Just in time to relieve the annual January doldrums at the multiplex, along comes ''Along Came Polly.'' The heavily hyped comedy features Ben Stiller doing the romantic humiliation/gross-out gag thing that is his stock in trade (writer-director John Hamburg cowrote Stiller's ''Meet the Parents'' and ''Zoolander''), plus Jennifer Aniston, who broke the ''Friends'' box office jinx last year with ''Bruce Almighty.'' It's the only new comedy choice this weekend, and it's playing on 3,000 screens, so a $24 million opening wouldn't be out of order.
''Polly'' should leave in the dust its main rival, newcomer ''Torque.'' A motorcycle drama from ''The Fast and the Furious'' producer Neal Moritz's hotrods-and-hotpants assembly line, ''Torque'' has curiously downplayed the presence of its biggest star, Ice Cube, in its marketing. Still, it should fire on all cylinders for the young male audience that came to see ''Biker Boyz'' at this same time last year. Since it's opening much wider (2,500 screens), ''Torque'' should do even better than ''Boyz,'' racing to a $16 million opening weekend.
It'll be a close fight again this weekend between ''The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King'' and ''Big Fish,'' only they'll be fighting for third place instead of first. We'll give the edge to Aragorn, who has ruled over the box office for the past four weeks; modest declines for both films should result in ''Return'' ringing up $11 million in ticket sales and ''Fish'' netting $10.8 million.
This weekend's other wide release, the Disney Channel-spawned cartoon ''Teacher's Pet,'' isn't likely to crack the top five. Though it's opening on 2,000 screens, it has to share a family audience with the still-strong ''Cheaper by the Dozen.'' Steve Martin's comedy could lose 15 percent of last weekend's business and still finish at No. 5 with a $10 million take, while the little-hyped ''Pet'' will be lucky to earn $9 million.