By the Numbers: Aug. 23

Summer’s almost over, so Hollywood’s dumping its trash.

Serving Sara, Simone and Undisputed arrived in theaters Friday after enduring production or release delays, which hardly inspires much confidence in their ultimate fates. Accordingly, none of these three new offerings stands a chance of dethroning xXx at the top of the box office. That task lies with fellow holdover Signs. They also won’t help reverse a five-week slide in box office takings vs. the same time last year.

Matthew Perry‘s latest attempt to become a movie star should register the biggest debut simply because the broad comedy opens the widest. Hitting 2,000-plus theaters, Serving Sara stars Perry as a process server who agrees to help Elizabeth Hurley extract revenge against her former business partner. Early reviews confirm that Perry and Hurley are not Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.

Perry‘s not had too much luck whenever he’s ventured off without his sitcom Friends. Almost Heroes ($6.1 million total) and Three to Tango ($10.5 million total) both tanked. The Whole Nine Yards raked in an acceptable $57.2 million mainly on the strength of Bruce Willis‘ participation–perhaps that’s why Perry‘s so eager to make the sequel. It also doesn’t help that this Midnight Run wanna-be will likely see a regurgitation in stories about Perry‘s personal problems. He held up production of Serving Sara in 2001 while he checked himself into rehab.

So Serving Sara will have to hustle hard and fast to match the $9.7 million debut of another Perry romantic comedy, Fools Rush In, but it won’t come close to exceeding its modest $29.2 million total.

Robert De Niro enjoyed huge success when he poked fun at himself in Analyze This and Meet the Parents. Now it’s Al Pacino‘s turn to reveal his comedic side. Rather than send up his tough-guy image, Pacino instead bites the hand that feeds him with the Hollywood satire Simone, directed by The Truman Show scribe Andrew Niccol.

If The Truman Show offered a tragicomic look at reality TV, Simone provides a hysterical look at how easy it is for Hollywood to manufacture a superstar. In this case, Pacino is the has-been producer who creates a computer-generated actress in order to revive his flagging career. An unsuspecting world falls in love with Simone, initially to Pacino‘s glee, then to his consternation. Catherine Keener, Jay Mohr and an unbilled Winona Ryder co-star.

New Line originally scheduled Simone for an Oct. 12, 2001, release, but pushed it back to this summer for fear it would lose out to stiffer competition. The smart, sophisticated and sharply written Simone deserves better than a late-summer slot, which is tantamount to a fate worse than death. Simone, which will vie mainly for adult audiences at its 1,700-plus theaters, also faces the severe disadvantage of being about the movie industry. Audiences usually reject such films, perhaps because they read and hear enough about Hollywood news and gossip that they have no desire to see films about the moviemaking process. The rare exception was last year’s America’s Sweethearts, which earned $93.6 million thanks to a cast that included Julia Roberts and Billy Crystal.

Pacino‘s star still shines bright–Insomnia clocked up $66.8 million earlier this summer–but Simone will do no better than his 1996 flop City Hall, which opened with $6.7 million and closed with $20.2 million.

Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames prepare to beat the living daylights out of each other in Undisputed, director Walter Hill‘s thriller about two incarcerated boxers determined to settle once and for which one of them is the greatest.

Snipes enjoyed his biggest hit of his career earlier this year with Blade 2 ($81.6 million), but Miramax is showing him little respect. Miramax scheduled for March 8, two weeks before Blade 2‘s March 22 release. Miramax wisely delayed Undisputed, first pushing it back to October before bumping it up to August in place of They. But Miramax bows Undisputed in just 1,100-plus theaters, which severely limits Snipes from doing knockout business.

Undisputed will do a little more than half the business of Snipes‘ much-maligned baseball thriller The Fan, which opened with $6.2 million and struck out with $18.5 million. That will come as another disappointment for Hill, who removed his name from his last film, Supernova, and saw it implode with just $14.2 million.

Facing three uncompetitive new releases, Vin Diesel‘s xXx could be the first film since Black Hawk Down to rule the box office for at least three weekends. The noisy spy thriller, directed by Rob Cohen, dropped 50 percent in its second weekend, from $44.5 million to $22.1 million. That’s the same as Diesel and Cohen‘s The Fast and the Furious, which tumbled 49 percent in its second weekend, from $40 million to $20 million. xXx, however, has made $88.9 million total through Tuesday vs. The Fast and the Furious‘s $84 million ($86.6 million) during 12 days in release.

xXx stands to make $13.5 million this weekend should it follow The Fast and the Furious‘s third weekend fall of 38.7 percent. Regardless, xXx will cross the $100 million barrier this weekend and end up with a total just a tad north of The Fast and the Furious‘s $144.5 million. xXx also is the only film with the potential to achieve blockbuster status until October’s Red Dragon.

Diesel‘s extreme sports-driven spy, though, does face a credible threat from hostile extraterrestrials.

Signs‘ endurance puts it in a strong position to challenge xXx for box office supremacy. M Night Shyamalan‘s creepy sci-fi thriller lost just 34 percent of its audience in its third weekend, from $29.4 million to $19.3 million, for a total of $154.9 million through Tuesday. Signs recovered nicely after tumbling 51 percent in its second weekend following its $60.1 million debut.

Mel Gibson should walk away from Signs with his first $200 million smash. Signs also should surpass What Women Want‘s $182.8 million by Labor Day to become Gibson‘s biggest earner.

Blood Work, though, won’t make Clint Eastwood‘s day. The intriguing thriller, marred only by its obvious ending, dropped 34 percent in its second weekend from a lowly $7.3 million to $4.8 million. With $16.3 million through Tuesday, Blood Work will exceed True Crime‘s pitiful $16.6 million but barely make more than 1990’s underachieving The Rookie ($21.6 million total).

The waves proved too rocky for the spunky ladies of Blue Crush to negotiate, as the teen-oriented surfing drama opened below expectations with $14.1 million. That paves the way for a second-weekend tumble of around 50 percent. With $17.5 million through Tuesday, Blue Crush should hit the shore with about $40 million.

Blue Crush fared better than The Adventures of Pluto Nash, which opened with a career-low $2.1 million for Eddie Murphy. Warner Bros. kept the sci-fi spoof on the shelf for more than one year and did little to promote its long-delayed release. This is shaping up to be a bad year for Murphy, who already stumbled in the spring with Showtime ($37.9 million total). Murphy desperately needs November’s I Spy to reverse his flagging fortunes.

Murphy‘s fellow ex-SNLers fared somewhat better.

Mike MyersAustin Powers in Goldmember eased by just 33 percent in its fourth weekend, from $13 million to $8.7 million, after experiencing huge losses in its second and third weekends. Goldmember has $186.3 million through Tuesday vs. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me‘s $173 million ($174.4 million) through 26 days in release. Goldmember, which could hit $200 million by Labor Day, will make enough people horny to surpass Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me‘s $206 million total.

Dana Carvey‘s comeback vehicle Master of Disguise fell a respectable 38 percent in its third weekend, from $5.1 million to $3.1 million. Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams caused untold damage to the family comedy, which suffered a disturbing 59.3 percent in its second weekend after a $12.5 million opening. With $31.2 million through Tuesday, Master of Disguise represents the best showing yet for a Carvey solo venture.

Spy Kids 2 is showing better resilience than the fading Stuart Little 2, which has just $57.7 million through Tuesday. Spy Kids eased by 34 percent in its second weekend, from $16.7 million to $11.5 million, for a $48.7 million total through Tuesday after 14 days in release. Conversely, Spy Kids had $56.6 million ($61.9 million) during the same period. Spy Kids 2 won’t match its predecessor’s $112.6 million, but its should reach a sturdy $80 million with some ease.

Tom Hanks benefited the most from the lack of interest in the new wide releases. Road to Perdition declined by just 10 percent in its sixth weekend, from $4.2 million to $3.8 million. With $91.1 million through Tuesday, Road to Perdition could become Hanks‘ sixth consecutive film to cross $100 million by as early as Labor Day.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding, executive produced by Hanks, expanded in its 18th week from 723 theaters to 1,060 theaters. That resulted in an 82 percent jump in business, from $3.1 million to $5.7 million, its best weekend yet. The art house sleeper has a staggering $54.6 million through Tuesday.

The art house also seems the destination of choice for adults looking for films of some substance.

One Hour Photo, starring Robin Williams, debuted Wednesday in limited release. The thriller is the third this year to feature Williams as a bad guy.

Possession, featuring Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart, opened with a solid $1.5 million at 270 theaters. The romantic drama will expand in the coming weeks.

The Good Girl soared by 454 percent in its second weekend, from $151,642 to $840,660, as it widened from four theaters to 60 theater. Jennifer Aniston‘s excellent reviews are clearly luring audiences. Perhaps Matthew Perry might consider asking Aniston for some post-Friends career advice.