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Studios wrestle with scheduling challenges

LAST YEAR, the advertising agency Leo Burnett published a “Worldwide Man Study” evaluating images of masculinity in focus groups on several continents. After pouring over the feedback of 2,000 men in 13 countries, the authors had the following suggestions for marketers: “Let the primal man out to play” and “grab them by the balls.”

 The new trailer for “Nacho Libre,” a Mexican wrestling movie from Paramount starring Jack Black, takes both suggestions to heart.

Black plays a monk at a rustic orphanage who harbors Rocky-style dreams of becoming a wrestling star. The trailer intercuts scenes of masked warriors in lame body suits performing back flips and body slams, with shots of Black ripping off his frock to reveal turquoise tights, bright red underwear, and a physique honed on a steady diet of deep-fried frijoles.

Directed by “Napoleon Dynamite” auteur Jared Hess, it’s just the kind of warped, retro comedy featuring guys in funny moustaches that tends to catch fire at the height of the summer (think “Dodgeball” or “Anchorman”).

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 Until two weeks ago, “Nacho” had a perfectly logical release date opposite what appears to be one of the year’s quintessential chick flicks, “The Break Up.” But Paramount moved “Nacho” back two weeks, pitting it against another high-octane, high-testoterone franchise: Universal’s “The Fast and the Furious 3: Tokyo Drift.”

STUDIOS IN RECENT MONTHS have been hit with a welter of conflicting data about the movie consumption habits of disaffected young men.

The MPAA announced at ShoWest that four out of five guys under the age of 25 would rather see a movie in theaters than on DVD. Last fall, however, market research firm OTX reported that guys aged 13-25 comprised a kind of lost generation of American moviegoers. These men watched 24% fewer films in the summer of 2005, according to OTX, than in the previous summer.

Given their predilection for videogames and salacious Internet downloads, young men are especially hard to reach through conventional ads. That may not be a problem for “Nacho” and “Fast,” both of which seem custom-designed for alternative marketing plans.

The “Fast” trailer, a streamlined,129-second burst of eye candy, opens with a race-and-chase scene in a Tokyo parking structure, observed by a couple of guys holding up what appear to be cell phones cameras. A mobile gaming company, I-play, has already licensed rights to the title. The studio is planning other mobile and Web promotions, as well as partnerships with companies that manufacture things like motor oil and tires.

Paramount, meanwhile, has sponsored a series of iTunes downloads featuring “confessionals” by Jack Black — a series of improvised dispatches from the set modeled after Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” production diaries. Black is so effortlessly funny that watching him ad lib as he prepares for a full body waxing should serve as fly paper for Internet geeks.

But as one marketing executive put it, “Nacho” doesn’t have the “title equity” of “Fast and the Furious.” In other words, nobody knows what “Nacho Libre” means.

So Paramount is also planning a mother lode of more conventional marketing, including promos during the NBA Finals and the MTV Music Awards in June. The media opportunities for a late June launch were among the reasons that Paramount pushed back the film, marketing prexy Gerry Rich told me.

THE THIRD WEEKEND of June has generated remarkably consistent box office returns in recent years. Last year it brought in $135.9 million, down a fraction from the previous year.

Also vying for a share of the weekend is a wide release from Warners, “The Lake House,” a “Notebook”-like melodrama with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock that will waste no marketing dollars trying to reel in young male moviegoers. There’s also the second-weekend business from “Cars,” which comes out June 9.

When I spoke to Rich and Universal marketing head Adam Fogelson, they were quick to note that their audiences cut across gender, age and ethnic lines. “Theirs is a comedy with Jack Black,” Fogelson says. “We are an action movie  that’s part of a beloved franchise. I have no problem believing those two movies can comfortably co-exist on the same weekend.”

Maybe so. But both studios are certain to spend big in an effort to be No. 1, and they’ll need to sell millions of tickets to young guys on opening weekend to get there.

May the best man win.

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