A studio’s weekend projection says that by Sunday night Anton Corbijn‘s quiet, meditative and art-housey The American will triumph (very slightly) over Robert Rodriguez and Ethan ManiquisMachete, a “funny” cheeseballer about blood, babes and Tex-Mex immigration politics. The George Clooney assassin-in-Italy drama will end up with $15 to $16 million, it says here, and the Danny Trejo taco-stud comedy will end up with $14 to $15 million.

I wasn’t expecting this. I thought Average Joes would run in the opposite direction from an austere Antonioni-ish minimal-action flick and flock instead to a lowbrow entertainment with a Grindhouse attitude. Instead they evenly split. My guess is that audiences thought twice about a movie starring a 67 year-old bulldog-faced Latino and figured that hanging with Clooney, even if he spends the whole movie looking like his pet pig has just been run over by a truck, might be slightly more appealing.

How else to explain it? Is it that a sizable bloc just doesn’t feel that enthused about wink-wink Rodriguez schlock? Is it…what, that Trejo has much thicker arms and bigger man-breasts than Clooney, and people are a tad uncomfortable with blatant Hispanic machismo? Did audiences just look at that orange American poster and go “Clooney, gun, cool, let’s go” without reading a single description? Or did all the glowing American reviews have an effect? I’m asking.

The third place Takers, down 59%, will end up with $14 to $15 million also. The Last Exorcism, down 76%, will come in fourth with $8.7 to $9.2 million. Going the Distance will finish with $8.5 to $9 million and a fifth=place ranking. The bottom five will be The Expendables, The Other Guys, Eat Pray Love, Inception and Nanny McPhee.