‘Tower Heist’ is poised to swipe No. 1 spot from rivals

Amy Kaufman
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

LOS ANGELES — Two stoners will probably have trouble stealing the loot from a group of thieves at the box office.

“Tower Heist,” a comedy starring Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller about a bunch of crooks attempting to pull off a robbery, is poised to run away with the most ticket sales this weekend.

The movie is expected to debut with between $25 million and $30 million in sales, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys. That should be enough to beat out “A Very Harold&Kumar 3D Christmas,” the third installment in the comedy series, which will probably collect around $16 million.

Centered on employees in a Manhattan high-rise who have fallen prey to a Ponzi scheme, “Tower Heist” has so far generated the most interest among older women. The movie, directed by Brett Ratner and produced by Brian Grazer, cost distributor Universal Pictures and co-financier Relativity Media about $75 million to make after tax rebates.

The film will also open overseas this weekend in 21 foreign markets, including Britain, Germany and Hong Kong.

Last month the studio scrapped plans to release “Tower Heist” via video on demand in two U.S. cities just three weeks after its theatrical launch after theater owners threatened not to show the film.

A number of exhibitors balked at Universal’s proposal to offer the movie as a test to roughly 500,000 Comcast cable subscribers in Atlanta and Portland, Ore., for $59.99 at home. They feared that people would bypass seeing the picture in theaters if they could pay to view it in the comfort of their living rooms.

Meanwhile, the theatrical performance of “Tower Heist” could be a bellwether not only for Murphy’s career but also for the ratings of the upcoming Academy Awards telecast. The comedian has been tapped to host the Feb. 26, 2012, ceremony, which is being produced by Ratner.

In recent years, Murphy has struggled to regain the box-office clout he boasted earlier in his career with the “Beverly Hills Cop” series and “Coming to America.” Outside of the animated “Shrek” franchise — in which the actor voiced the Donkey character — Murphy has not been in a hit since 2007’s “Norbit.”

His last two live-action films, the 2009 family movie “Imagine That” and 2008 comedy “Meet Dave,” each failed to generate more than $17 million in ticket sales in the U.S.

The low-cost “Harold&Kumar” movie series launched in 2004, when the first film about two marijuana-loving goofballs — “Harold&Kumar Go to White Castle” — grossed $23.9 million worldwide. The second entry, “Harold&Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay,” performed better with $34.5 million in global ticket sales.

This weekend’s newcomer — the first to be released in 3-D — is being distributed by Warner Bros. but was produced by the studio’s sister label New Line Cinema for about $19 million. Early polling indicates the R-rated movie about the two friends’ holiday hijinks is appealing mostly to young males.

Outside of the franchise, neither of the series’ stars, John Cho or Kal Penn, has had much success at the box office. Penn recently completed a two-year stint in the White House, where he worked for one of President Barack Obama’s top advisers on outreach to arts and minority organizations.

Also this weekend, Anchor Bay Films will open the Channing Tatum police drama “The Son of No One” in 10 theaters. The movie received lackluster reviews at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where reports surfaced that audience members walked out early during a screening of the picture.

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