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Struggling ‘Evan’ won’t play Japan

Film played in only two o'seas territories so far

UIP has confirmed that it has canceled the Japan release of Universal’s struggling faith-based comedy, “Evan Almighty.”

Earlier this week, word leaked about the scotched bow, originally slated for September nationwide.

Universal was still hoping for a bow in the country.

UIP canceled the bow because the pic’s weak U.S. take and Christian subject matter make it a tough sell in Japan.

“There aren’t many Christians in Japan,” said Masao Mitoma, UIP Japan’s marketing manager. “Young people especially would have a hard time understanding the story.”

Although Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” did well here, he explained that it was released as an art pic, whereas “Evan Almighty” is a comedy, “and American comedies generally don’t do well in Japan.”

It’s not unusual for studio comedies to get a pass in the country. U laffers such as “You, Me & Dupree,” “The Break-Up” and the “American Pie” franchise have not hit the bigscreen in Japan. Even “Borat” got a very short, and limited, run in the country.

The cancellation is the latest blow for “Evan Almighty,” frequently referred to as the most expensive comedy ever made. It has yet to cross $100 million Stateside since its June 22 bow and has opened in only two territories overseas so far — Greece and Russia. It took in less than $5 million from these territories through last weekend.

“Evan Almighty” has cost Universal and financing partner Gun Hill II more than $200 million when marketing expenses are added to the official $175 million production cost. Although U and financier Ryan Kavanaugh downplay the extent of red ink “Evan Almighty” will spill once all the overseas markets and DVD sales trickle in, pic is still expected to end up in the loss column.

Laffer had an unusual genesis: When “Bruce Almighty” star Jim Carrey decided against doing a sequel, an existing script was retrofitted into a spinoff revolving around Steve Carell’s character.

And therein lies part of the problem for Japan, typically one of the biggest overseas markets. Although “Bruce Almighty” earned ¥10 billion ($8.2 million) in the territory, Carrey is far better known in that country than Carell, whose breakthrough pic, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” did not get a theatrical release in Japan and whose series “The Office” has yet to air on Japanese TV. Carell’s indie hit “Little Miss Sunshine” did open in the territory but made only a tiny fraction of its U.S. total.

Universal is in the process of turning over its Japan slate to Toho Towa. The first Toho Towa release of a UIP pic will be “The Bourne Ultimatum” in November. Toho Towa plans to release six Universal pics by May 2008 and 14 altogether, including “Mr. Bean’s Holiday,” “American Gangster,” “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” and “Charlie Wilson’s War.”

Now that its dealings with Universal are drawing to a close, UIP seems to be concentrating on its remaining Paramount pics — and not placing its corporate bets on riskier U product, including “Evan Almighty.”

(Diane Garrett in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

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