'Bruno' set for fabulous boxoffice

Comedies compete with holdovers for weekend crown

LOL!

Moviegoers are being offered lots of laughs at domestic multiplexes this weekend, with a pair of comedies targeting distinct audiences unspooling wide Friday.

Universal opens Sacha Baron Cohen's R-rated "Bruno," and execs should be high-fiving each other after a solid first frame likely to produce $30 million-plus through Sunday. Fox, which passed on releasing "Bruno" over cost concerns despite success with 2006's "Borat," debuts the Chris Columbus-directed high school comedy "I Love You, Beth Cooper."

But Fox's prospects for a lucrative session reside more with the sophomore session of its 3D animated threequel "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs." Even a 60% drop from its first weekend would produce a nifty $20 million or so this frame.

"I expect to have a very solid second session this weekend," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said.

Paramount's action sequel "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" should enjoy a third successful weekend after narrowly repeating atop the boxoffice last session.

The Shia LaBeouf-Megan Fox starrer is already well north of $300 million domestically. But no pure action movie hits the theaters until Par debuts "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" on Aug. 7, so the Michael Bay blockbuster should continue to party hardy at the boxoffice.

Set to unspool Wednesday, Warners' "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" will take a bite out of "Transformers" grosses during its first session. But the PG-rated action fantasy will compete more directly with the "Ice Age."

"Bruno" has drawn mostly favorable early reviews, yet buzz on the pic seems a less fervid than with "Borat" despite tireless promo stumping by Baron Cohen. A big bow seems assured, but it will be closely watched afterward for signs of the sturdy gams displayed by $129 million domestic grosser "Borat."

Uni paid producer Media Rights Capital $42.5 million to acquire "Bruno" in November 2006 and bears some backend commitments on the film. "Bruno" is tracking best with young males but also garnering good female interest, and pic awareness is high among all demos.

But the studio won't be looking for huge grosses from conservative markets in the Midwest and South in light of the movie's crude comic themes. Its relatively light distribution in 2,757 North American venues reflects that constricted appeal.

Some have suggested that the humor in "Bruno," in which Baron Cohen impersonates a gay Austrian fashionista, is a tad more mean-spirited than his antics in "Borat." But his new pic's political incorrectness seems well-suited for generating reams of free publicity before, during and after its opening weekend.

The film already has debuted with solid grosses in Australia, where it got a two-day jump on the domestic opening and bows in Uni's seven other international "Bruno" territories.

Looking to rally from a sluggish start to its summer, Uni also will be looking for a good soph session from its Johnny Depp starrer "Public Enemies." A 50% hold would see the period mob pic grab more than $12 million on the frame.

Rated PG-13, "Beth Cooper" targets younger females. But tracking has been soft, so even double-digit millions could prove elusive in its opening weekend.

The pic's titular role is played by Hayden Panettiere of NBC's "Heroes." Relative newcomer Paul Rust ("Semi-Pro") co-stars.

In a limited bow this weekend, Sony Pictures Classics unspools music doc "Soul Power" in six locations in New York and Los Angeles. SPC will expand its sci-fi thriller "Moon" by 199 playdates for a total 246, and Summit Entertainment broadens its Katherine Bigelow's Iraq War drama "The Hurt Locker" from nine theaters to 59 in 17 U.S. markets.
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