked $24.3 million to date.

Paramount Classics marked a righteous limited bow for the foreign-language drama Our Lady of the Assassins. The Barbet Schroeder-helmed saga grossed an estimated $55,044 from four Gotham and L.A. theaters for a killer $13,761 per venue.

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