Would anyone besides myself be pleasantly startled if Paramount Classics’ Hustle & Flow out-performs Michael Bay’s The Island (DreamWorks) and Richard Linklater’s The Bad News Bears when all three open the weekend after next? Not a higher national gross but a much higher per-screen average, I mean. I’m not saying the Bay or the Linklater film won’t be #1 (either one could surge over the next eleven days), but the statistical fact is that The Island didn’t get that much of a benefit out of last Saturday’s nationwide sneak (60% general awarness, 25% definite interest and 2% first choice as of Sunday, 7.10). On top of this I’ve been detecting flat vibes during the showings of the Island trailer in theatres. Hustle & Flow, on the other hand, had a 44% awareness, 35% definite interest and 5% first choice last weekend — extremely decent numbers for an indie-type Sundance movie (even though Flow is actually quite the formumlaic crowd-pleaser) at this stage of the game. It’s also tracking extremely well among African-Americans. The Bad News Bears (Paramount), which still looks like to me like Bad Santa on a baseball diamond, has a huge general awareness rating (76%) but had only gathered a 20% definite interest and 2% first choice as of Sunday. Not awful but not that stupendous either. It’s always the definite interest and first-choice numbers that tell you what’s happening, and so far Hustle & Flow has the headwind….AND it’ll be sneaking nationwide this coming Saturday (7.16). I’m told Paramount is leaning toward booking it in somewhere between 900 and 1300 theatres for the 7.22 opening, and probably with a concentration on black neighborhoods. Assuming interest in this film will break down along racial lines seems short-sighted and even crass, given that Hustle & Flow strikes such a common and universal chord.