SUNDAY AM: So the long holiday weekend for Martin Luther King looks to be record breaking at the box office with the overall domestic grosses up 29% over last year’s. And one reason for that was the unexpected success of the mindless comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop starring TV funnyman Kevin James and produced by Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production company for Columbia/Sony Pictures. It’s rare in today’s over-analyzed Hollywood that seasoned movie analysts get the numbers wrong. But no one anticipated the overperformance of this stupid laffer — not even the studio, according to my insiders. Mall Cop‘s $33.8 million three-day opening from 3,144 theaters — going up a big 35% from Friday to Saturday which almost never happens except for toons — shattered Sony’s pre-release expectations as did its estimated $40-plus haul during the four-day holiday, which is looking to be at least $15M more than what the studio projected. Consider also that the PG pic cost a modest $26M to produce, which gives Sony considerable upside. Insiders say one reason for the success is that Kevin James promoted the heck out of the film across the country because it was the first time the Sony-produced King Of Queens TV star previously known as a reliable sidekick to Will Smith and Adam Sandler was top-lining a film. Opening weekend audience demos were split evenly between male and female, and 56%/44% were under/over age 25. All I can conclude is that no one in Hollywood ever went broke underestimating the taste of North American moviegoers. And if the public wants better-quality films, then perhaps they shouldn’t keep buying tickets for moronic movies.

Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-buzzed Gran Torino for Warner Bros continues to surprise, coming in No. 2 from 2,972 runs with only a 25% decline from going wide last weekend. It continues doing very well in so-called blue collar areas like the Rust Belt and other parts of the Midwest as well as in the South.

Fox Searchlight’s biopic Notorious based on B.I.G.’s bigger-than-life narratives did huge business in just 1,638 venues on Friday and was actually No. 1 after the matinees before flattening out for the rest of the weekend and probably holding onto #3 for the 40-day MLK holiday (though it’s No. 4 for the 3-day weekend). Marketing for the pic was major in urban areas, with ads covering two NYC subway stations and giant banners draped across no less than Madison Square Garden, while ticketbuyers on Fandango.com received free limited-edition Notorious T-shirt and iPhone skin. The pic ended with the best per-screen average — $13,126 — of all this weekend’s 30-plus movies.

>3-D is here to stay and it continues to thrive in the marketplace. Lionsgate’s My Bloody Valentine 3D did much better than the usual R-rated horror film (whose box office numbers have been waning of late because of the trend towards less gory PG-13 product in this genre) because it had the widest 3-D release yet. Even exhibitors when they first saw it were impressed with how creepy stuff like eyeballs seemed to come right out at the audience. (Ugh.) Audiences thronged the 1,033 locations with 3-D and even the 1,501 conventional plays. But I’m not sure that Lionsgate’s very aggressive Sunday estimate for Valentine of $5.9M will pan out vs Fox Searchlight’s $5.5M when the 3-day actuals are totalled. It’s because of that some are putting Valentine #3 and Notorious #4. We’ll see.

Paramount made Hotel For Dogs for the equivalent of a few dog biscuits, sent it into 3,271 dates, and targeted it to families and kids under 12. But it’s one of the films that the new DreamWorks left behind so now it’s a Nickelodeon Movie at the studio. Because the pup pic played so young, its grosses were nowhere near the humongous recent openings of other canine starrers like Beverly Hills Chihuahua or Marley And Me.

1. Paul Blart: Mall Cop (Sony) $9.8M Friday, $13.2M Saturday, $33.8M wkd, est $40+M four-day MLK
2. Gran Torino (Warner Bros) $6.3M Fri, $10M Sat, $24M wkd, est $27M four-day MLK, cume $77M
3. Notorious (Fox Searchlight) $8.3M Fri, $7.5M Sat, $21.5M wkd (?), est $24M (?) four-day MLK
4. My Boody Valentine 3-D (Lionsgate) $8.2M Fri, $7.6M Sat, $21.9M wkd (?), $24M (?) four-day MLK
5. Hotel For Dogs (Paramount) $4.3M Fri, $7.3M Sat, $17.7M wkd, $23M four-day MLK