Universal comedy up against '88,' 'Kingdom'

The weekend box office could reveal whether the raunchy romantic-comedy craze set off by Judd Apatow is getting frayed around the edges as Universal opens the R-rated “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” in 2,798 theaters, frontal male nudity and all.

The last two films coming out of the Apatow camp — “Drillbit Taylor” and “Walk Hard” — were box office disappointments, although they weren’t in the vein of Apatow’s more risque titles, “Knocked Up,” “Superbad” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” all B.O. hits. “Sarah Marshall,” which is tonally more in line with the latter pics, will be the first of this type of Apatow film to bow outside of summer.

While U isn’t that exposed financially — “Sarah Marshall” cost $30 million to produce — it could have a perception problem if the heavily marketed film doesn’t take the weekend crown, ahead of the kid friendly Jet Li-Jackie Chan adventure-fantasy “Forbidden Kingdom,” which bows in 3,151 theaters.

“Forbidden Kingdom,” from Lionsgate and the Weinstein Co., is rated PG-13. Rob Minkoff (“Stuart Little,” “The Lion King”) directed. Lionsgate is distributing domestically.

Also opening is Jon Avnet’s Al Pacino crime-thriller “88 Minutes,” which has already been released overseas and is battling dismal reviews. Sony, the domestic distrib, opens the pic in 2,168 runs.

Many had expected “Sarah Marshall” to have an easy edge, but tracking hasn’t been as strong in recent days as U would like. It’s unclear whether the film can open above $20 million, with U expecting a weekend gross somewhere in the low- to mid-teens. “Superbad,” “Knocked Up” and “40-Year-Old Virgin” opened to $33 million, $30.7 million and $21.4 million, respectively.

Directed by Nicholas Stoller, “Sarah Marshall” stars Jason Segel as a despondent Angeleno dumped by his hot girlfriend. Segel penned the script.

“Sarah Marshall” is receiving strong reviews, but some tracking numbers show “Forbidden Kingdom” in the lead position.

Latter pic unites Li and Chan on the bigscreen for the first time in a story about a boy who travels to ancient China and helps a band of martial arts warriors free the legendary Monkey King.

“Forbidden Kingdom” will benefit from its PG-13 rating and a broad opening in 3,151 theaters.

Movie could pull ahead if it is able to appeal to younger kids and mine the lucrative family market on top of attracting teen boys and younger men.

“Sarah Marshall” is tracking among older female demos, as well as among males over age 25, but the pic will need to grab younger moviegoers as well.

One bright note: Tracking has been off before when it comes to Apatow’s films. But it’s still uncertain whether U’s unusual billboard campaign will pull moviegoers in or turn them off.

Domestic release of “88 Minutes” has been delayed for more than a year. Overseas, pic grossed roughly $3.3 million, and it is already available on DVD in some territories. Tracking is actually better than expected for the film.

On the specialty side, several documentaries open, including Morgan Spurlock’s “Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?” Weinstein Co. unspools the docu, a 2008 Sundance acquisition, at 102 theaters in 45 markets. In the film, Spurlock, whose “Super Size Me” grossed $11.5 million in 2004, travels throughout the Middle East, interviewing people about the war on terror.

Rocky Mountain Pictures opens Ben Stein’s “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” a documentary bashing the theory of evolution, in 1,052 theaters. Film’s marketers have relied on the same sort of grass-roots campaign employed by the team behind “The Passion of the Christ.”

Kino opens Philip Glass docu “Glass: A Portrait of Philip in 12 Parts” in one theater in Gotham.

On the foreign front, three contenders will vie for the top slot — three-time winner “Horton Hears a Who!,” gambling thriller “21” and cop actioner “Street Kings.”

Fox launches “Horton” in India, Italy and Turkey; pic has the best track record among recent studio efforts, with foreign grosses passing $105 million. It’s only the third U.S. title released this year besides “10,000 BC” and “Jumper” to hit nine figures in overseas grosses.

Sony’s “21” expands into Belgium, Brazil, Italy and Russia after a solid start in half a dozen markets last weekend, with $10.6 million banked as of Wednesday. Studio’s hoping “21” can show the same kind of traction offshore that it’s managed Stateside with $64 million in three weeks.

Fox is expanding “Street Kings” into 26 markets, including Australia, Germany, Mexico, Russia, South Korea and the U.K., after a quiet $1.2 million launch last weekend in nine small markets. Playdates are jumping tenfold from 237 to about 2,300.

“Kings” could score given the foreign appetite for action, recently demonstrated as “10,000 BC” and “Jumper” combined for $300 million in international coin this year.

Universal’s going day-and-date with “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” in Australia, the most popular territory for opening a pic simultaneously with its domestic launch. Distribution execs often refer to Oz as “the 51st state” since movies tend to take in about 10% of the U.S. number.

Other launches include “The Ruins” in Holland, Russia and Spain; “The Spiderwick Chronicles” in China, France and India; and “Lions for Lambs” in Japan, its final major foreign market. “Spiderwick” opened with $397,000 on Wednesday in France and has topped $68 million overseas; “Lambs” has cumed $42 million outside the U.S., far better than its drab $15 million domestic total.

Dave McNary contributed to this story.

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