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‘21 Jump Street’ may debut at up to $35 million

By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — “21 Jump Street” is set to school the competition at the box office this weekend.

The comedy, starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as two inept cops on an undercover mission to bust a high school drug ring, is expected to open with $30 million to $35 million in ticket sales, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys. Sony Pictures, the studio distributing the film, is predicting a softer opening of around $25 million.

No other new movies are hitting theaters in wide national release this weekend, though the Jason Segel-Ed Helms dramedy “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” and Will Ferrell’s Spanish-language “Casa de Mi Padre” will play in roughly 60 of the country’s top markets.

“21 Jump Street,” inspired by the 1980s television series that spawned Johnny Depp’s career, was co-financed by Sony and MGM for about $42 million. Sony has held about 350 screenings to spread word of mouth about the film in advance of its opening, and it premiered to strong buzz at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, this week.

So far, the picture has earned overwhelmingly positive reviews: On Thursday morning it had an 88 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The movie was a passion project for Hill, who executive produced the picture. Five years ago, at age 23, he teamed up with producer Neil Moritz to make the movie, but the actor was unable to film the movie in ensuing years because his comedy career was picking up with roles in pictures such as “Superbad” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”

Hill has since proved he also has dramatic acting chops — scoring an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in last year’s “Moneyball” — but his co-star Tatum has yet to show audiences that he has a funny bone. “21 Jump Street” marks the first major comedic role for Tatum, who was a box-office draw this year in the romantic tear-jerker hit “The Vow.”

“21 Jump Street” will also open overseas in Britain and Australia this weekend.

“Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is the latest film from brothers Mark and Jay Duplass, known as establishing members of the independent filmmaking movement referred to as “mumblecore.” After starting out making a string of ultra-low-budget documentary-style films with naturalistic dialogue, the Duplass brothers teamed up with Fox Searchlight on the 2010 independent movie “Cyrus,” starring Hill and John C. Reilly. The movie collected only $7.5 million at the box office by the end of its run.

Paramount’s specialty label Vantage co-financed “Jeff” with independent production-financing company Indian Paintbrush, and the studio is releasing the film in 250 theaters this weekend. The movie stars Segel as an idealistic thirtysomething who still lives in his mother’s basement, waiting for a sign about the direction his life should take.

“Casa de Mi Padre,” meanwhile, stars Ferrell as a member of a Mexican ranch family caught up in a drug war. The comedy spoof was developed by the actor’s Gary Sanchez Productions and was financed by Nala Films for $6 million. Targeted at Latino audiences, the movie is being distributed by Pantelion Films, Lionsgate’s co-venture with Mexican media company Televisa. Founded in 2010, Pantelion has yet to release a major box-office hit: Its biggest success was last year’s “From Prada to Nada,” which grossed a mere $3 million.

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