‘Cinderella’ puts on gloves abroad

This article was updated at 6:47 p.m.

No Cinderella story is complete without a happy ending. But a happy ending has eluded “Cinderella Man” here at home.

Ron Howard’s boxing drama opened the weekend of June 3 to favorable reviews and a respectable, if unspectacular, $18 million. But it ran out of steam, grossing just $62 million for its U.S. distrib, Universal.

But in the next few weeks, “Cinderella Man” will get a new lease on life.

Buena Vista Intl., handling the overseas campaign thanks to a co-financing deal between U and Miramax, will relaunch the movie from Mexico City to Tokyo. BVI also is giving the movie a marketing makeover, customized to capitalize on the cultural differences of its disparate global aud.

BVI isn’t starting from scratch. The studio is relying on some of U’s advertising materials, including a four-piece standee of boxer Jim Braddock surrounded by his adoring children.

But the sales pitch is different. In most countries, the emphasis on the Great Depression is gone. In its place is an accent on the love story of the boxer and his wife, played by Russell Crowe and Renee Zellwegger, both bankable stars abroad.

In Japan, “Cinderella Man” has a new trailer and one-sheet, positioning the movie as an uplifting family drama. In France, it’s being treated as an existentialist boxing picture.

The one-sheets vary significantly from market to market, as do the titles. In Germany, “Cinderella Man” is called “Das Comeback.” In Latin America, it’s called “El luchador” (The Fighter). In France it has an arty title all but untranslatable into English (“From the Shadow to the Light”), with a tagline that sounds like something out of Camus: “Vivre. Survivre.”

“Cinderella Man’s” lackluster run in U.S. theaters has given rise to all sorts of conflicting theories among box office pundits. But marketing is a fluky science, and it’s generally not conducive to pat explanations.

One line is that “Cinderella Man” shouldn’t have been released June 3, which made it an early bellwether for a frustrating summer. That theory got some credence in this week’s Time magazine, where Universal Studios prexy Ron Meyer said in an interview that the date was a disadvantage.

The Rusell Crowe telephone-hurling incident didn’t help either.

Whatever the source of its problems, “Cinderella Man” will have a fresh start abroad largely because BVI is flouting what seems to be the conventional wisdom of summer blockbusters: that they should be sold like fast food in a single, homogenous day-and-date marketing campaign.

BVI’s campaign begins with a series of events to build word of mouth in major cities and at film festivals. As BVI senior veep Nic Crawley told me, “The best and most effective way to market this film was to screen it.”

Implicit in that strategy is a tacit understanding that the world doesn’t talk about Hollywood movies the same way that Hollywood does.

The 2005 summer movie season will be remembered, in part, as a season of doomsday proclamations in the national press. The scores of stories about Hollywood’s B.O. slump created a gloomy vibe about studio titles that made it even harder for them to claw their way out of the red.

After a dozen news outlets called “Cinderella Man” a disappointment, its fate was pretty much sealed.

But the fluctuations of the American B.O. aren’t especially interesting to overseas moviegoers. They tend to be attracted to big American productions with big American stars. That message is not hard for “Cinderella Man” to project.

As part of BVI’s campaign, the cast and director are preparing to rally behind the movie a second time. Zellwegger will escort it to Venice, Tokyo and London. Howard will go to Venice and Deauville.

Crowe, whose affecting performance in “Cinderella Man” as a pugilist with a heart of gold is completely at odds with the image of a phone-throwing Hollywood diva, also will make an appearance in Venice.

Bloodied and bruised at home, “Cinderella Man” undoubtedly requires special handling overseas. But if there’s a single underlying principle here, it’s one that also applies to the advertising strategies of companies like Coke, Nike and Procter & Gamble.

“In the packaged-good business, it’s all about sampling,” Buena Vista Intl. prexy Mark Zoradi says. “They want you to try (a product) and tell your friends about it. That strategy is integral to the marketing of “Cinderella Man.’ “

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