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Overseas auds await lusty comedies

'Knocked Up,' 'Superbad' bring comic relief

Everyone knows young Americans are fond of jokes about their privates. The question is, are foreign auds equally fascinated with horny young Americans ?

Hollywood will soon have an answer as the international marketplace gets a double dose of Judd Apatow’s raunchy humor. Universal rolls out “Knocked Up” into key territories starting this month, while Sony launches “Superbad” in September under such refashioned titles as “Three Horny Minds” in Italy, “Horny Is a Waste of Time” in Israel and “Super Crazy” in France, where the tagline reads “We want a piece of ass.” If overseas auds don’t understand Apatow’s humor, that should get the message across.

International expectations have been elevated following socko domestic runs, though R-rated comedies are traditionally a tricky sell outside the U.S.

But the time may be ripe — the best five foreign performers among raunchy comedies (“There’s Something About Mary” at $193 million, “Scary Movie” at $121 million and the “American Pie” trilogy with a combined $400 million) all appeared during the 1998-2003 period.

Execs say that although “Superbad” has already been banned in the United Arab Emirates, ratings restrictions and censorship don’t pose much of a problem — it’s cultural differences that pose the biggest hurdle.

“I actually think ‘Superbad’ will outperform ‘Knocked Up’ overseas because it’s going to skew a little younger,” one rival exec opines. “Everyone understands horny teenagers.”

Initial results for “Knocked Up,” which opens this weekend in Germany, Mexico and the U.K., have been promising with $12 million in Australia, $3 million in Russia and $1 million in New Zealand — all better than the “40-Year-Old Virgin” numbers. Still, it’s a long shot to match the $150 million domestic total.

“We’re happy to see a sexed-up comedy like ‘Knocked Up’ start out well, partly because it’s a great trailering opportunity for ‘Superbad,'” says Sony Pictures Releasing Intl. topper Mark Zucker. “And we’re being a little cautious to make sure we’ve got a little room between ‘Knocked Up’ and ‘Superbad.'”

But neither pic has recognizable stars, despite growing buzz for Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill. Unlike mega-franchises like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Harry Potter,” only a few raunchy comedies, such as “There’s Something About Mary” and “American Wedding,” have exceeded the domestic cume outside the United States.

Cultural differences can result in flaccid foreign takes of as little as 35% of domestic (“Wedding Crashers”). Apatow’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” totaled just $68 million overseas, or 62% of the U.S. total.

But Universal Pictures Intl. topper David Kosse sees a bigger climax ahead. “The core audience for ‘Knocked Up’ is huge,” he asserts. “We’re positioning it as a comedy for the ages, as sort of defining a period and capturing the zeitgeist. And we’ve been in lockstep with the marketing here in terms of prep. It’s a big help that it did so well domestically.”

Apatow and “Knocked Up” castmembers Katherine Heigl, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann have been actively junketing in Europe, hitting Amsterdam, Deauville, Dublin, Edinburgh and Manchester. The “Superbad” cast — Rogen, Hill, Michael Cera and Christopher Mintz-Plasse — will launch a monthlong promo tour covering Australia and Europe next week.

Talent push on talkshows and in magazines is key in France, where film advertising is never allowed on television.

“Knocked Up” could also benefit from the romance angle, with romantic comedies recently racking up impressive numbers overseas. Foreign grosses for “The Holiday” topped $140 million, with 70% of worldwide B.O. from international audiences.

“Everyone gets the idea of a beautiful career woman and a slacker getting together and then finding out later that she’s pregnant,” says Kosse. “It’s not something that we have to explain deeply.”

Distribution execs also believe the Par/DreamWorks remake of “The Heartbreak Kid” should score well when it opens internationally in the late fall.

The usual strategy with comedies to maximize their appeal overseas is to emphasize the physical jokes since dubbing can be problematic.

For “Knocked Up,” copies were released early so dubbers and subtitlers could get busy on finding the funniest translations.

U and Sony are hoping that this time around, sex and comedy sell in any language.

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