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What’s in a name? Ask the porn kings

WARNER INDEPENDENT’S “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World” is currently in theaters. Coming soon are “Snakes on a Plane,” “Dead Man’s Shoes” and “The Notorious Bettie Page.”

So it looks like 2006 could be a great year for films. Well, no, we haven’t actually seen any of them. We just like the names.

A good title is like a good trailer: It gives a hint what the movie is about. And with so many works being cranked out every year for TV series, movies, DVD originals and Web programming, it’s hard to come up with a terrific moniker that hasn’t been used.

The four films listed have vivid titles. Last year, filmmakers and execs went out on a limb in record numbers as they tried very hard for something unique, but the results were … Well, they get A for effort.

While none of them achieved the classic awfulness of “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?” or “Squanto: A Warrior’s Tale,” several were real mind-benders: “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” “The Dying Gaul,” “Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” “The World’s Fastest Indian,” “The Upside of Anger” and “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio.”

None of them may be prize winners, defiant or otherwise, but you can’t blame them for trying. Some wacko titles in the past were attached to films that helped the phrases enter the cultural lexicon: “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.”

This past year, there were some good titles like “Kicking and Screaming,” “Fever Pitch,” “Sahara,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” etc. But, of course, they’d been used before.

Others hedged their bets. Frankly, “Revenge of the Sith” and “Goblet of Fire” are ludicrous, but with the magic words “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter” in the full title, success was assured.

It’s not just the titles, but the proliferation of them. A Midwesterner who goes to movies only six times a year may have been a little confused in ’05 by “Flightplan,” “Sky High” and “Red Eye.” And then there were “Thumbsucker” and “The Chumscrubber.” There were “Just Like Heaven” and “Kingdom of Heaven”; “Prime” and “Proof”; there were “Zathura,” “Syriana” and “Narnia.”

Of course, 2005 had a few good ones that told you what you needed to know: “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Monster-in-Law,” “Kung Fu Hustle,” “Wedding Crashers,” “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride,” “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” and “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.”

BUT IN GENERAL, it wasn’t a great year. That’s why Hollywood needs to take a lesson from the porn business.

Opinions may be split on the concept of adult films: A harmless outlet or a scourge on mankind? Either way, one must admit those porn-meisters deliver the goods. In a world where 6,000 films are released every year, they have to get attention and they know how to do it. And that’s where their Hollywood counterparts can learn from their titles.

Warning: The following is rated NSM-21, for Naughty Subject Matter. Reader discretion is advised. So please, if you have delicate sensibilities, if you blush easily, I urge you to stop reading right now. Pick up Reader’s Digest instead. Watch some “Brady Bunch” reruns. Hum showtunes to yourself. Seriously, stop reading.

Pause.

Oh, are you still here? What a nice surprise!

SO OK, let’s dish the dirt — er, um, let’s get on with our instructive study of alternative marketing.

Admittedly, some of the best adult titles owe a lot to Hollywood. For example: “Bonfire of the Panties,” “Free My Willy,” “The Loin King,” “H.R. Muff ‘n Stuff,” “Spray It Forward” and “The Legend in Bagger’s Pants.”

There are also “Sleeping Booty,” “Six Degrees of Penetration,” “The Man Who Blew Too Much,” “A Rimmer Runs Through It” and “Dawson’s Crack.”

Of course, not all porn titles are inspired by Hollywood. There are some that conjure up vivid images on their own, like “Palm Pilots,” “Chunky Chicks,” “Swallow My Pride,” “Prettiest Face I Ever Came Across” and “Rock Out With My Jock Out.”

This is not to imply that every porn title is a winner. There are the blandly generic ones like “Cheerleader Nurses” and “Nympho Hookers.” Sometimes they try too hard, as with “Desperate Housewhores.” There are those that give no indication that these are adult films, such as “Opie Goes to South Central” and “The Tom Sizemore Sex Scandal.”

And sometimes those naughty porn people go too far, as with “Bang the Nun Slowly” and many, many monikers that are unprintable in a fine, decency-loving newspaper like this one.

It’s interesting to ponder: Could these porn marketers have come up with a title more attention-grabbing and evocative than, for example, “The Squid and the Whale”?

Though, come to think of it, that sounds a bit like a porn title itself.

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