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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - George Clooney's screwball comedy "Leatherheads" failed to open in the top spot at the weekend box office in North America, coming in at No. 2 behind reigning champ "21," according to preliminary data issued on Saturday.
"Leatherheads" sold $4.54 million worth of tickets during its first day in theaters on Friday, distributor Universal Pictures said. The General Electric Co-owned studio forecast a three-day haul of $13.845 million.
Box office pundits had expected a No. 1 opening, with sales in the mid- to high-teen millions for the Friday-to-Sunday period.
The gambling drama "21" earned $5.1 million on Friday, and should pull in about $15 million for the weekend, said Sony Corp-owned distributor Columbia Pictures. Updated estimates will be issued on Sunday, followed by final data on Monday.
Clooney, 46, directed and stars in "Leatherheads," a farce set in the early days of American professional football. He claims he also rewrote much of the script. But his request for credit was denied by the Writers Guild of America, and Clooney resigned as a voting member in protest.
Critics have savaged the film, particularly the script. According to Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com), a Web site that aggregates reviews, only 36 percent of top critics liked the film.
Universal said "Leatherheads" cost about $58 million to make. Renee Zellweger and John Krasinski also star.
Despite his fame and fortune, Clooney is a risky box office bet. Recent films such as "Michael Clayton," "The Good German," "Intolerable Cruelty" and "Solaris" failed to find a wide audience.
Clooney's biggest success was with the 2001 caper "Ocean's Eleven" and its two sequels, in which he co-starred with heavyweights like Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Julia Roberts.
"Leatherheads" marks his first mainstream film as a director. His previous efforts were 2002's "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" and 2005's "Good Night, and Good Luck," which critics adored and art-house audiences appreciated.
Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Xavier Briand