'Bruno' a hit Down Under

Sacha Baron Cohen comedy debuts to $1.4 mil

"Bruno" has bowed in high style Down Under.

Sacha Baron Cohen's R-rated comedy about a fictional gay fashionista from Austria already has Australia in a tizzy. Universal opened "Bruno" in 213 theaters in Australia on Wednesday to take advantage of limited school holidays there and rang up AUS$1.7 million ($1.4 million).

That's the third-highest tally ever for a comedy release in the market, after 2004's "Meet the Fockers" and last year's "Sex and the City." "Bruno"carries a less-restrictive MA rating in Australia, meaning teens 15 and older can see the pic without an adult in tow.

Back in November 2006, Uni paid pic producer Media Rights Capital $42.5 million and also agreed to some backend commitments to acquire domestic rights to "Bruno," along with international distribution in eight territories. Fox -- which had just opened Baron Cohen's "Borat" successfully and went on to register $262 million in worldwide boxoffice on that film -- passed on the "Bruno" rights, saying the asking price was too rich.

Like the faux Kazakhstan journo in "Borat," the Bruno character is based on a sketch-comedy persona that Baron Cohen developed for television. His successful pitch to Uni was based on a story treatment developed around the Bruno character.

Uni execs figure a domestic bow of even $20 million or more will guarantee "Bruno" a profitable theatrical run. But prerelease tracking is solid, and the pic should open significantly higher than that.

Baron Cohen's first film -- 2002's "Ali G Indahouse" -- was also based on a sketch character, a white rapper from suburban London he called Ali G.