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`Mary' gels with overseas auds.

In Thailand it's called "My True Love Will Stand All Outrageous Events." In Hong Kong it is remonikered "Enjoy Yourself in the Game of Love."

Whatever the title, there is something about "Mary" that is crossing cultural barriers and transforming the bawdy comedy into a resounding B.O. hit overseas.

American lowbrow laffers haven't always translated well overseas, but "Mary's" grosses may set a new standard for global gross-outs: The Farrelly brothers' comedy seems destined to outstrip internationally those kings of crassness, "Dumb and Dumber" and "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls" (see TOP COMEDY GROSSERS).

TOP COMEDY GROSSERS
                                  Year     Int'l          Dom

Home Alone                         90      188.9         285.8
Mrs. Doubtfire                     93      203.9         219.2
Home Alone 2[arrow up]             92      205.4         173.6
Something About Mary               98      175.0(*)      180.0
The Flintstones                    94      211.0         130.5
The Mask[arrow up]                 94      203.6         119.9
101 Dalmatians[arrow up]           96      179.5         136.2
As Good As it Gets                 97      164.4         147.7
Liar Liar                          97      118.6         181.4
My Best Friend's Wedding           97      172.1         126.8
Sister Act                         92      145.4         139.6
The Nutty Professor[arrow up]      96      141.3         128.8
Dumb and Dumber                    94      119.2         127.2

                                 Int'l [+ or -]      Cume

Home Alone                            -34%          $474.7
Mrs. Doubtfire                         -7%          $423.1
Home Alone 2[arrow up]                +18%          $379
Something About Mary                   -3%          $355
The Flintstones                       +62%          $341.5
The Mask[arrow up]                    +70%          $323.5
101 Dalmatians[arrow up]              +32%          $315.7
As Good As it Gets                    +11%          $312.1
Liar Liar                             -35%          $300
My Best Friend's Wedding              +36%          $298.9
Sister Act                             +4%          $285
The Nutty Professor[arrow up]         +10%          $270.1
Dumb and Dumber                        -6%          $246.4


(*) studio estimate

Reportedly costing a minuscule $23 million, the raunchy pic has minted nearly $170 million domestically, but may top that internationally.

Still to play in such major markets as Spain, France and Japan, the comedy could hit $175 million abroad, one studio source believes. Fox Intl. president Jim Gianopulos says it's too early to talk of a precise target, but agrees that figure could be within reach.

"Mary" made the overseas trek with a couple of drawbacks that could have inhibited the Fox film's potential.

One is the absence of marquee names like Jim Carrey, who helped catapult the modestly-budgeted "Dumb and Dumber" and "Ace Ventura" sequel to highly profitable foreign grosses of $120 million and $104 million, respectively.

Sophisticated comedies such as "Jerry Maguire" and "As Good As It Gets" usually can expect to travel with great success, but those were driven by the star power of Tom Cruise and the Jack Nicholson-Helen Hunt combo.

Other potential sore spots are the high level of political incorrectness, a payoff that requires passing knowledge of an American football star and a quirky cult musician and gross-out humor -- trading on jokes about the disabled, cuddly animals and body functions -- that makes the Carrey vehicles look comparatively tame.

Despite -- or because of -- its outrageous satire and visual excesses, "Mary" has grossed $67.3 million in 24 territories and is tracking well ahead of "Dumb," "Ace 2" and the Charlie Sheen caper "Hot Shots!"

(A little cumbersome for foreign translation, the English title has been shortened for some regions, such as the Latin American "Crazy for Mary.")

The film has under-performed in only a few Southeast Asian markets, including Malaysia and Singapore where it was hacked by the censors' scissors, and the Philippines.

In conservative Islamic Malaysia, exhibs believe some folks, especially those in provincial areas, stayed away because of what they perceived to be an offensive subject.

In Singapore, only about six scenes were cut (including the shot of withered breasts, the zipper close-up and the inventive use of "hair gel"), but that was enough to spark letters of protest to local newspapers. "The censors cut everything," was a typical gripe from a 16-year-old girl.

Referring to the censorship, Gianopulos notes archly, "The movie was not shown in those countries."

Hong Kong auds seem to think the content was mild by local standards. It's tough to outdo Hong Kong filmmakers who have turned out "coarser and cruder films than that, and they have been quite successful," indie producer-distrib Freddie Wong tells Variety.

Wong attributes its success in part to the rising popularity of lead femme Cameron Diaz. Similarly, exhibs in South Korea say audiences, especially young females, were attracted to Diaz's cute, animated persona and her slim figure.

As elsewhere, "Mary" benefited from word-of-mouth in Korea, but exhibs described the overall response as lukewarm. One booker pointed to the differences between Korean and U.S. humor and lifestyles, which made it hard for auds to identify with the characters and situations.

But Gianopulos does not buy the cultural-resistance theory. "Sensitivity to important social issues is universal, but so is the appeal of a truly funny satire. Those are not inconsistent concepts," he says.

Fox Intl. execs knew they had a monster hit even before the domestic launch. That view was reinforced by reactions to screenings at the Australian Movie Convention, the Deauville fest in France, the San Sebastian lest and sneaks in Rome.

Teutonic thumbs up

Last week, the Diaz-Matt Dillon-Ben Stiller romp debuted in Germany with very good, but not record-breaking figures -- and even the critics liked it.

"Usually this type of film is totally ripped apart by the intellectual press, but in this case the film appealed to both the intellectual and popular press," notes Tanya Guess, a spokeswoman for Germany's biggest loop, UFA Theater.

"Considering it has Cameron Diaz, a name that people can hardly (pronounce) here, and Matt Dillon, not actors from the first league, the film has established itself well," she adds.

Teutonic auds normally are suckers for lowbrow comedies in the vein of "Naked Gun" and "Dumb and Dumber," and some exhibs believe "Mary" will build on word-of-mouth.

Germans may have a reputation for being broad-minded, but some, it seems, did not entirely approve of its antics.

"Lots of people coming out are saying the film is below the belt," Hans Juergen Brandtner, managing director of the Comet chain, says.

Perhaps just one question is still to be answered: Could "Mary" prove too raunchy for the more conservative Arab nations?

Fox believes the pic will play well in Lebanon, perhaps the most Western-oriented Arab state, without being subjected to heavy censorship.

But authorities may frown on it in some other Middle East markets, such as the less-liberal United Arab Emirates. The U.S. majors normally release films in only a handful of countries in that region.

RELATED ARTICLE: `SOMETHING' BIG

There's something more -- and rather less -- about Mary in the Fox comedy's overseas B.O. results to date. The pic has played strongly in Europe and Australia but generated far fewer laughs and dollars in Asia. Here is a sampling of its highs and lows.
Territory                Gross to date(*)      Weeks

U.K.                         $22.0               6
Australia                     10.1               9
Italy                          8.3               3
Brazil                         5.1               7
Germany                        4.2               1
Mexico                         2.7               4
South Korea                    1.9               6
Hong Kong                      1.1               4
Singapore                       .677             7
Philippines                     .409             4
Malaysia                        .300             5


(*) millions of $

Liza Foreman in Berlin, Hanna Lee in Seoul, Maureen Sullivan in Hong Kong and Susan Tsang in Singapore contributed to this report.
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Title Annotation:film 'There's Something About Mary'
Author:GROVES, DON
Publication:Variety
Article Type:Cover Story
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 9, 1998
Words:1222
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