By the Numbers: April 5

Post-Sept. 11, will audiences derive much humor from the ordered shooting down of a small civilian airliner?

That’s the huge stumbling block facing director Barry Sonnenfeld‘s Big Trouble, a black comedy based on the best-selling novel by humorist Dave Barry.

Touchstone wisely yanked Big Trouble from its Sept. 21 release following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. The Miami-set ensemble farce, headlined by Tim Allen and Rene Russo, revolves around a nuclear bomb that ends up in the grubby hands of unsuspecting smalltime crooks Tom Sizemore and Johnny Knoxville.

Seven months later, though, Big Trouble remains a risky prospect. Its tricky final act–decidedly unfunny pre- and post-Sept. 11–will certainly alienate audiences in the wake of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon attacks.

Not that Big Trouble has much going for it to begin with, considering it is unsurprisingly flat and visually unexciting for a comedy from the director of The Addams Family and Men In Black. Big Trouble‘s meager laughs come from the nefarious antics of harried co-stars Stanley Tucci and Dennis Farina and Barry‘s dead-on observations about life in southern Florida.

Accordingly, Big Trouble will likely earn less than half of the $12.7 million that Sonnenfeld‘s last crime caper, the cool-as-ice Get Shorty, opened with in 1995.

That’s bad news for the major principals involved.

Sonnenfeld is coming off the overblown Wild Wild West, which earned a disappointing $113.8 million for a high-priced Will Smith vehicle. No one paid much attention to Allen‘s Joe Somebody ($22.7 million). The lights are fading fast on Russo‘s Showtime, the Robert De Niro/Eddie Murphy cop comedy that has made a lousy $34.4 million through Wednesday.

Don’t feel too bad, though. Sonnenfeld should bounce back this summer with Men In Black II. Allen has The Santa Clause 2: Mrs. Clause scheduled for Nov. 8.

With Big Trouble unlikely to cause much of a stir, High Crimes should emerge as the top choice among this weekend’s new release.

A military courtroom thriller directed by One False Move‘s Carl Franklin, High Crimes reunites Kiss the Girls stars Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd. Law professor Judd enlists Freeman to help her defend her husband, Jim Caviezel, on trial for his alleged role in a mass killing in El Salvador.

Audiences seem to like Judd better when she’s fighting off serial killers and murderous husbands. Kiss the Girls earned $60.5 million, while Double Jeopardy became a $116.7 million smash. Judd‘s subsequent forays into drama (Where the Heart Is, $33.7 million) and comedy (Someone Like You, $27.3 million) aroused little interest, in comparison.

Freeman reprised his role as Alex Cross in last year’s Kiss the Girls prequel, Along Came a Spider, which managed to make $74 million even without Judd‘s presence.

High Crimes arrives without much fanfare, considering it pairs Freeman with Judd. It also doesn’t help that High Crimes is sandwiched between two other thrillers featuring tough women, Jodie Foster‘s Panic Room and Sandra Bullock‘s Murder By Numbers, due April 19. That could result in High Crimes struggling to match Kiss the Girls‘ $13.2 million opening.

What value does the National Lampoon moniker have these days?

Not much, given that the name’s been attached to nothing but groan-inducing cable fodder for the past decade. Remember Dad’s Week Off? Or Golf Punks? Didn’t think so.

Recent theatrical releases, such as Loaded Weapon 1 ($27.9 million) and Senior Trip ($4.6 million), failed to enjoy the popularity of Animal House or the Vacation series. (Oddly, 1997’s Vegas Vacation hit theaters minus the National Lampoon label.)

Now comes National Lampoon’s Van Wilder, or Van Wilder: Party Liaison, as it was known before National Lampoon slapped its name on the delayed college comedy. Two Guys and a Girl‘s Ryan Reynolds plays a popular student facing graduation after seven wild years in college.

Saddled with an R rating, National Lampoon’s Van Wilder arrives in theaters at a time when restricted teen-oriented fare falls harder than a freshman after a kegger. The most recent victim: Sorority Boys, with $8 million through Sunday.

Serving as a lure for American Pie lovers, Tara Reid is no insurance policy as a reporter out to nail Reynolds. Her recent flops include Body Shots ($699,964), Dr. T and the Women ($13 million), Just Visiting ($4.7 million) and Josie and the Pussycats ($14.2 million).

The National Lampoon label might pique the curiosity of Animal House fans, plus attract vacationing college students, resulting in a possible $8 million to $10 million opening for National Lampoon’s Van Wilder. But this slacker won’t reverse the flagging film fortunes of the once-mighty comedy empire. Expect a fast fade before hitting $20 million total.

Without stiff competition, Panic Room should retain its box office crown.

The cat-and-mouse thriller debuted last weekend with $30.1 million, a record opening for both Jodie Foster (previous best: Contact‘s $20.5 million) and director David Fincher (previous best: Alien 3‘s $23.1 million).

By reaching $38.1 million through Wednesday, Panic Room surpassed the $37 million that Fincher‘s last film, Fight Club, made during its entire run. Panic Room, which could enjoy a second weekend tally of $20 million, looks set this weekend to become Fincher‘s biggest hit since Seven if it passes Alien 3‘s $54.9 million and The Game‘s $48.2 million.

Panic Room will also erase memories of Foster‘s disappointing Anna and the King, which grossed a less-than-royal $39.2 million in 1999. Panic Room is a long shot to become Foster‘s biggest hit–The Silence of the Lambs, at $130.7 million, holds that distinction-but it could outshine Maverick ($101.6 million) and Contact ($100.9 million).

Robin Williams‘ first attempt to reinvent himself as a bad guy backfired with Death to Smoochy.

The black comedy, featuring Williams as a disgraced kids TV entertainer out to kill his replacement, opened with a cheerless $4.3 million. That’s a little better than Jakob the Liar, which debuted in 1999 with an abysmal $2 million, en route to a $4.9 million total. But it’s a far cry from the dizzying heights of Patch Adams ($25.2 million) or The Birdcage ($18.2 million).

With $5.3 million through Wednesday, Death to Smoochy follows the failures of Jakob the Liar and Bicentennial Man. This disastrous debut won’t cause too much of a headache for Insomnia, featuring Williams as a murder suspect, because it is a thriller headlined by Al Pacino. But it might prove problematic for One Hour Photo, a drama starring Williams as an obsessed photo lab technician.

Death to Smoochy also ranks as the weakest opener for a film directed by Danny DeVito (previous low: Hoffa‘s $6.4 million).

Dennis Quaid knows how it feels to flounder at the box office. He’s endured a string of flops–including Innerspace, Great Balls of Fire, Everybody’s All-American and SwitchBack–that relied heavily on his considerable charms. The Rookie, however, could be his first no-hitter.

The uplifting baseball drama, with Quaid portraying high-school science teacher-turned-Tampa Bay Devil Rays pitcher, turned in career-high $16 million opening for Quaid.

The Rookie fared well in comparison with another G-rated Disney sports bio, Remember the Titans, which opened in 2000 with $20.9 million. The high-school football drama ended its run by scoring a $115.6 million touchdown.

Buoyed by sterling reviews, The Rookie has $21.6 million through Wednesday. Quaid could enjoy a hit on the scale of $60 million to $70 million.

Time didn’t exactly grind to a halt for Clockstoppers. The teen-targeted adventure, helmed by Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Jonathan Frakes, opened with an OK $10.1 million. With $14.1 million through Wednesday, Clockstoppers will likely wind up with about $30 million.

Clockstoppers did cause The Time Machine to blow a gasket. The much-maligned updating of the H.G. Wells classic novel crashed 57 percent in its fourth weekend, from $5.3 million to $2.2 million. Its total through Sunday: $52.6 million.

Slaying mutated vampires took its toll on Wesley Snipes. After a stunning $32.5 million debut, Blade 2 fell 60 percent in its second weekend to $13.5 million. That’s about typical for a horror yarn that isn’t likely to become a cultural phenomenon a la The Sixth Sense or The Others. The same happened with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which dropped 51 percent in its second weekend from $30.2 million to $15 million.

With $59.1 million through Wednesday, Blade 2 will easily outpace its predecessor’s $70.1 million and end up with a little more than the $82.4 million lapped up by Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Resident Evil also took a nasty tumble, falling 56 percent in its third weekend from $6.7 million to $2.9 million. The video-game adaptation has $35.1 million through Tuesday.

The war is almost over for Mel Gibson‘s We Were Soldiers. The bloody Vietnam epic took in $3.7 million in its fifth weekend, down an acceptable 35 percent from $5.7 million, for a total of $68.7 million through Wednesday. We Were Soldiers should match Braveheart‘s $75.5 million total.

The Oscars kept A Beautiful Mind swirling. The John Forbes Nash Jr. biography dropped a mere 5 percent the weekend after winning four Oscars, including Best Picture, from $4 million to $3.8 million. A Beautiful Mind has $162 million through Wednesday.

Last weekend saw two milestones at the box office.

Ice Age became the first new 2002 release to crack $100 million. With $124.9 million in its first 20 days, Ice Age is running behind both Monsters, Inc. ($163.7 million) and Shrek ($156.4 million) but stands a grand chance of cracking $175 million before confronting a deluge of would-be summer blockbusters.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring battled its way to $301.3 million. The addition of footage from the upcoming The Two Towers allowed Peter Jackson‘s saga to enjoy a 15th weekend take of $2.3 million, or a 1 percent increase in business from the previous weekend. It ranks as No. 11 on the list of the U.S. top grossers, just behind Independence Day ($306.1 million).

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial moved closer to displacing Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace as No. 3 on the list of U.S. top grossers. The Steven Spielberg classic has $426.3 million through Wednesday, with $26.5 million generated via its 20th anniversary reissue. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial could pass Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace‘s $431 million by Sunday or Monday. Looks like the reissue will give our favorite alien enough loose change to make another phone call home.