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Hollywood Digest

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   May 2, 2003 at 6:14 PM   |   Comments

BOX-OFFICE PREVIEW

It's shaping up as an "X-Men" kind of weekend at the U.S. box office, with "X2: X-Men United" playing at 3,741 locations.

There is little doubt that the sequel to the 2000 box-office hit "X-Men" will outdo the original's opening weekend gross of $54.5 million, but few analysts expect the picture to surpass "Spider-Man's" record take of $114.8 million in 2002.

"X2" will benefit from a muscular marketing campaign, a loyal fan base and generally positive reviews.

Disney will serve the market for teenage girls with "The Lizzie McGuire Movie," starring Hilary Duff in a big screen adventure based on the character she plays in the Disney Channel original series.

Holdovers "Anger Management," "Holes" and "Identity" are expected to scoop up the major portion of whatever business is left over after moviegoers have decided on "X2" and "Lizzie Maguire."

"X2" will more or less own the market for action picture fans next weekend as well, before surrendering the No. 1 spot to "The Matrix Reloaded" two weeks from now.


CUSACKS GET OUT OF 'STEPFORD'

John and Joan Cusack have left the cast of "The Stepford Wives" for family reasons, according to a report in Daily Variety.

The paper cited sources close to the Cusacks who said they left the project to take care of a personal matter. The sources provided no further details.

Matthew Broderick is said to be in talks to replace John Cusack in the remake of the 1975 sci-fi horror-thriller, which is being done as a dark comedy by writer Paul Rudnick and director Frank Oz. Variety said Bette Midler is set to replace Joan Cusack.

Nicole Kidman leads a cast that also includes Broadway star Roger Bart ("The Producers"), country superstar Faith Hill and Oscar-winning actor Christopher Walken.

John Cusack was to have played Kidman's husband, who decides to get with the Stepford program of turning wives into "ideal" helpmates. Joan Cusack was to have played a friend who helps Kidman's character figure out what's going on.


JENNIFER GARNER'S NEXT

Jennifer Garner will replace Gwyneth Paltrow in the cast of "Happy Endings," according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The paper cited sources who said the Oscar-winning Paltrow ("Shakespeare in Love") had dropped out of the project to take time to grieve the death of her father. When writer-producer Bruce Paltrow died last October, Gwyneth Paltrow was in production on "Ted and Sylvia" -- an account of the relationship between poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

Lisa Kudrow and Ray Liotta are set to star in "Happy Endings" -- directed by Don Roos ("Bounce," "The Opposite of Sex") from his own screenplay.


DIXIE CHEERS

A capacity crowd in Greenville, S.C., cheered the Dixie Chicks Thursday in their first U.S. gig since singer Natalie Maines criticized President George W. Bush in March.

The country music trio had been on the defensive over Maines' remark to a London audience on March 10 that the Chicks were "ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."

Maines apologized, but the Chicks remained in hot water with some fans, radio station executives and political supporters of the president. After a brief slump, the group's record sales rebounded and the Chicks mounted a public relations campaign aimed at rehabilitating their image.

Some 15,000 fans showed up at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville Thursday night. During the show, Maines invited audience members to express themselves on the controversy.

"If you're here to boo, we welcome that," said Maines. "We're going to give you 15 seconds to do that."

The crowd cheered.

"I think it's a good idea if we start every single tour right here," Maines said.

The concert attracted a few protesters outside the hall. In Spartanburg, about 30 miles east of Greenville, the Marshall Tucker Band played for a capacity crowd at a concert organized by a talk radio host who was offended by Maines' remark in London.


TORONTO LOSES GERE-J.LO PROJECT TO SARS

Production of "Shall We Dance" is moving from Toronto to Winnipeg, in part because of concern over the severe acute respiratory syndrom, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

The project stars Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez in a remake of the 1997 romantic comedy from Japan about a man who signs up for ballroom dance lessons to escape his humdrum daily life.

A Miramax spokesman told the Times that Winnipeg's locations were more suitable for the project, with its story set in Chicago. A spokesman for Toronto told the paper it would be too bad if producers were moving the production to Winnipeg because of severe acute respiratory syndrome -- since the World Health Organization decided this week to lift an advisory urging travelers to avoid Toronto.

"If they've moved it because of SARS, that is very unfortunate and completely unnecessary," said Brad Ross. "If they've moved it for other reasons, we're sorry to see them go."

Producers of a TNT remake of Neil Simon's "The Goodbye Girl" said SARS was one reason for their decision last week to move the production from Toronto to Vancouver.

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