Eric D. Snider tried his best to trick me into watching Beverly Hills Chihuahua this week. It didn't work on me, but it worked on millions of Snider acolytes all over North America, who joined forces to give the talking-animals kidflick a strong $29 million, first-place debut. I didn't see it, as I say, so it would be wrong for me to bemoan the decline of civilization that this surely (if unsurprisingly) represents. Feel free to do so in the comments.

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist opened to $12 million and third place, which I'd have to say is okay for the low-profile, borderline-niche film. That number, though not terribly impressive, is actually a fair testament to Michael Cera's star power, since his presence was literally the only mass-marketable aspect of the movie. So the debut is at least a draw for Sony.

It was an interesting weekend in that there were several films opening in, or expanding into, semi-wide release. The biggest winner of that bunch has to be Religulous, Bill Maher's aggressively anti-faith documentary, which did $3.5 million on around 500 screens for $6,972 per screen. Given the preaching-to-the-relatively-small-choir quality of the film, I don't expect it to hold up too well in the weeks ahead, but this level of interest is a mild surprise. Facing off against Religulous ideologically was David Zucker's conservative spoof An American Carol which, according to the estimates, edged out Religulous with $3.8 million on over 1,600 screens.

Ed Harris's lightweight western Appaloosa expanded to roughly 1,000 screens and took in $5 million -- which is okay, but seems like a missed opportunity. Faring worse were Flash of Genius (1100 screens) and Blindness (1700), with $2.3 and $2 million respectively, both landing outside the top 10. The grim Blindness was a no-sale from the beginning, especially since the critics never got on board, but the unabashedly populist Flash of Genius underperformed. Maybe the ads emphasized windshield wipers too much.

A bit more plus the weekend's top 12 after the jump. And, proving once again that Simon Pegg is not yet an American draw, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People flopped big time, barely squeaking into the top 20 with $1.4 million on 1,750 screens. Whoops. It opened in the UK this weekend as well; no foreign numbers yet, but hopefully it did better there.

Among holdovers, Eagle Eye, Lakeview Terrace and Burn After Reading are all holding up nicely, with Terrace putting up Neil LaBute's best numbers, and Burn After Reading topping everything but No Country for Old Men for the Coens. The Nicholas Sparks weeper Nights in Rodanthe, by contrast, is fading faster.

Here are the weekend estimates, courtesy of Box Office Mojo:

1 - Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Disney) - $29.00 ($9,020) - $29.00
2 - Eagle Eye (Dreamworks/Paramount) - $17.70 ($5,034) - $54.60
3 - Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (Sony) - $12.00 ($4,957) - $12.00
4 - Nights in Rodanthe (Warner Bros.) - $7.36 ($2,722) - $25.08
5 - Appaloosa (New Line) - $5.02 ($4,799) - $5.57
6 - Lakeview Terrace (Screen Gems) - $4.50 ($1,748) - $32.14
7 - Burn After Reading (Focus) - $4.08 ($1,703) - $51.64
8 - Fireproof (Samuel Goldwyn) - $4.07 ($4,776) - $12.49
9 - An American Carol (Vivendi) - $3.81 ($2,325) - $3.81
10 - Religulous (Lionsgate) - $3.50 ($6,972) - $3.52
11 - Flash of Genius (Universal) - $2.33 ($2,120) - $2.33
12 - Blindness (Miramax) - $2.00 ($1,185) - $2.00

Next weekend, the Scott/DiCaprio/Crowe espionage thriller Body of Lies should generate enough interest to win out. It opens against one of my most eagerly awaited films of the fall: City of Ember, Gil Kenan's follow-up to Monster House. Also opening: the surprisingly good The Express and Screen Gems' horror offering Quarantine.