Over the past two years, Universal Pictures learned some hard lessons about adult dramas when high-priced films State of Play, Robin Hood, Duplicity and Green Zone failed to catch on with domestic audiences. This weekend, the studio will deliver some clarity on the immediate future of the adult comedy, when Universal opens The Dilemma, the Ron Howard-directed buddy comedy pairing Vince Vaughn and Kevin James. The film goes up against The Green Hornet, a 3D picture whose horrible Comic-Con buzz has turned been turned around by Sony Pictures Entertainment, which smartly moved the film out of the holiday corridor and repackaged it from a Seth Rogen pseudo-superhero film into a two-hander buddy comedy that happens to be about a superhero.
Insiders at Universal still like their chances with The Dilemma, which despite its PG-13 rating is chasing an adult audience. In Universal’s favor: James has become a comic star, and Vaughn has delivered in adult comedies Wedding Crashers, The Break-Up and Couples Retreat, all of which turned in domestic gross north of $100 million (a number that would make The Dilemma a win). The studio is also bullish because The Dilemma came in at around a $70 million budget, with a gross outlay somewhere in the 20% range. That gives The Dilemma a chance that Jim Brooks’ How Do You Know didn’t have, because its budget was just too high, at a reported $120 million. Brooks’ film opened at $7.5 million. Universal is hoping to reach the mid to high teens for MLK weekend, praying the film follows a track similar to the $12.6 million opening for As Good As It Gets, which reached $148 million domestic, or Nancy Meyers’ Something’s Gotta Give, which opened at $16.6 million and grossed $124.7 million domestic. Insiders feel that if the film can do upwards of $12 million over 3 days ($20 million for the 4-day weekend) and hang in for $75 million or above, Universal will be okay. And the adult comedy won’t be solely the domain of R-rated films by Judd Apatow and Todd Phillips. One thing for sure: adult comedies with $100 million budgets and full price star deals are as dead as disco.