BERLIN -- Marking the first major U.S. comedy of the year, the Melissa McCarthy-Jason Bateman starrer Identity Thief should have no trouble winning the weekend box-office race in North America, though Winter Storm Nemo could have the last laugh as it dings earnings.
Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects, starring Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum, also debuts nationwide Friday.
Opening in a limited engagement is the Chinese blockbuster Lost in Thailand, which has grossed nearly $200 million in China, second only to Avatar on the country's all-time box-office list. AMC Entertainment -- now owned by Chinese conglomerate Wanda -- will open the comedy in 29 theaters in select U.S. markets. Lost in Thailand often is compared to The Hangover Part II.
Hollywood will be paying keen attention to the potentially historic Winter Storm Nemo, which could see New England buried in 18 to 24 inches of snow. New York City, representing roughly 8 percent of U.S. box-office revenue, could see major accumulations as well.
Directed by Seth Gordon, Universal's Identity Thief marks McCarthy's first starring role since the breakout comedy hit Bridesmaids (likewise a Universal title). Box-office observers believe the film could match or top the $26 million opening of Bridesmaids, but the looming blizzard makes predictions difficult. (Universal is being more conservative in its estimate, saying $20 million-plus.)
Identity Thief stars Bateman as a man whose identity is stolen by a woman (McCarthy). Bateman originally pitched producer Scott Stuber on the idea of the two leading characters being men, but after seeing McCarthy in Bridesmaids, they adapted the role for her.
The comedy's supporting cast includes Amanda Peet, Jon Favreau and Tip "T.I." Harris. Elliot Inc. co-financed the $35 million film with Universal.
Overseas, Universal will open Identity Thief in Croatia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania and Taiwan this weekend.
Side Effects, distributed by Open Road Films, is expected gross in the $10 million to $12 million range. The psychological thriller is about the perils of anti-depressants and the pharmaceutical industry. Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones also star. Next week, the film -- which Soderbergh claims will be his last -- makes its international debut at the Berlin International Film Festival.