By the Numbers: Box Office Preview, Sept. 14

Going to the movies may not be high on the list of priorities this weekend as a shocked nation continues to contemplate Tuesday’s terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

That the weekend’s only two new releases are relatively low-profile films won’t help the box office. Americans eager for a distraction from the week’s events probably won’t turn to Hardball and The Glass House, even in the absence of MLB, MLS, NFL and college football games. Instead, we’ll probably see some lighthearted summer holdovers resurrected.

Hardball headlines Keanu Reeves as a gambler who agrees to coach an urban youth baseball team to help pay off his debts. Diane Lane, who also appears in The Glass House co-stars. Paramount seems to be positioning the inspirational drama as this year’s Remember the Titans, going so far as to court the family audience by trimming some foul language to secure a PG-13 rating. Given the current climate, and the recent controversy surrounding the 2001 Little League World Series, Hardball is another potential strikeout for Reeves.

His post-Matrix outings have floundered. His last sports-themed yarn, The Replacements, settled for an unexceptional $44.3 million in August 2000. The Watcher, with an unconvincing Reeves as a serial killer, held the No. 1 spot for two very quiet weekends in September last year but earned a mere $28.9 million. He also played an abusive husband in The Gift, which made only $12 million following a limited run in January. Ill-suited lovers Reeves and Charlize Theron generated only $25.1 million in February’s Sweet November.

Lane‘s second film is the teen-targeted chiller The Glass House, with Leelee Sobieski as a young girl who suspects that her legal guardians may harbor murderous intentions. The Glass House is one of two oft-delayed Sobieski thrillers to be released in the coming weeks, the other being Joy Ride with Paul Walker and Steve Zahn. The films look set to do no better than Sobieski‘s Here On Earth, which made a less-than-heavenly $10.4 million last year, but they could unintentionally establish her as the Jamie Lee Curtis for the 21st century.

The escapism offered by last week’s surprise No. 1 champ The Musketeer could prove alluring. This umpteenth cinematic retelling of the Alexandre Dumas-penned adventure-striking only for its Hong Kong-style fight sequences-opened with a hardly rousing $10.3 million. As with all other releases, The Musketeer endured a loss of business during the week following events in New York and Washington, D.C. The Musketeer‘s total stands at $11.8 million. (Box office takings for Monday, however, are not available for all films.)

Rush Hour 2 ($206.9 million), American Pie 2 ($132 million), Rat Race ($43.8 million) and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back ($26.1 million) also could profit should audiences find themselves in the mood to laugh again. The same applies to the Vivica A. FoxMorris Chestnut comedy Two Can Play That Game, which opened with $7.7 million and stands at $8.8 million through Wednesday. Two Can Play That Game however, is trailing Chestnut‘s The Brothers, which opened in March to $10.3 million and eventually made $27.4 million.

Audiences already on tenterhooks may reject the chills offered by The Others ($68.5 million), Jeepers Creepers ($25.4 million) and Soul Survivors ($1.1 million).

Where does this leave Rock Star? Mark Wahlberg‘s rock ‘n’ roll fantasy failed last weekend to get many people to bang their heads to old-school heavy metal. It opened with $6 million, and has made $7.2 million through Wednesday. If the warbling Wahlberg fails to win over fans, then Rock Star looks unlikely to surpass the $32.5 million that the critically acclaimed but commercially disappointing Almost Famous generated.

Expect the box office doldrums to continue at least until the weekend of Sept. 28. Two of the three films previously scheduled for a Sept. 21 release have been postponed. Touchstone Pictures has indefinitely delayed Big Trouble, a comedy revolving around a terrorist plot, and Warner Bros. will now release Training Day on Oct. 5. That leaves Mariah Carey‘s much-maligned Glitter as the sole Sept. 21 release. That should prime audiences for the Sept. 28 debuts of Ben Stiller‘s Zoolander, Michael DouglasDon’t Say a Word and Anthony HopkinsHearts in Atlantis.