Fox pits pol vs. lizard

Beatty's 'Bulworth' gets out the gate before 'Godzilla'

Hoping to generate more buzz among moviegoers, 20th Century Fox has postponed for one week the national release of its Warren Beatty-helmed political satire, “Bulworth.”

The film, which stars Beatty as a hack U.S. senator who suddenly begins speaking out about America’s corrupt political system, will now open only in exclusive runs in New York and L.A. on May 15. On May 22, the start of the Memorial Day weekend, it will go out in approximately 1,800 theaters, according to the studio.

The move pits “Bulworth” against Sony’s sci-fi actioner “Godzilla” — which bows on the evening of May 19 — as well as Universal’s 1,200-screen release of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” on May 22. On the 15th, “Bulworth” would have faced off against Robert Redford’s “The Horse Whisperer” and Warner Bros.’ animated feature “Quest for Camelot.”

for $50 million

Fox execs are hoping the $32 million-budgeted film can gross about $50 million domestically. To do that, it would have to sell more tickets than two recent star-driven political satires, “Wag the Dog” (which has made about $43 million to date) and “Primary Colors” ($37 million).

But less than two weeks before the original release date, market research showed only vague awareness and lukewarm interest in “Bulworth.”

While the studio has not yet begun its television advertising push, studio marketers had counted on national press attention to get people talking about the film. They figured journalists would rally behind the audacious pic, which takes a humorous and irreverent look at such hot-button issues as racism, influence-peddling and corporate media control.

Mags hold back

In fact, the media have recently begun to focus on “Bulworth” — it was the cover story of Sunday’s L.A. Times Calendar section and the topic of columns in Time and the New Yorker — but the coverage started later than the studio had anticipated. Some national magazines apparently held back their reporting, waiting to get a sense of the level of public interest in the pic. Fox hopes the New York/L.A. runs will jump-start media interest.

Beatty himself is working hard to promote the film, and the picture will likely to get a boost from its soundtrack. The album, which features top rap acts including Pras, RZA, LL Cool J and Dr. Dre, shipped gold and immediately landed on Billboard’s Top-10 Urban and Top-20 Pop charts.

But reactions from test screening audiences have been all over the map, leaving marketers scratching their heads as to who exactly the film’s target audience is.

The film plays best to better educated people, regardless of their ethnic background, according to sources. But some older audiences have been put off by the film’s soundtrack. On the other hand, the 61-year-old Beatty, who has appeared in only three films over the last decade, probably doesn’t mean much to younger audiences.

The change of plans actually represents something of a return to Fox’s earlier plans for the film. Originally planned as a mid-summer entry, the pic was moved up to go head-to-head with the big lizard, and the company subsequently moved it up a week earlier.

Despite the challenges, Fox execs said they are completely behind the film. “We believe there is a place in the marketplace for this picture,” said Tom Sherak, chairman of 20th Domestic Film Group. “We’re doing everything we can to make it happen. If some people don’t buy it, it won’t be for lack of trying.”