'High Crimes' to Suffer 'Panic' Attack
After an extraordinarily busy March when each weekend had at least one movie making $20 million or more, the box office's blistering pace will slow down on this the first weekend of April due to three new releases exhibiting modest potential.

With the Ashley Judd-Morgan Freemen vehicle High Crimes, 20th Century Fox emulates Paramount, the studio that's an expert at launching thrillers. On the same weekend last year, Paramount's Along Came a Spider caught $16.7 million in its 2,530-theater web. Two years earlier, the studio opened Rules of Engagement on this frame to $15 million from 3,155 venues.

Paramount was also the studio behind Judd and Freeman's first pairing and Spider predecessor, 1997's Kiss the Girls, which snared $13.2 million from 2,271 theaters out of the gate en route to $60.5 million. Two years later, the studio teamed Judd with Tommy Lee Jones in Double Jeopardy and scored a $23.2 million opening from 2,547 on course to $116.7 million, a career best for Judd.

High Crimes' marketing is practically a carbon copy of Double Jeopardy's—the husband of dubious character, the older man who helps Judd out (Freeman this time instead of Jones), a bit of action, Judd in danger—capping it all off with that "you go girl!" moment when Judd stands up to some authority figure. Crimes also mimics Jeopardy by seemingly giving away the whole plot in the trailer, a strategy that time and again works for movies targeting adult women.

With its generic military conspiracy overtures, though, High Crimes lacks the overt primal appeal of the empowerment-and-revenge-driven Double Jeopardy or of its prime competitor in theaters now, Panic Room. The Jodie Foster home invasion thriller broke into the top spot last weekend with a smashing $30.1 million, the third best opening ever for a suspense thriller, and with momentum on its side will likely fall at most 40% this weekend.

That means High Crimes has to top $18 million if it hopes to have a shot at claiming the top spot. Panic Room and Double Jeopardy aside, the more popular star-driven thrillers have tended to open between $13 million and $17 million as Judd's and Freeman's own track records attest to, and usually without direct competition. With not much else to distinguish it other than its stars, High Crimes could come in at the lower end of that spectrum with around $14 million from 2,717 venues, bowing in second place.

National Lampoon's Van Wilder hopes to buck the trend of R-rated collegiate comedies falling flat at the box office, typified by this year's Slackers and Sorority Boys. Known for its adventurous campaigns but only one major success (Blair Witch), Artisan has been aggressively promoting the star-free ribald romp on the Internet and on college campuses.

That's all well and good, but the traditional avenues, namely TV, may have been neglected. Ads have been running with some frequency, but they've largely been incoherent showing people slamming into lockers with that "Start the Commotion" song from last year's Mitsubishi Eclipse commercials playing it over and a voiceover proclaiming the movie to be the funniest thing from National Lampoon since Animal House as if National Lampoon means anything to kids today. The movie's premise is not conveyed, and the spoken jokes are muted and not funny to begin with, such as Van Wilder (Ryan Reynolds) saying that Naomi is "I Moan" spelt backwards.

There is some talk that Van Wilder's "eclair" scene is on par with the hair gel one in There's Something About Mary or the apple pie one in American Pie, but not even a hint of it is to be found in the ads. Like Sorority Boys and others before it, Van Wilder's humor may just be too raunchy to be adequately displayed in a PG-rated commercial or trailer.

On the plus side, competition is fairly light for the young male audience, especially now that the NCAA basketball championships are over. Partying at 2,022 theaters, Van Wilder could score around $6 million this weekend, likely debuting outside the top five.

Originally set to open on Sept. 21, director Barry Sonnenfeld's ensemble comedy Big Trouble was delayed following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America due to a plotline involving a suitcase bomb on an airplane.

During the nearly seven-month delay, the game plan for the marketing campaign has not been changed. The TV spots seem to be the same ones that were running back in September. In addition to their staleness, they simply don't give any clue as to what the movie is about, and they are light on laughs. The highlighted gags are a goat nearly being hit by a car with Putty from Seinfeld asking "Was that a goat?" and former Late Night sidekick Andy Richter as a security guard who likes his liquor.

Landing at 1,961 theaters, Big Trouble might grab $5 million over the weekend, or about what Sonnenfeld's next movie Men in Black 2 will make in its first few hours.

Among holdovers, word-of-mouth family favorites Ice Age and The Rookie could each ease 30% to the $12 million range, while Blade 2 should hemorrhage another 50% to around $7 million, rounding out the top five.

Click here to view the specific predictions for the top 10 movies.

Over the same frame last year, Spy Kids clung to the top spot with $17.1 million, down 35% on its way to $112.7 million. Along Came a Spider spun into second place with $16.7 million en route to $74.1 million. The Johnny Depp cocaine saga Blow snorted up $12.4 million from 2,249 venues, moving $52.9 million by the end of its run, while Pokemon 3: The Movie pocketed $8.2 million from 2,675 on course to $17.1 million.