By the Numbers: June 7

The spy games continue as yet more CIA operatives attempt to keep a nuclear bomb out of the hands of Uncle Sam-hating international terrorists.

Whereas last week’s The Sum of All Fears depicted the threat of nuclear annihilation with grave solemnity, producer Jerry Bruckheimer‘s Bad Company plays it for laughs. Sort of.

Ticket scalper Chris Rock finds himself dodging bullets when his twin brother, a CIA agent, is killed in the line of duty. With Anthony Hopkins by his side, Rock assumes his twin brother’s cover in order to retrieve a stolen nuclear bomb.

As with the satirical but equally unsatisfying Big Trouble, Bad Company was delayed last year in the wake of the tragic events of Sept. 11. Unlike Big Trouble, which bombed in April with a total $7.1 million, Bad Company should enjoy a strong debut on the strength of its unusual casting. Bruckheimer loves to launch his big, loud and vacuous action yarns in early June, with 1996’s The Rock ($25.1 million opening, $134 million total), 1997’s Con Air ($24.1 million opening; $101.1 million total) and 2000’s Gone In 60 Seconds ($25.3 million opening, $101.6 million total) all becoming major summer draws.

Bad Company might open with $25 million, but it’s unlikely reach the heights of The Rock, Con Air and Gone In 60 Seconds. Under Joel Schumacher‘s labored direction, Bad Company is neither exciting nor particularly witty. It’s also a rather drab affair, which comes as a surprise considering Schumacher put the camp back into Batman. Hopkins looks bored and unenthusiastic about working with Rock. The comic throws out the occasional humorous remark, but he looks as uncomfortable holding a gun in Bad Company as he did in Lethal Weapon 4. Expect Bad Company to hit $60 million.

Accordingly, if bad word of mouth starts to spread, audiences might forsake Bad Company for the adrenaline rush of The Sum of All Fears or the out-and-out farce of Undercover Brother. It also doesn’t help that next week sees the release of another spy-themed thriller, The Bourne Identity.

The Sum of All Fears should withstand Bad Company‘s arrival admirably. The Jack Ryan franchise clearly survived Ben Affleck replacing Harrison Ford as Tom Clancy‘s harried CIA analyst. The fourth Ryan film opened with a series-best $31.1 million. With $40.3 million through Wednesday, The Sum of All Fears will surpass the disappointing Patriot Games ($18.5 opening, $83.2 million total) with ease. It will likely fall short of Clear and Present Danger ($20.3 million opening, $122 million total) or The Hunt for Red October ($17.1 million opening, $120.7 million total) because of rivals Bad Company and The Bourne Identity.

Undercover Brother should continue to palate audiences eagerly awaiting Austin Powers in Goldmember. Eddie Griffin‘s spy spoof opened with a cool $12 million–better than Double Take ($11.7 million) and The New Guy ($9 million)–and has $15.2 million through Wednesday. Not even The Man can stop Undercover Brother from exceeding Double Take‘s $29.8 million total by at least $10 million.

To counterbalance the testosterone now overrunning movie theaters, Thelma & Louise screenwriter Callie Khouri unveils her directorial debut, the decidedly feminine Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

Based on the 1996 novel by Rebecca Wells, this tale of Southern belles stars Sandra Bullock as a playwright trying to cope with her eccentric mother (Ellen Burstyn), who is a key member of a circle of friends know as the Ya-Yas. Bullock‘s A Time to Kill co-star Ashley Judd plays the mother during flashbacks to the 1930s and 1940s.

Women apathetic to international espionage, superheroes and Jedi Knights should flock en masse to Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. So-called “chick flicks” tend to do well in the summer as an alternative to blockbusters bursting with shootouts, car chases and earthshaking explosions. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood should easily fall somewhere between the grosses of such similar summer offerings as Bullock‘s Hope Floats ($14.2 opening, $60.1 million total) and the Khouri-scripted Something to Talk About ($11.1 million opening, $50.8 million total).

Without the presence of a strong leading man to lure even so much as a marginal male audience, though, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood won’t duplicate the success of other summer romances as Robert Redford‘s The Horse Whisperer ($75.3 million) or Clint Eastwood‘s The Bridges of Madison County ($71.5 million).

Still, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood should see Judd and Bullock regain their box office luster following the recent disappointing performances of their respective thrillers, High Crimes ($40.9 million through Sunday) and Murder by Numbers ($31.2 million through Sunday).

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood also hits theaters at a time when Diane Lane‘s Unfaithful, Hugh Grant‘s About a Boy and Jennifer Lopez‘s Enough are falling out of favor.

Unfaithful was always destined to lose steam once it faced the likes of Insomnia and Enough. With $46.7 million through Wednesday, the sexually charged thriller does represent Richard Gere‘s biggest hit–minus his Runaway Bride reunion with Pretty Woman co-star Julia Roberts–since 1997’s The Jackal ($54.9 million). Unfaithful also may finally establish Lane as a viable box office prospect after such howlers as Hardball and The Glass House.

With $29.3 million through Wednesday, About a Boy looks set to become the least seen of such Grant-headlined, British-set comedies as Notting Hill ($116 million), Bridget Jones’s Diary ($71.5 million) and Four Weddings and a Funeral ($52.7 million). Perhaps it has something to with the lack of an American female co-star?

Enough‘s quick fade–$29.3 million through Wednesday–suggests that the novelty of watching women kick butt in the movies, especially ones that rip off Julia RobertsSleeping with the Enemy, is wearing off fast. Lopez should have better luck when she returns at Christmas with the romantic comedy The Chambermaid.

The Force isn’t quite with Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones.

The fifth in George Lucas‘ space epic earned slightly better reviews than the maligned The Phantom Menace, but it’s lagging behind its predecessor at the box office. Attack of the Clones dropped a worrying 56 percent in its third weekend, from $47.8 million to $21 million, vs. The Phantom Menace 36 percent drop, from $51.3 million to $32.8 million. Indeed, The Phantom Menace made $25.6 million in its fourth weekend.

Through Wednesday, its 21st day in release, Attack of the Clones has $238.9 million. The Phantom Menace amassed $263.6 million during the same period.

Attack of the Clones‘ troubling descent can be contributed to, among other factors, Spider-Man. The superhero supplanted Jurassic Park ($357 million) on Wednesday as the fifth highest-grossing film domestically by grossing a total $358.5 million. No film has made more money since, ironically, The Phantom Menace earned $431 million in 1999.

The Phantom Menace did not face similar competition early into its run. The anticipation surrounding the first Star Wars film in 16 years also enabled The Phantom Menace to overcome its overwhelmingly negative reviews.

At this rate, Attack of the Clones should wind up with a total somewhere between Return of the Jedi‘s $309.2 million and The Empire Strikes Back‘s $290.2 million. But barely breaking $300 million–and not earning more than the first installments in the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings sagas–must come as a disappointment for Lucas after The Phantom Menace‘s stellar showing.

Americanizing European thrillers rarely works. Something obviously got lost in the translation when it came to Point of No Return ($30 million), The Vanishing ($14.5 million) and Nightwatch ($1.1 million).

Not so with Insomnia, Memento director Christopher Nolan‘s chilling version of the clever Norwegian thriller of the same name. With $44.8 million through Wednesday, the Alaskan-set thriller is obviously benefiting from its intriguing cat-and-mouse game between fatigued cop Al Pacino and scheming killer Robin Williams. Pacino looks set to enjoy another moderate success on the scale of Devil’s Advocate ($61 million). Williams could revive his flagging fortunes following such disappointments as Bicentennial Man ($58.2 million), Death to Smoochy ($8.3 million) and Jakob the Liar ($4.9 million).

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, which opened during the Memorial Day holiday, is further evidence that the days when traditional animation offerings ruled the box office are long gone. Spirit‘s $42.7 million total through Wednesday barely matches the opening weekend hauls of such CGI sensations as Ice Age ($46.3 million) and Shrek ($42.3 million). Spirit should gallop to about $60 million.

Indifferent reviews did not harm The Importance of Being Earnest. This star-studded adaptation of the Oscar Wilde play has made $1.4 million through Sunday at a maximum 147 theaters.

Also in limited release, My Big Fat Greek Wedding remains a well-attended affair. Now in its seventh week, the romantic comedy has $8.8 million. Y Tu Mama Tambien and Monsoon Wedding continue their extraordinary runs with, respectively, $11.5 million and $11.4 million through Sunday.

The code-breaking machinations of Enigma, though, isn’t proving to be much of a thrill. The World War II drama starring Dougray Scott and Kate Winslet has a paltry $2 million after seven weeks. Coupled with the recent dismissal of Charlotte Gray, Enigma demonstrates that American audiences currently have little interest in World War II as seen through the eyes of the British.