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Universal recuts a tamer 'Bruno' for U.K.'s younger teens

July 13, 2009 |  4:33 pm

Universal Pictures will release a tamer version of its Sacha Baron Cohen comedy "Bruno" in the United Kingdom alongside the currently playing uncut film in hopes of attracting a bigger audience that includes teens 15 and older.

When Universal releases the toned-down "Bruno" on July 24, it will be the first time two versions of the same movie will show concurrently in the U.K., according to David Kosse., president of Univiersal Pictures International.

BRUNO To get a "15" certificate allowing teens 15 and older to see the movie, Universal had to cut and modify several sexually explicit scenes in "Bruno" that the British Board of Film Classification had deemed unacceptable for the under-18 crowd. Unlike the Motion Picture Assn. of America's rating board, Hollywood's own self-governing advisory system, the BBFC is a government agency that legally imposes age-restricted ratings on movies, DVDs, video games, and other entertainment (in contrast, the ratings system in the U.S. is voluntarily adopted by studios and theaters).

The uncensored "Bruno," rated "18," debuted in the U.K. this past weekend as the top-grossing movie with $8.1 million at 457 locations. But its opening was 8% below Baron Cohen's earlier comedy "Borat," which was rated "15."

"Bruno," in which Baron Cohen stars as a flamboyantly gay Austrian fashion TV host obsessed with becoming a huge celebrity, contains more frontal nudity and graphic sexual content than "Borat."

The most substantial cut that Universal made involves a scene where Bruno is comically miming oral and anal sex that he pretends to be having with a dead man he's contacted through a medium. Kosse said "a lot of the scene" has been edited out.

The other two scenes that were "reduced" included an exaggerated sex act between Bruno and his boyfriend in a hotel room and couples having sex at a swingers party.

All told, the cuts resulted in the film being about 1 minute, 50 seconds shorter than the original.

Kosse said that originally Universal had hoped to get a "15" for "Bruno" but was told it had to make substantial cuts to get that designation, which the studio declined to do.

"Over the past couple of weeks we got a lot of feedback from exhibitors and fans on Facebook," Kosse said, about the rating being too restrictive. "So we investigated what it would take to get a 15."

Kosse said that after the movie opened this past weekend, there were hundreds of people younger than  18 who got turned away at theaters across the U.K. "We saw an opportunity to service the audience ... and it should also help with the gross," he said.

Universal does not plan to make similar cuts for other overseas markets where Universal has the film in release, including Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, said Kosse, since "we have significantly lower ratings everywhere else."

In the U.S. and Canada, where the film carries an R-rating, "Bruno" had a very respectable debut this weekend with $30.6 million. But while the picture sold $14.4 million tickets on Friday, business fell sharply, nearly 40% on bad word of mouth to $8.8 million on Saturday. That doesn't bode well for its prospects of becoming a runaway hit like "Borat," which grossed $128.5 million domestically and $133.1 million.

-- Claudia Eller

Sacha Baron Cohen at U.K. premiere of "Bruno" last month in London/ Ben Stansall/AFP Getty Images

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