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Denzel Washington's 'Inside Man' tops box office

Written by: Staff
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LOS ANGELES, Mar 27 (Reuters) Denzel Washington and director Spike Lee scored the best opening of their careers, as the heist thriller ''Inside Man'' grabbed the No 1 spot at the weekend box office in North America with estimated ticket sales of 29 million dollars.

The film, which also stars Clive Owen and Jodie Foster, was the top picture overseas as well, with sales of 9.6 million dollars from 18 countries, including No 1 openings in Britain and Germany, according to distributor Universal Pictures.

Washington's previous best bow was the kidnap thriller ''Man on Fire,'' which opened with 22.8 million dollars in April 2004.

Lee's best was the comedy concert ''The Original Kings of Comedy,'' with 11 million dollars in August 2000.

''Inside Man,'' which cost about 45 million dollars to make, revolves around a cat-and-mouse game between a bank robber (Owen) and a New York cop (Washington). Foster plays an intermediary with her own agenda.

Universal said exit polling indicated that 68 per cent of the audience was aged 30 and older, and that male viewers comprised 54 per cent. Three-quarters of respondents said Washington was their main reason for going. Universal Pictures is a unit of General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal Inc.

GAME ON FOR 'STAY ALIVE' Last weekend's champ, the futuristic terrorist drama ''V for Vendetta,'' slipped to No 2 with 12.3 million dollars for the Friday-to-Sunday period, taking its 10-day haul to 46.2 million dollars. The film, starring Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman, has earned about 17.7 million dollars from 24 markets. It was released by Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. Pictures.

The box office boasted two other new entries. Walt Disney Co.'s video game thriller ''Stay Alive,'' which surpassed expectations by opening at No 3 with 11.2 million; dollars and Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.'s comedy ''Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector,'' which opened at No. 7 with a modest 7.1 million dollars.

''Stay Alive'' revolves around a group of youngsters who discover that players who lose the titular video game die mysteriously. Three-quarters of the audience was aged 25 and under, said Disney, which had been hoping for an opening in the 7 million dollars to 10 million dollars range. ''Stay Alive'' marks the first release under Disney's resurrected Hollywood Pictures label, which will focus on genre films.

''Larry the Cable Guy,'' starring the popular blue-collar stand-up comic, played mostly to male viewers over 21, Lions Gate said. The studio had hoped for an opening in the 7 million dollars to 9 million dollars ange.

Rounding out the top five, Paramount Pictures' hit romantic comedy ''Failure to Launch'' fell two to No 4 with 10.8 million, dollars followed by Walt Disney Pictures' comedy remake ''The Shaggy Dog'' with 9.1 million dollars, also down two places. Their respective totals stand at 63.9 million dollars and 47.9 million dollars, both after three weeks. Paramount is a unit of Viacom Inc.

REUTERS VJ RK0838

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