LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Ben Stiller’s new comedy “The Heartbreak Kid” barely registered a pulse at the weekend box office in North America, in a badly timed setback for its underappreciated studio DreamWorks.
The raunchy remake of a 1972 Neil Simon movie opened at No. 2, with an estimated $14 million during its first three days, the studio said on Sunday.
It failed to take the No. 1 spot from last weekend’s champ, “The Game Plan,” which earned $16.3 million. A week ago another high-profile star vehicle, “The Kingdom,” also had to settle for a No. 2 opening.
Industry experts had expected a $20 million-plus start for Stiller’s reunion with Peter and Bobby Farrelly, the directors of the 1998 comedy smash “There’s Something About Mary.”
A DreamWorks spokesman said the studio was “certainly very disappointed” with the opening, adding that harsh critical reviews hurt business. He said the film’s production budget was in the low $60 million range.
It was the worst performer so far this year for DreamWorks, which operates with a high degree of autonomy from its parent, Paramount Pictures. The studio, owned by Viacom Inc., bought DreamWorks in 2005 for $1.6 billion.
While Paramount’s own slate has been less-than-stellar amid a lengthy restructuring, DreamWorks has been on a roll this year, producing four consecutive chart-toppers -- “Norbit,” “Blades of Glory,” “Disturbia” and “Transformers.”
But DreamWorks co-founders Steven Spielberg and David Geffen had dropped hints in recent weeks that they might take their filmmaking talent elsewhere.
“ROLLING ON THE FLOOR”
The two sides reached a detente, announced on Thursday, under which DreamWorks titles would henceforth be released under a new DreamWorks-Paramount banner, rather than just under the Paramount name.
Now, DreamWorks is getting some recognition, for a movie largely ignored by moviegoers and trashed by critics.
In a familiar role, Stiller plays a hapless newlywed who belatedly realizes that his spouse (Malin Akerman) is deranged and meets the real love of his life (Michelle Monaghan) on his honeymoon.
Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman told Wall Street analysts in August that the film had him “rolling on the floor with laughter.”
Critics rolled around in agony, labeling "The Heartbreak Kid" misogynistic, crude and mean-spirited. Less than a third of the reviewers cited by Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com) liked the movie.
Stiller was last in theaters with the worldwide hit “Night at the Museum,” which opened to $30.4 million on the weekend before Christmas Day 2006. He headlined five movies in 2004 -- and all did considerably better, except for “Envy,” another DreamWorks production.
“The Heartbreak Kid” was produced after some key personnel changes. Stiller and Akerman replaced Jason Batemen and Amy Poehler, while the Farrelly brothers came aboard in 2005 after Barry Sonnenfeld and then James Bobin exited.
The Farrellys, whose fortunes have waned in recent years with films like “Fever Pitch” and “Stuck On You,” are among five credited writers.
Elsewhere, “The Game Plan,” a Walt Disney Co. comedy starring former wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a football star saddled with a young daughter he never knew about, has earned $42.8 million after 10 days.
Universal Pictures’ terrorism thriller “The Kingdom,” starring Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner and Chris Cooper, slipped to No. 3 with $9.3 million. Its 10-day haul rose to $31.4 million.
Universal is a unit of General Electric Co’s NBC Universal Inc.
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