Kevin Hart and Ice Cube could book a victory at movie theaters this weekend as their new buddy cop comedy "Ride Along" takes aim at last week's victor "Lone Survivor" and the new contender "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit."  

The $25-million "Ride Along," from Universal Pictures, marks the first leading role for comedian Hart, who plays a video game-obsessed security guard trying to impress his girlfriend's brother, a rule-bending Atlanta detective played by Cube.

The new movie could gross $38 million to $40 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada through Monday, likely making it the No. 1 film over the four-day Martin Luther King Day weekend, according to those who have seen pre-release audience surveys.

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Universal is projecting a more conservative, but still strong, $30 million. That would put "Ride Along" on par with the studio's two most recent Martin Luther King Day weekend debuts, last year's "Mama" and 2012's "Contraband."   

"Ride Along" is the latest movie from director Tim Story, whose previous effort, the 2012 comedy "Think Like a Man," also featured Hart and grossed $91.5 million over its domestic life span. 

Hart displayed his considerable draw with the stand-up comedy concert film "Let Me Explain," which grossed more than $32 million this summer, a strong result for the genre. "Ride Along" should do especially well with African American moviegoers, though it is expected to have appeal beyond that demographic. 

Universal's "Lone Survivor," which posted a wide opening gross of $37.8 million last weekend, will probably take second place. 

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Paramount Pictures is releasing "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit," which could bring in $18 million from the four-day weekend. Co-financed by Paramount and Skydance, it cost $60 million to make. Chris Pine stars as Jack Ryan, the character created by the late author Tom Clancy, after helping to reboot the "Star Trek" franchise in the role of James T. Kirk.  

It's the first movie with the character of Ryan since 2002's "Sum of All Fears," starring Ben Affleck. Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford have also played the Clancy hero in early movie versions. 

In "Shadow Recruit," directed by Kenneth Branagh, the Ryan character graduates from CIA analyst to full-on agent in the face of a terrorist threat. It also stars Keira KnightleyKevin Costner and Branagh.

"The Nut Job," a 3-D animated heist comedy distributed in the U.S. by Open Road Films, could gross about $12 million through Monday. The production from Gulfstream Pictures, Red Rover International and ToonBox Entertainment cost roughly $30 million to make, factoring in tax credits. 

Featuring the voices of celebrities including Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Gabriel Iglesias, Liam Neeson and Katherine Heigl, "The Nut Job" still faces competition from Disney's Hans Christian Andersen-inspired musical "Frozen," which has boasted a stellar run and generated nearly $15 million last weekend for a cumulative domestic total of nearly $320 million as of Wednesday.

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Also launching this weekend is "Devil's Due," 20th Century Fox's low-budget screamer about a newlywed couple whose unexpected pregnancy turns out to have evil origins. The $7-million horror film is likely to gross $7 million to $10 million through Monday. 

The Academy Award nominations Thursday could boost some films currently in wide release, including "American Hustle" and "The Wolf of Wall Street," as well as some nominees in limited release, such as "Philomena" and "Dallas Buyers Club." Several best picture contenders, including "12 Years a Slave" and "Gravity," are being re-released across the nation to capitalize on the awards buzz. 

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ryan.faughnder@latimes.com