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WORD OF MOUTH

2 new films go for the crossover votes

February 07, 2008|John Horn | Times Staff Writer

Washington and Hollywood share some obvious habits, including people who will say anything ("Jim Carrey couldn't have been easier to work with!") to get ahead. When it comes to elections and the box office, the two towns exhibit something else in common: attracting crossover supporters.

Just as Sen. John McCain is wooing independents and Sen. Barack Obama is courting women, the two new movies in wide release this weekend hope to capture a segment of moviegoers outside the typical target audience. With "Fool's Gold," Warner Bros. is trying to draw a sizable number of men into its romantic action comedy, while Universal will see if non-African American ticket buyers have any interest in Martin Lawrence's "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins."

Both films are poised to battle closely for first place over the weekend. Prognosticators are divided over who will prevail -- although most favor "Fool's Gold" -- and some suspect that "Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert" somehow could finish in second place in its second (and likely not last) weekend of limited release.

While women typically account for 60% -- and sometimes as much as 80% -- of the ticket buyers for pure romantic comedies, "Fool's Gold" is showing almost equal interest from men and women, especially among those older than 25, according to audience tracking surveys. While early previews of the film focused on its opposites-attract love story between Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson (the two had a successful pairing in 2003's "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days"), the most recent "Fool's Gold" commercials have stressed the film's action elements.

"I had always wanted to make a 'Romancing the Stone' kind of movie," says Andy Tennant, the film's director and co-writer, who remembers being struck by the previews of the 1984 Michael Douglas hit. "The fact that it was a comedy with all of that action was really surprising to me."

"Romancing the Stone" wasn't the only comedy-action film from the era that Tennant recalls loving. He says he was also a fan of "Silver Streak" and "Outrageous Fortune." But as the years went by, Tennant says, that hybrid became the conceit of a different genre. "The adventure comedy had been taken over by animation -- by 'Shrek' and 'Finding Nemo,' " he says.

In revising the "Fool's Gold" screenplay and filming the movie, Tennant punched up the film's treasure-hunting rivalries and its climactic chase and rescue, and added exposition and historical research to make the search for a galleon's hidden loot play more like "National Treasure."

"I don't see the movie as a romantic comedy," Tennant says. "I see it as a comedy adventure. The deliberate choice is that it's something you haven't seen in a while."

It wasn't always sold that way. Hoping to secure female ticket buyers first, Warner Bros. initially pushed the Hudson-McConaughey romance. The studio also played down the sexiest man in the galaxy's bongo-banging allure; even though McConaughey hardly ever wears a shirt in the movie, the film's poster shows him fully clothed and Hudson nearly naked in a tiny bikini.

As the director of Will Smith's smash hit comedy "Hitch," Tennant knows how critical it is to cast as wide a net as possible. When spots were being cut to promote that film, it was essential they showcased as much comedy as romance; without the laughs, men will steer clear. "The trailer had to be funny," Tennant says, "because men don't historically go to romantic comedies."

Universal's "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins," a comedy about a talk show host (Lawrence) attending a disastrous family reunion, carries strong awareness and broad interest among African American moviegoers. Unlike "Fool's Gold," the movie is being sold as a pure comedy; Universal's research screenings show the film plays incredibly well, so the film could actually hang around for more than a few weekends. Lawrence's movies -- especially the "Big Momma's House" movies, when he's in drag -- also tend to open well, with even a poorly reviewed dog like "National Security" taking in $14.4 million in its first weekend five years ago.

In booking "Roscoe Jenkins," Universal has placed the film into some local theaters that usually draw racially diverse ticket buyers. So if the studio sees that proceeds from multiplexes such as the Bridge Cinema de Lux and United Artists Marina del Rey are especially strong, Universal will tailor its advertising campaign and target white audiences.

After its robust $31.1-million opening last weekend, "Hannah Montana" performed remarkably well during the week, when its core audience of 6- to 16-year-old girls theoretically is either in school, doing homework or going to bed. On Monday, it was the No. 1 film, with $3.3 million in ticket sales, and it finished first again Tuesday with $2.9 million. If it drops only 40% from last weekend, "Hannah Montana" could gross as much as $18 million this weekend.

That might be enough to challenge for first place, but Warner Bros. has spent heavily on "Fool's Gold," and that should be enough to bring in about $23 million for its first three days. "Roscoe Jenkins" should be second with about $19 million, with "Hannah Montana" a close third.

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john.horn@latimes.com

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