Inside Move: See how they run

Par's 'Candidate' hops aboard political stump

If “The Manchurian Candidate” turns out to be a hot ticket, Paramount ought to send thank-you notes to Michael Moore, George Bush and John Kerry.

Though the studio is marketing the remake as a determinedly non-partisan thriller, it’s also clearly hoping the rising national interest in politics translates into breakout box office.

It’s no accident that “Manchurian” is opening the day after the Democratic Convention. But with the surprise success of Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Paramount has been trying to leverage that buzz through a multitude of approaches.

The look of the pic’s print ads mimic real political ads. An MTV campaign stresses the pic’s brainwashing theme. And Par has strategically bought promo space on politically oriented Web blogs such as Talkingpointsmemo, Wonkette, Atrios and LAobserved.

Early reviews have been solid, and the combo of Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep should lead to a respectable opening with decent legs.

But skeptics say “Manchurian” does have several hurdles to overcome:

  • Political thrillers historically don’t perform well. “JFK” and “All the President’s Men” are the category’s top domestic grossers, at $70 million each.

  • “Manchurian” is tracking best among those over 25 — who are less likely to rush out to see it in its first weekend;

  • The pic will have to compete against the second weekend of U’s “The Bourne Supremacy” and then DreamWorks’ “Collateral” in its second frame.

“It’s got a great pedigree with Meryl and Denzel and Jonathan Demme directing, but the bottom line is always going to be whether it’s entertaining — because political films are tough sells,” one marketing consultant opines.

“People aren’t going to see this out of a sense of political obligation, like they did with ‘Fahrenheit 9/11.’ ”

Best-case scenario: a performance similar to “Seabiscuit,” which opened last July, cumed $120 million and nabbed seven Oscar noms.

That’s a track record any candidate can run on.

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