Distributor sends out two versions of film in U.K.

Is there such a thing as “Bruno Lite”?

In an unusual move, Universal Pictures Intl. plans to simultaneously release a watered-down version of Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Bruno” in the U.K. and Ireland that would allow more teenagers to see the comedy.

Pic just wrapped its opening weekend in the territory, but U resubmitted the film yesterday to the British Board of Film Classification after snipping a minute and a half of footage that contained “strong sex and strong sexual references.” It plans to release the toned-down version on July 24.

The three scenes now cut from the film were the reason the BBFC slapped “Bruno” with the uber-restrictive “18” rating — meaning adults only — in the first place. Filmmakers had objected to cutting the footage but eventually agreed.

U is looking for a less-restrictive “15” rating, which lets anyone above the age of 15 in the auditorium.

The original uncensored version will continue to play in the U.K. as well. Distrib execs said they could not remember an instance when two versions of the same film were playing at the same time.

“Due to the overwhelming demand by fans who are desperate to see the film, we’re really pleased to be able to offer a ’15’ certificate version,” said Universal Pictures Intl. prexy David Kosse. “Both of these versions will allow many more of Bruno’s fans in the U.K. to enjoy the film.”

The BBFC cited three scenes that earned “Bruno” the restrictive 18 rating. One was described as a montage of exaggerated sexual activity. The second involved the character comically miming various sexual acts, and the third features a swingers party.

“Bruno” was produced and financed by Media Rights Capital and acquired by Universal for $42.5 million.

While “Bruno” grossed roughly $55 million in its worldwide debut, there were worrisome signs: Throughout the weekend, exhibs in the U.K. reported that they had to turn away teenagers, who had helped make Cohen’s “Borat” into a hit. Saturday business for the pic did not rise significantly, as might have been expected.

Outside of the U.S., the U.K. was the top-grossing territory for “Borat,” racking up north of $46 million.

Baron Cohen’s followup pic, “Bruno,” grossed $8.1 million from 457 locations and scored the biggest Friday ever for an 18-rated film in the U.K., as well as the best opening weekend ever for an 18-rated comedy.

In the U.S., the MPAA and NATO ratings board doesn’t allow differently rated versions of the same film to play simultaneously in theaters — a rule designed to prevent confusion in the marketplace.

“Bruno” received an R-rating from the MPAA ratings board, vs. the more restrictive NC-17 rating, which is akin the “18” rating in the U.K.

“Bruno” opened to $30.6 million at the domestic box office, but it was strongest on Friday and fell a hefty 39% on Saturday, indicating poor word-of-mouth.

Like the U.K., Australia and Germany were previously strongholds for “Borat.” “Bruno” also did good business in Australia, coming in No. 1. But it trailed far behind 20th Century Fox’s “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” in Germany.

Released by Fox in November 2006, “Borat,” grossed $128.5 million domestically and $133.1 million internationally.

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