'Pacifier' Packs Them In
The Pacifier allayed subdued industry expectations with a strong No. 1 opening, and Be Cool chilled in second place as comedy ruled the box office roost for the fourth weekend in a row.

Starring Vin Diesel as a Navy S.E.A.L. assigned to protect a family in the suburbs, The Pacifier sucked on $30.6 million at 3,131 locations—slightly less than the $31.1 million debut of distributor Buena Vista and director Adam Shankman's last collaboration, Bringing Down the House, on this same weekend in 2003. According to Buena Vista's exit polling, 55 percent of the audience was female, while 47 percent was under the age of 18.

Buena Vista aggressively promoted The Pacifier, their first major release of the year, and, though the movie looked like a clichéd sitcom, the trailer garnered laughs from moviegoers by playing up Diesel's tough guy persona—a character who's been to Somalia, Serbia, Bosnia and, now, Suburbia—against young children and a duck that snaps at his ear.

After box office disappointments The Chronicles of Riddick and A Man Apart, Diesel had been written off as quickly as he had risen—after all, his perceived stardom was based primarily on two pictures, The Fast and the Furious in 2001 and XXX in 2002. With The Pacifier, he propitiated audiences with a can't miss genre.

Fish-out-of-water comedies about unlikely parental figures have been among the most consistent draws—from Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom to the '80s bachelors of Three Men and a Baby to Adam Sandler in Big Daddy to Ice Cube in this year's hit Are We There Yet?. The genre allows for lots of universal humor as well as heart-warming moments.

Be Cool palmed a $23.5 million at 3,216 venues—a new opening weekend high for star John Travolta, barely edging out Face/Off's $23.4 million (in raw grosses only). Distributor MGM's exit polling suggested that 52 percent of Be Cool's audience was female, while 54 percent was over the age of 25.

The $53 million-budgeted follow-up to Get Shorty, in which Mr. Travolta's mobster Chili Palmer moves from the movie industry to music, sold its sizable cast that included leggy Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, comic Cedric the Entertainer, rap recording artist Andre 3000, Harvey Keitel and wrestler-actor Dwayne Johnson. The marketing emphasized Vaughn and The Rock the most, with Vaughn's white-wannabe-black antics and The Rock playing against type. The Pulp Fiction reunion of Travolta and Thurman was slyly referenced with a brief dance scene recalling when they did the twist in their previous picture.

When Get Shorty came out in 1995, it was the affirmation that John Travolta had made a comeback and that the success of Pulp Fiction was no fluke. The adaptation of Elmore Leonard's novel opened to $12.7 million at 1,612 theaters (about half the amount of Be Cool), or over $18 million adjusted for ticket price inflation. It closed with $72.1 million (or over $103 million adjusted). Though Be Cool ultimately won't sell as many tickets as its predecessor, the sequel, playing to his hip persona, keeps Mr. Travolta on the star map after mostly shaky returns this millennium.

The crime comedy genre can be a tough sell, and more so when it comes to sequels as The Whole Ten Yards and Analyze That showed in recent years. Movies set in the entertainment business tend to lack broad appeal as well (Hollywood Homicide, Showtime), limited by self-reflexivity and insider smugness, with pictures like Bowfinger and now Be Cool representing the high end of how they perform at the box office.

Bending few minds, The Jacket strapped in at 1,331 theaters but committed an anemic $2.7 million. Reminiscent of Jacob's Ladder and The Butterfly Effect, the psychological, time-warping thriller featuring Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley opened worse than most similar pictures, in part, because its marketing pushed the tormented trip and not the drive behind it. The posters and Internet banner ads further alienated potential moviegoers with distorted, brown-colored close-ups of Brody and Knightley that were more ugly than creepy.

Last weekend's surprise Diary of a Mad Black Woman tumbled 50 percent to $11.0 million for $37.1 million in 10 days. Still, with a $5.5 million production cost, the picture will be quite profitable.


• Mar. 6 - The Academy Awards Are Meaningless: 'Million Dollar Baby's Modest Post-Oscar Boost...

• REVIEW: The Pacifier
Weekend Box Office Chart

• Feb. 28 - 'Diary of a Mad Black Woman' Comes Out Swinging at No. 1

• Jan. 24 - 'Are We There Yet?' Rolls in at No. 1

NOTE: This report was updated on Monday, March 7 with actual grosses.