Josh Wolk
October 04, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Was ”Three Kings” too smart for the room? Its heartthrob stars (George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg) and phenomenal reviews weren’t enough to knock ”Double Jeopardy” out of the top spot this weekend. The Ashley Judd/Tommy Lee Jones thriller stayed at No. 1 for the second week in a row with $17 million, while Clooney and clan had to make do with a close second and $15.8 million.

A Warner Bros. rep told Reuters that while ”Kings” did well in major cities with audiences swayed by critics, the ad campaign — which touched on the moral aspect of Desert Storm — might have put off others by making the movie seem too highbrow. Warner is now trying to bridge that gulf by retooling its marketing — so expect new ads which stress the action and comedy and downplay all that pesky thinking.

The prospect of using their brains didn’t stop audiences from flocking to the complex drama ”American Beauty,” which landed in third place with $8.2 million. (”Beauty” is currently playing on just 706 screens, compared to the other films in the top 5, which are all on more than 2,700.) ”Blue Streak” with $8 million and ”The Sixth Sense” with $7 million followed ”Beauty” on the list. But none of this weekend’s other new releases caused moviegoers to use their minds OR their wallets: The teen comedy ”Drive Me Crazy” opened in sixth with $6.8 million, ”Elmo in Grouchland” took eighth with $3.3 million, and ”Mystery, Alaska” weakly skated into ninth with $3.1 million. Talk about bad puck.

CRITICAL MASS ”Three Kings” was a hit with EW readers, who gave it a B+ in Critical Mass Online. Obviously they heard the critics, because 33 percent said it was the reviews that made them see it, and only 12 percent said they went because of George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg. Compare that to ”Double Jeopardy” (B-), which only 1 percent said they saw because of reviews, while 43 percent went for the Judd/Jones matchup.

If ”Kings” viewers start spreading the word, the film could have a longer life at the box office: 76 percent said they’d definitely recommend it to others, compared to just 38 percent who said the same about ”Jeopardy.” But word of mouth can only get you so far. After all, 67 percent said they’d urge their friends to see ”Mystery, Alaska” (B+), but by the time those pals get there, that movie may have fallen through its thin ice. You can vote for these and other current movies at Critical Mass Online.

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