Friday, April 25, 2008

'Baby Mama' is hoping to deliver this weekend

It carries an edge as it competes with 'Sarah Marshall' and 'Harold & Kumar.'

By Josh Friedman, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer April 25, 2008

The folks behind Universal Pictures' new comedy "Baby Mama" must feel a bit like the guy in that old pop song: "Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right.

"The female buddy movie starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, opening today on the final weekend before the summer movie season, had been scheduled to come out a week ago. But when Universal shuffled its slate, shifting "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" out of the comedy-loaded summer line-up and into the April 18 slot, it also pushed "Baby Mama" back a week to today.

So "Baby Mama" will vie for comedy fans not only against "Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay" -- the stoner romp from New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. that figures to be its rival for the No. 1 spot at the box office -- but also against "Sarah Marshall," which skewed female in its opening weekend.

Consumer tracking gives the PG-13-rated "Baby Mama" a slim edge over the R-rated "Harold & Kumar," a sequel to the 2004 cult favorite "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle," so it could top the charts with an opening in the $15-million to $18-million range.

One thing is certain: Considering its target audience, "Harold" figures to attract the longest lines at the concession stands.

Twentieth Century Fox's "Deception" -- which only sounds like a Michael Douglas-Sean Young thriller you might have seen on an airplane in the 1980s -- also opens nationwide, but it looks headed for a mere $5 million or less this weekend.

Universal executives, who moved "Sarah Marshall" up from its May 30 release date partly to get away from the heavily female "Sex and the City" and also to avoid a pileup of films from prolific producer Judd Apatow, say the jostling will have a "negligible" effect on the box-office results this weekend for both of its comedies.

"Baby Mama," which cost about $30 million to produce, is less racy than "Sarah Marshall," they note, and different enough from the male-oriented "Harold & Kumar" that both new films can find their audiences.

"Baby Mama," an odd-couple tale about a successful, infertile businesswoman who hires a flaky working-class gal to be her unlikely surrogate, is the strong first choice for this weekend among females, especially those under 25, according to tracking polls.

"Harold," which reunites John Cho and Kal Penn as the pot-smoking pals with a knack for finding trouble, is tracking well among males under 25, especially teenagers, but its restrictive rating could hurt.

Even so, "Harold" needed to retain its R-rated edge to satisfy fans of the franchise, and it looks like a solid bet to turn a profit. Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, screenwriters of the original, wrote and directed this one.

The low-budget original grossed only $18.3 million domestically during its full theatrical run, but performed like a mini-Austin Powers movie on DVD, racking up more than $30 million in sales.

The sequel, produced for $12 million, has a chance to zoom past the original at the box office in a single weekend, said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Warner. The studio handles New Line's releases under the recent consolidation by corporate parent Time Warner Inc.

Fellman said he couldn't recall a movie that did as little box office as the first "Harold & Kumar" yielding a follow-up. But because of the franchise's higher profile now, he said the new one would flourish.

"I don't think this is our Academy Awards run for the year," Fellman said, "but these guys have made a funny movie along the lines of 'Superbad.' "

"Deception," an erotic blackmail drama starring Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams, could crack this weekend's top five -- but only because the overall market remains slow.

Moviegoers and theater owners are eagerly awaiting next week's summer kickoff. Paramount Pictures' "Iron Man" will benefit from pent-up demand for popcorn escapism: Early tracking and positive buzz point to an opening of at least $60 million.

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