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Universal Pictures plans a summer without sequels

The movie studio's move runs counter to conventional industry wisdom, which dictates that youth-dominated summer audiences often embrace familiar popcorn fare more readily than untested concepts.

June 05, 2009|Claudia Eller

While fans know exactly what to expect from Baron Cohen and his films, it's unclear how those who normally flock to writer-director Judd Apatow's R-rated comedies, including "Knocked Up" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," will respond to the more serious "Funny People," a comedy starring Adam Sandler as a famous stand-up comic who struggles with a near-death experience.

Given that "Funny People" cost $70 million to produce, Universal is keeping its fingers crossed that Apatow's and Sandler's fans will get on board despite the existential crisis plot. When Sandler stepped out of straight-up comedy roles in "Spanglish" and "Punch-Drunk Love," the box-office results were disastrous.

Langley says "Funny People," set for a July 31 release, is a hybrid of comedy and drama that doesn't forsake Apatow's core brand of ribald humor, adding that "it plays like gangbusters" with test audiences.

Meanwhile, it's unknown how well Universal's gangster picture "Public Enemies" -- debuting July 1 -- will do. Directed by Michael Mann and starring Johnny Depp as 1930s gangster John Dillinger, the thriller could be a sizable gamble at a time when dramas have had a hard time drawing audiences. After state tax rebates, the film cost Universal $100 million to produce and tens of millions more to promote.

"In general, people have been going to see lighter movies," says Bruce Nash, founder of website The Numbers, which tracks box-office and DVD sales. "More serious adult-targeted movies have not been doing particularly well," including Universal's recent dramas "State of Play" and "Duplicity."

Nonetheless, Shmuger, the Universal chairman, remains high on "Public Enemies."

"It's a great gamble and we couldn't be more excited about it," he said.

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claudia.eller@latimes.com

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