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WEEKEND BOXOFFICE ADVANCE: It Doesn't Take 'Artificial Intelligence' to Figure Out Spielberg's Back in Town

29 Jun, 2001 By: Ed Ochs

After a three-year absence from the big screen, Spielberg returns this weekend with A.I. Artificial Intelligence, so get in line. Opening behind A.I are urban drama Baby Boy, teen romance crazy/beautiful and comedy Pootie Tang. Last weekend’s No. 1 surprise The Fast and the Furious isn’t going to roll over, either. But it’s the presence of a spanking-new Spielberg film in the marketplace that will lift the level of competition this weekend. Theater traffic will surge and the pre-Independence Day box office will hit its high water mark for the year.

Warner Bros.’ PG-13 A.I,. starring Haley Joel Osment and Jude Law, becomes a major event simply because it was written and directed by Spielberg, and any movie by Steven Spielberg draws millions of moviegoers curious, even anxious, to see what new piece of the human puzzle the remarkable Spielberg has chosen to dramatically reveal this time. First developed by the late Stanley Kubrick and taken over by Spielberg, A.I. is a darkly lit sci-fi tale about a robot child programmed to love who must to discover the meaning of his existence in an uncertain future. Cuddly E.T. it’s not, but A.I. is sure to be a thought-provoking experience that fills the eye, so even if moviegoers don't follow him through all his filmic adventures, Spielberg’s turn to sci-fi and A.I. will still tap the mainstream for a giant opening.

Sony’s R-rated Baby Boy, starring Tyrese, Ving Rhames and Snoop Dogg, is another attempt by writer/director John Singleton to capture the conflicts of growing up young and black in still-racist America, following in the footsteps of his Boyz N the Hood, Poetic Justice and Higher Learning. With his work on Shaft, Singleton proved he also knows the way to the box office, so what does he do next? He goes home to his L.A. roots, and with an intriguing cast, aims to surprise the uptown pundits of popularity with a big opening this weekend. Versatile actor-singer Tyrese holds the focus, but the secret weapon here is Snoop. Put a rapper in your movie (DMX/Exit Wounds, Ja Rule/The Fast and the Furious) and enjoy a big spike; put Snoop in your movie, and you’ve got a budding movie star, a rap superstar -– and a hit soundtrack chasing audiences into theaters.

Buena Vista’s PG-13 crazy/beautiful, starring Kirsten Dunst and Jay Hernandez, tracks the love affair between a rich white girl and poor Latino boy in L.A. Dunst vaulted to No.1 in the surprise hit Bring It On and surfed the depths in this year’s Get Over It, but this one should fall nicely in between. Movies about interracial relationships (Save the Last Dance) have strong appeal to the MTV crowd, but even though crazy/beautiful has merit, it’s probably not crazy enough or funny enough to hold on to a sizable audience this weekend, and may wind up searching for a seat on the bench amid the breakout and buzz movies.

Paramount and MTV Films’ PG-13 comedy Pootie Tang, starring Lance Crouther, Chris Rock and Wanda Sykes, is a spinoff of HBO’s “The Chris Rock Show,” born as a skit and bumped up to a feature spoof. Pootie Tang is far less supported than the weekend’s other box office contestants, probably because it’s a stretch of a sketch and more screen filler than theater filler. Sure, P.T. has it clever moments and Rock can generate some laughs, but there’s probably a good reason there hasn’t been much of a campaign behind it. The theatrical opening is the best advertising for Pootie Tang's better prospects in home video.

Moviegoers will also weigh Universal’s The Fast and the Furious -- which could benefit its second weekend from its stunning, super-charged opening -- as well as Fox’s Dr. Dolittle 2 and Paramount’s Tomb Raider when making weekend movie-viewing decisions. But it doesn’t take artifical intelligence to figure out that the big news this weekend is…Spielberg’s back in town.

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