For the fourth consecutive weekend, four or more new wide releases will cram into multiplexes trying to get at their piece of a dwindling box office pie.

Nicolas Cage targets his second trip to the top spot this year with the action film "Next," rival actioner "The Condemned" counters with Stone Cold Steve Austin in the lead, horror fans get yet another creepy tale with "The Invisible," and Jamie Kennedy goes for some laughs with "Kickin’ It Old Skool."

Mostly garbage titles were programmed into this weekend’s menu since any studio with a decent film would not risk getting crushed on the second weekend by the webslinger sequel. Including these newest films, the first four months of 2007 boasts 64 wide releases hitting the marketplace, up slightly from last year’s 60 but up sharply from the 42 over the same period in 2005. With a mass quantity of weak April films, look for the North American box office to plunge to its lowest point of the year this weekend during what is essentially the calm before Sandman’s storm hits next Thursday night at midnight.

Following his Marvel Comics hit "Ghost Rider," Nicolas Cage once again plays the action hero card with the sci-fi thriller "Next." The PG-13 film finds the Oscar winner playing a man with the ability to see into the future who is called in to foil a terrorist plot before it happens. Directed by Lee Tamahori ("Die Another Day," "Along Came A Spider"), "Next" has the advantage of having the most screens and the most starpower of any new release this weekend. Plus with current films rotting away quickly (9 of the 16 holdovers in the Top 20 last weekend plunged by more than 55%), competition will not be too fierce. Paramount has been giving "Next" a decent amount of marketing, that is for a film being dumped into the final weekend of a month starting with the letter A. In almost any other time of year this would get clobbered, but given the current alternatives it will make for the only reasonable choice for many moviegoers. Hence, a number one opening by default and quite possibly the weakest one of the year. Crashing into over 2,500 theaters, "Next" could reach the top with around $13M.


Cage and Biel required an escort when exiting the "Next" premiere.

"The Condemned" offers a reality show idea not likely to be on any network’s fall schedule. In the weekend’s sole R-rated film, death row inmates duke it out to the death in order to avoid being executed, all while television cameras capture every brutal moment. World Wrestling Entertainment head Vince McMahon produces behind the scenes while former superstar grappler Steve Austin stars in front of the camera. Other WWE stars who headlined recent feature films include Kane in last May’s "See No Evil" ($4.6M debut) and John Cena in last fall’s "The Marine" ($7.1M bow). Both films averaged less than $4,000 on their opening weekends. Young men will make up the only audience segment for the new Lionsgate title and "Next" will provide some direct action competition. Still some hardcore wrestling fans will turn up to theaters since a movie ticket will be cheaper than ordering a pay-per-view event. But overall, prospects seem bleak. "The Condemned" will attack 2,310 theaters and may end up with $6M.


Steve Austin and some unfortunate soul in "The Condemned."

As if moviegoers don’t have enough scary films to choose from, Buena Vista offers up one more with the supernatural thriller "The Invisible." The PG-13 film follows a high school student whose spirit wanders after a brutal accident. Fright flicks have been flopping left and right recently and there is no reason to believe that this one will turn things around. The marketing volume has been stuck on low as this remake of a Swedish pic is more of a spring cleaning film tossed into the marketplace hoping to be forgotten soon. With no starpower, there will be almost nothing driving in traffic. "The Invisible" will appear in over 2,000 theaters this Friday, but might only collect roughly $5M.


One of them is "The Invisible."

Jamie Kennedy headlines the new comedy "Kickin’ It Old Skool" playing a 1980s breakdancer that falls into a coma and awakens two decades later to a much different world. Yari Film Group is targeting teenagers with this PG-13 pic which essentially offers the same laughs as the comedian’s 2003 film "Malibu’s Most Wanted." That modest hit bowed in late April to $12.6M from 2,503 theaters on its way to a $34.4M domestic final. "Skool" does not have a big studio marketing push behind it but it may grab the attention of some young dudes killing time before Peter Parker busts into theaters. DVD is where most people will find this one. Breaking into 1,600 theaters, "Kickin’ It Old Skool" could find itself with around $5M over three days.


Jamie Kennedy and Webster kick it "Old Skool."

Among holdovers, two-time champ "Disturbia" will find it difficult to hold onto its crown given the arrival of Nicolas Cage. But Paramount won’t care as it should still claim the number one film for the fifth consecutive weekend. A 40% decline would give the Shia LaBeouf pic about $8M for the frame and a healthy $51M after 17 days. The Anthony HopkinsRyan Gosling thriller "Fracture" has been well-received and competition is not too fierce so a 40% drop could be in order as well. That would leave New Line with $6.5M and a ten-day tally of $21M.

LAST YEAR: Three new flicks topped the charts led by the family comedy "RV" starring Robin Williams which opened at number one with $16.4M. The Sony hit enjoyed stellar legs and went on to collect $71.3M. Universal followed in second with the 9/11 thriller "United 93" which debuted in half as many theaters with $11.5M. The critically acclaimed pic went on to gross $31.5M. Buena Vista’s gymnastics film "Stick It" bowed in third with $10.8M on its way to $26.9M. Rounding out the top five were "Silent Hill" with $9.3M and "Scary Movie 4" with $7.8M. Also opening was the spelling drama "Akeelah and the Bee" with a weak $6M leading to a $18.8M final for Lionsgate and its promotional partner Starbucks.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

The director of "The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable," "Signs," and (yes) "The Village" is back, and this time he’s got a soaking-wet mystery woman who haunts Paul Giamatti. The movie is "Lady in the Water" and here’s the all-new trailer.

"A modest building manager named Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) rescues a mysterious young woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) from danger and discovers she is actually a narf, a character from a bedtime story who is trying to make the treacherous journey from our world back to hers. Cleveland and his fellow tenants start to realize that they are also characters in this bedtime story. As Cleveland falls deeper and deeper in love with the woman, he works together with the tenants to protect his new fragile friend from the deadly creatures that reside in this fable and are determined to prevent her from returning home."

WB’s "Lady in the Water" opens on July 21st.

You waited for it, you wanted it, and by giving the original flick over $110 million at the domestic box office, you all but guaranteed it: Martin Lawrence is back in "Big Momma’s House 2," and the trailer’s right here for your consumption, should you feel the compulsion to watch it.

"The adventures of master-of-disguise, FBI special agent Malcolm Turner continue. This time he must go undercover as Big Momma to nail his ex-partner’s murderer. While undercover in the house of the suspected criminal, Malcom grows attached to the suspect’s three childen."

Alongside Mr. Lawrence are Nia Long and Emily Procter. John Whitesell, of "Malibu’s Most Wanted" and "Run Ronnie Run," is directing.

20th Century Fox, god love ’em, will release "Big Momma’s House 2" on January 27th.

ComingSoon.net delivers a nifty little nugget from a TV Guide interview that involves an actor, a very popular TV show, and a top-secret cameo in the next "Mission: Impossible" fliick.

Character actor Greg Grunberg must be J.J. Abrams‘ favorite lucky charm. The actor has appeared in Abrams’ "Felicity," "Alias," and "Lost," plus the guy’s been in movies like "Hollow Man," "The Muse," and "Malibu’s Most Wanted."

But TV Guide’s "Ausiello" just spilled the beans on Mr. Grunberg’s next mini-gig:

"Grunberg just spent the last week filming a top-secret cameo in Mission: Impossible 3 (directed by his best bud J.J. Abrams)."

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