By the Numbers: Aug. 16

The new school year’s about to begin, but that won’t stop teens from hanging 10 with Michelle Rodriguez.

In Blue Crush, Rodriguez and Kate Bosworth star as Oahu hotel maids who live in a beach shack and love to surf. The best of them is Bosworth‘s character, who receives an invitation to compete in a usually all-male surfing tournament.

Blue Crush crashes into 3,000-plus theaters at the end of a summer that has seen very little in the way of comedies and dramas aimed specifically at teens. That should give Blue Crush a distinct advantage over this weekend’s other wide release, Eddie Murphy‘s The Adventures of Pluto Nash.

Girls should embrace Blue Crush‘s empowering themes while boys will doubtless go merely to drool over the film’s bikini-clad stars. Women excelling in a traditionally male environment worked for the moronic Coyote Ugly, which demonstrated surprising endurance in summer 2000.

With Rodriguez‘s star on the rise following The Fast and the Furious and Resident Evil, Blue Crush will likely match Coyote Ugly‘s $17.3 million opening and $60.7 million total. Such an opening would come as welcome news to director John Stockwell, whose coming-of-age romance crazy/beautiful wooed a mere $16.9 million last summer.

Rodriguez could put up a strong fight against her Fast and the Furious co-star Vin Diesel for box office supremacy if too many teens abandon skydiving for surfboarding. Diesel‘s extreme sports-driven Bondian spy romp xXxexploded with a loud $44.5 million opening–better than any 007 offerings–and has $58.2 million through Wednesday. In comparison, The Fast and the Furious zoomed off with a $40 million opening and clocked up $54 million by its sixth day in release. Sony Pictures’ willingness to pay the up-and-coming Diesel $10 million for xXx now looks like a wise investment. Audiences seem to regard Diesel as part of a new generation of action heroes that includes The Rock.

xXx will likely experience the same second-weekend erosion of 50 percent that dragged down The Fast and the Furious. That also would be in line with the second-weekend declines of Austin Powers in Goldmember and Signs. With a second-weekend haul of around $22 million, and a possible 10-day tally of $85 million, Diesel‘s spy games should come close to matching The Fast and the Furious‘ $144.5 million total. So, expect to see Diesel tattooed and ready for action in 2004 with his xXx sequel.

Regardless, neither xXx nor Blue Crush will be able to pump up the box office, which has lagged behind last year’s corresponding weekends for one month.

The summer’s also over, which means the inevitable dumping of oft-delayed studio flicks for the sole purpose of making a quick killing.

Exhibit No. 1: The Adventures of Pluto Nash. Eddie Murphy‘s sci-fi spoof got pushed back to 2002 from its original April 6, 2001, berth to avoid conflicting with Dr. Dolittle 2. This lunar version of Casablanca pits Murphy‘s nightclub owner against the moon’s mob.

Murphy‘s revitalized his career in the mid-1990s when he began churning out family-friendly comedies and lending his voice to animated romps. Pluto Nash‘s certainly doesn’t arrive with the same anticipation as Murphy‘s Nutty Professor or Dr. Dolittle remakes and sequels. Nor does it bode well that Warner Bros. is releasing Pluto Nash during the dog days of summer, one week after Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams, without the benefit of press screenings. A bad sign if ever there was one …

Still, Murphy should charm enough families to prevent Pluto Nash from becoming a disaster on the scale of 1998’s Holy Man ($5.1 million opening, $12 million total). Blasting into 2,320 theaters, Pluto Nash should settle for an opening somewhere between Metro‘s $11.4 million and Showtime‘s $15 million. A fast fade awaits, so Pluto Nash will find itself stranded on the moon with about $30 million, or substantially less that the lackluster $37.9 million captured earlier this year by Showtime. Murphy will find greater success in November when he returns with another remake, November’s big-screen version of I Spy.

The Cortez siblings of Spy Kids 2 clearly amused many children whose parents thought better of taking them to see xXx. But Spy Kids 2 is going to rank among the long line of this summer’s underachieving sequels. Spy Kids 2 midweek opening proved beneficial, as it earned $8.3 million prior to its first weekend haul of $16.7 million, for a total of $25 million. Its strong weekday tallies bring its seven-day total to $32.8 million through Wednesday. Spy Kids, though, managed a superior $26.5 million debut, and ended its first full week with a total $31.2 million. It also reaped a second weekend of $17 million for a $48.2 million.

By matching Spy Kids‘ 35.6 percent second-weekend decline in business, Spy Kids 2 would only earn $10.8 million, bringing its total to a possible $46 million through Sunday. That wouldn’t beat Spy Kids‘ third weekend take of $12.5 million.

Spy Kids 2 also faces a considerable drop in weekday business as school resumes. Accordingly, Spy Kids 2 is headed toward a $70 million total. That’s significantly less than Spy Kids‘ $112.6 million, but almost enough to justify director Robert Rodriguez‘s mandate to have Spy Kids 3 in theaters by next summer.

As expected, Pistachio Disguisey and his talent for mimicry proved no match against the Cortez family’s flair to save the world from certain disaster. Master of Disguise, Dana Carvey‘s comeback of sorts, plummeted an appalling 58 percent in its second weekend, from $12.5 million to $5.1 million. The family comedy might have displayed more endurance had it not opened one week before Spy Kids 2. Still, with $26.3 million through Wednesday, Master of Disguise represents Carvey‘s biggest solo success.

Stuart Little 2 squeaked by with just $2.6 million in its fourth weekend, down 56 percent from $6.1 million. The sequel to the 1999 live-action/animated smash has just $54.5 million through Wednesday, and won’t even make half of its predecessor’s $140 million total.

Goldmember continues its rapid descent, proving that its second-weekend drop of 57 percent was no fluke. The third Austin Powers farce plunged 58 percent in its third weekend, from $31.1 million to $13 million. Still, Goldmember has $173.6 million through Wednesday vs. $157.7 million that Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me made during the same 20 days in release. Goldmember should muster enough mojo to equal The Spy Who Shagged Me‘s $206 million total.

Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat also fell by 58 percent in its second weekend, from $7.3 million to $3.1 million. Playing at just 774 theaters, Runteldat isn’t shaping up to be a concert hit on the scale of The Original Kings of Comedy ($38.1 million). However, with $14 million through Wednesday, Runteldat will at least make almost double that of Lawrence‘s last concert film, You So Crazy ($10.1 million).

Mel Gibson should prepare for what could possibly be the biggest hit of his career, as Signs looks certain to comfortably surpass What Women Want‘s $182.8 million total.

Signs should stabilize in its third weekend after tumbling by 51 percent in its second weekend, from $60.1 million to $29.4 million. Still, that’s close to matching Gibson‘s previous best opening of $34.2 million for 1996’s Ransom.

M. Night Shyamalan‘s chilling tale of a possible alien invasion does not face fresh competition among adults out for a good scare, so a decline of about 45 percent will result in a $16 million third weekend. Signs, with its $128.1 million through Wednesday, has flown past the $94.9 million earned in 2000 by Shyamalan‘s Unbreakable and now stands as the 12th 2002 new release to make more than $100 million.

The one-two punch of xXx and Signs all but buried Clint Eastwood‘s Blood Work. The thriller opened with an anemic $7.3 million, which is slightly better than the $5.2 million cobbled together by True Crime. With $9.7 million through Wednesday, Blood Work should exceed True Crime‘s $16.6 million total, but it will still rank as one of Eastwood‘s lesser recent efforts.

Road to Perdition continues its slow trek to $100 million. The Tom Hanks gangster thriller has $85.9 million through Wednesday.

America’s love affair with the Hanks-backed My Big Fat Greek Wedding continues as the romantic comedy posted a 17th-weekend take of $3.1 million, its best yet. The art house smash, only playing in 723 theaters, has collected $46.5 million through Wednesday.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding, though, might finally have competition in the form of The Good Girl and Possession.

The Good Girl lived up to its name as it made off with a better than good $151,642 at just two theaters over the weekend, for a five-day total of $208,639. The drama, which has secured strong reviews based on Jennifer Aniston‘s gritty performance as a neglected, married thirtysomething, will expand slowly this month.

Possession, a romantic drama reminiscent of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, opens in 200-plus theaters in advance of an Aug. 30 wide release. Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart play present-day scholars who fall in love while investigating the love affair between Victorian-era poets (Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle). Paltrow once again employs her well-honed British accent, while Eckhart receives the rare opportunity to play a romantic lead.

Possession‘s most intriguing participant is director Neil LaBute, who enjoyed notoriety with the scathing social satires In the Company of Men and Your Friends & Neighbors and then made the switch to black comedy with Nurse Betty. Possession will demonstrate whether LaBute‘s admirers and detractors choose to embrace his gentler and kinder side.