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'Get Smart' may outwit 'Love Guru'

The spy send-up is expected to draw a wider audience and top weekend sales.

June 20, 2008|Josh Friedman | Times Staff Writer

The clash of the comedies is at hand, and it looks like Warner Bros. will get the last laugh.

The studio's spy send-up "Get Smart," starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway in an update of the classic 1960s TV show, is expected to top this weekend's box-office results with $35 million or more in ticket sales.

The other major film opening nationwide today, Paramount Pictures' goofball comedy "The Love Guru," starring Mike Myers, will haul in only about half as much business, if moviegoer tracking surveys are an accurate guide. That's a big if, considering the magnitude of box-office surprises this summer -- from hits such as "Sex and the City" and "Iron Man" to worse-than-expected flops such as "Speed Racer."

Warner Bros., which co-produced "Get Smart" with Village Roadshow Pictures at an estimated budget of $82 million, and producer Charles Roven acknowledge that the two star-driven, PG-13-rated comedies could split the audience this weekend, especially younger males.

"The law would say they're going to take a piece of each other," Roven said. But, he added, "The good news about the summer is that the marketplace has been expanding, and hopefully it will again."

Last weekend, the superhero spectacle "The Incredible Hulk" and the horror mystery "The Happening" opened to solid business. Domestic box-office revenue for the summer season, which in Hollywood starts in early May, is running 5% ahead of last year's record pace thanks to three straight weeks of robust ticket sales.

Warner Bros. -- which says it claimed the release date first, back in February 2007 -- believes its film appeals to a wider crowd than "The Love Guru," including families and action fans. Myers' spoof of self-help spiritual guides is aimed squarely at young male fans of the star's funky, saucy -- some (OK, most) would say juvenile -- brand of humor.

Warner tried to be inventive in its ad campaign "to break through the cluttered market," said Sue Kroll, the studio's president of worldwide marketing. "That's always important, but even more so because we have direct competition."

Carell did basketball-themed TV commercials for the film that aired during the NBA Finals, lending "Get Smart" the heft of an event, Kroll said. Ads showcasing Hathaway's karate prowess as Agent 99 have been airing on female-skewing programs such as "Gossip Girl." Other spots show off co-star Dwayne Johnson, the eyebrow-arching artist formerly known as The Rock, as debonair Agent 23.

Posters and billboards feature the partially obscured faces of the main players, including Alan Arkin as The Chief, which Kroll called "a twist on the star sell, a wink to what the film is about."

In a promotional partnership with PepsiCo, Sierra Mist came out with a line of clear drinks called Undercover Orange.

Many critics have dismissed the picture as overblown and lacking the clever sass of the Mel Brooks-Buck Henry sitcom, which starred Don Adams as wisecracking agent Maxwell Smart, but the mix of action and comedy has been a selling point for Warner Bros. A new, action-heavy trailer targeting young males screened in front of Adam Sandler's "You Don't Mess With the Zohan."

"The Love Guru," produced for about $60 million, is tracking on par with "Get Smart" among males under 25 in this week's moviegoer polls, although it lags badly among other demographic groups.

If young fans show up in force despite the film's dismal reviews -- even the publicist-friendly website Ain't It Cool News calls it "astonishingly rancid," and that ain't cool, man -- the weekend box-office race could be tighter than expected.

Paramount has advertised on networks such as MTV, Spike and BET that are popular with the film's core audience of 12- to 20-year-olds. Myers promoted the picture on the season finale of "American Idol" and as host of the MTV Movie Awards, a.k.a. the Viacom Inc. Synergy Fest. And hot-looking cast members Jessica Alba, Justin Timberlake and Meagan Good could attract young ticket buyers.

The studio is downplaying sporadic criticism from those who say the movie denigrates not only Hindus, but also members of other faiths, by mocking the guru-disciple tradition.

The filmmakers could be condemned to the second rung of hell for 1,000 years, while even those who watch the movie risk 100 years in the "nether region" of Bhuvaloka, warned Sean Clarke, president of the Spiritual Science Research Foundation.

"What goes around comes around," he said in an interview from India. Clarke acknowledged that he hadn't seen the film but said he caught the trailer online, "which didn't leave anything to the imagination."



Weekend Forecast

Two new comedies, "Get Smart" and "The Love Guru," will compete at the box office this weekend. These figures are The Times' predictions. Studios will release weekend estimates Sunday and final results Monday.

*--* -- Movie 3-day prediction Through the Weeks -- (studio) (millions) weekend

1 Get Smart (Warner Bros.) $36.0 $36.0 1

2 The Incredible Hulk 26.1 101.3 2 (Universal)

3 Kung Fu Panda (Paramount) 21.9 155.9 3

4 The Love Guru (Paramount) 20.0 20.0 1

5 The Happening (20th Century 11.8 52.3 2 Fox)

6 You Don't Mess With the 8.5 85.5 3 Zohan (Sony)

7 Indiana Jones and the 8.5 290.9 5 Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount)

8 Sex and the City (Warner 5.2 131.2 4 Bros.)

9 Iron Man (Paramount) 3.8 304.6 8

10 The Strangers (Universal) 2.0 49.6 4 *--*

Source: Times research

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