Universal Pictures will release a tamer version of its Sacha Baron Cohen comedy "Bruno" in Britain alongside the currently playing film in hopes of attracting a bigger audience that includes teens 15 and older.
When Universal releases the toned-down "Bruno" on July 24, it will be the first time two versions of the same movie will be shown concurrently in Britain, said David Kosse, president of Universal Pictures International.
To get a "15" certificate allowing teens 15 and older to see the movie, Universal had to cut and modify several sexually explicit scenes in "Bruno" that the British Board of Film Classification had deemed unacceptable for audiences under age 18. Unlike the Motion Picture Assn. of America's rating board, which is Hollywood's own self-governing advisory system, the British board is a government agency that legally imposes age restrictions on movies, DVDs, video games and other entertainment. (In contrast, the ratings system in the U.S. is voluntarily adopted by studios and theaters.)
The uncensored "Bruno," rated "18," debuted in Britain last weekend as the top-grossing movie with $8.1 million in ticket sales. But its opening was 8% below Baron Cohen's earlier comedy "Borat," which was rated "15."
"Bruno," in which Baron Cohen stars as a flamboyantly gay Austrian fashion TV host obsessed with becoming a huge celebrity, contains more frontal nudity and graphic sexual content than "Borat."
The most substantial cut that Universal made involves a scene in which Bruno pretends to have sex with a dead man he's contacted through a medium. Kosse said "a lot of the scene" had been edited out.
The two other scenes that were "reduced" included an exaggerated sex act between Bruno and his boyfriend in a hotel room and couples having sex at a swingers party. The cuts removed about one minute and 50 seconds of the film.
Kosse said Universal originally had hoped to get a "15" for "Bruno" but was told major cuts would have to be made to earn that designation, which the studio declined to do.
"Over the past couple of weeks we got a lot of feedback from exhibitors and fans on Facebook," said Kosse, about the rating being too restrictive. "So we investigated what it would take to get a 15."
Kosse said after the movie opened that hundreds of people under 18 were turned away at theaters across Britain.
"We saw an opportunity to service the audience . . . and it should also help with the gross," he said.
Universal does not plan to make similar cuts for other overseas markets where the studio has the film in release, including Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, said Kosse, because "we have significantly lower ratings everywhere else."
In the U.S. and Canada, where the film carries an R rating, "Bruno" had a very respectable debut last weekend with $30.6 million. Although the picture sold $14.4 million worth of tickets Friday, business fell nearly 40% on Saturday, to $8.8 million, on bad word of mouth. That doesn't bode well for its prospects of becoming a hit like "Borat," which grossed $128.5 million domestically and $133.1 million overseas.