Summer comedies to clash at box office

Will the guru get smart? Or will the smart guy outdo the guru?

In a dramatic example of what happens when there are too many pictures and not enough dates, summer comedies “Get Smart” and “The Love Guru” will open against each other on June 20.

Warners grabbed the date first for “Get Smart.” The bigscreen adaptation of the classic spoof TV series toplines Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway and Dwayne Johnson.

Paramount and Mike Myers, who stars in and co-wrote “Guru,” were already talking about the same date, and soon thereafter slotted “Guru” in.

More recently, there’s been speculation that Par considered moving “Guru” but that Myers refused.

Paramount execs deny proposing a date change, asserting that the weekend of June 20 remained the most viable frame for two reasons. One is the various promotional partnerships, such as a cross-promotion Myers did on the “American Idol” finale last month, as well as a “Saturday Night Live Best of Mike Myers” primetime special that will air on NBC this Sunday.

Par’s second reason for keeping the date is that the release calendar after June 20 is jammed with action titles and comedies, many of them sure to grab the attention of young moviegoers.

Paramount also needed some distance between “Guru” and DreamWorks/Par’s comedy “Tropic Thunder,” which opens in August.

But execs at competing studios say “Love Guru” and “Get Smart” will leave money on the table as a result, since the audience will be fragmented. “In the end, they both will be damaged,” said one distribution exec.

Warners and Paramount don’t agree. They say an inordinate amount of attention is being focused on the “Guru”-”Get Smart” faceoff and point to other frames in which opening films overlap in terms of audience, such as this weekend, when “The Incredible Hulk” opens against M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Happening.”

While it is true that “Hulk” and “Happening” may get some crossover, “Hulk” is a superhero pic, while “Happening” is a thriller — so they are still different enough.

Tracking suggests that “Get Smart” could play more broadly, which has prompted some box office forecasters to give “Get Smart” the edge.

“We think we will be a four-quadrant movie,” Warners prexy of domestic distribution Dan Fellman said.

“Guru” is strongest among younger moviegoers and particularly young males, which could translate into big Friday business for the film. Pic stars Myers as the fun-loving guru Pitka as well as Jessica Alba, Justin Timberlake and “Austin Powers” star Verne Troyer.

Nowhere is the showdown between “Get Smart” and “Guru” more apparent than on the airwaves as the two studios make their final marketing push before the comedies open.

Last month, Carell hosted the season finale of “Saturday Night Live” on NBC. That’s the kind of free publicity that can’t be bought. That is, until the “Get Smart” team learned that Paramount had bought the first spot on the show for an ad of “Love Guru,” toplining Myers in his first major live-action role since the “Austin Powers” franchise.

NBC, with ties to Carell because of “The Office,” appealed to Paramount and forged a compromise whereby a spot for DreamWorks/Par’s August comedy “Tropic Thunder” would air at the first break instead of “Guru.”

In turn, NBC agreed to step up its promos for the “Saturday Night Live Best of Mike Myers” special.

Myers also hosted June 1′s MTV Movie Awards — at which Carell, Hathaway and “Get Smart” star Dwayne Johnson were presenters — and participated in a National Hockey League tie-in.

“Given all the promotional opportunities that came together for Mike, late June was the best time for the movie, and June 20 was the least crowded date,” a Paramount spokesman said.

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