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Studios call on comedy to lift B.O.

Laffers 'Shaggy,' 'Failure,' horror pic 'Hills' bow

Coming off a dismal Oscar frame, studios are hoping a balanced mix of a family comedy, a romantic comedy and a horror pic will get auds back into theaters.

That would also mean sending the year’s box office total back into positive territory after four weak bows a week ago pushed 2006 below 2005 numbers.

Of the three relatively evenly matched new films, Disney’s “The Shaggy Dog” remake seems to have the slight edge, with a gross around $20 million possible. It will likely be a very tight frame, though, with both Par’s “Failure to Launch” and Fox Searchlight’s remake “The Hills Have Eyes” looking strong with their respective auds.

“The Shaggy Dog” opens at 3,501 locations on the heels of another Mouse House family pic with a canine bent, “Eight Below,” which has performed extremely well. That pic opened to $20.2 million and has declined very slowly. Tim Allen starrer could do as well or better.

“Failure to Launch,” which bows with 3,057 plays, could be close behind. It’s tracking very well with adult femmes. Matthew McConaughey/Sarah Jessica Parker starrer is studio’s first release since former DreamWorks distribution topper Jim Tharp took the same post at Par. He’s still in the process of integrating teams following mass layoffs in Par’s domestic distribution department.

UIP is launching “Failure to Launch” day-and-date in Russia and the Ukraine.

Fox Searchlight is hoping to match the performance of other recent horror hits such as “Hostel” and “When a Stranger Calls” with “The Hills Have Eyes,” which is tracking strongest with young males. “The Hills Have Eyes” bows at 2,620 playdates.

“The Hills Have Eyes” is opening day-and-date in the U.K.

The Weinstein Co. is opening “The Libertine” at 815 theaters. The Johnny Depp starrer grossed $45,000 at two playdates during a one-week Oscar-qualifying run in November. Gross in the mid-single digits is likely.

Aiming to take advantage of its Oscar best pic win, Lionsgate is re-releasing “Crash” at 175 theaters. Since it’s already on homevideo, pic will play mostly in indie theaters that, unlike majors AMC and Loews, don’t have a policy to not play pics already on DVD.

In tandem with its U.S. re-release, “Crash” is set for a second launch this weekend in the U.K. at 61 playdates by Pathe. “Crash” opened in August and grossed $10.3 million in the U.K. for its best performance overseas; its total abroad was $30 million.

In limited release, Par Classics puts “Ask the Dust” on six playdates in Gotham and L.A. Despite involvement of numerous big names — director Robert Towne, producer Tom Cruise, stars Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek — indie is giving the pic a low-profile bow.

Warner Independent releases Mexican hit “Duck Season” at six theaters in New York and L.A.

Palm Pictures is bowing “The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things,” based on the book by J.T. LeRoy, who has been revealed to be a fictional creation writing a fake memoir, at two theaters in Gotham and L.A.

Several Oscar winners are expanding abroad: “Brokeback Mountain,” which has grossed nearly $60 million overseas, will open in Germany, Austria and South Africa; “Capote,” with $5.2 million offshore, goes into France and Mexico; “Walk the Line,” with $44 million foreign, opens in South Korea; and “Syriana,” with $20 million overseas, goes into Scandinavia.

BVI’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” enters its last market with an opening in China. It has grossed $392 million overseas and should cross the $400 million mark this weekend. Adaptation has grossed $12.9 million in its first five days in Japan.

Fox is expanding “The Pink Panther” into Australia, France and Germany. Foreign gross has passed $20 million.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)