Why Disney jilted 'Gigolo' sequel

Times Staff Writer

It's rare that a studio will walk away from success. Movie bosses are always on the prowl for low-cost/high-return movie franchises, and the Walt Disney Co. had such a property in "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo."

Made for just $18 million and released in 1999, the Rob Schneider comedy about an unlikely male prostitute grossed more than $65 million domestically and sold a ton of videos and DVDs. Not surprisingly, Disney soon started developing a sequel.

That sequel, called "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo," arrives in theaters today -- but not under the Disney label. Instead, the movie will be released by Sony Corp.'s Columbia Pictures. Disney chose to drop the project because executives there didn't care for the sequel's coarse subject matter.

Sony, in contrast, is comfortable with the tone the movie sets and is confident that audiences are hungry for bawdy R-rated comedies such as "European Gigolo." Executives there cite the success of New Line Cinema's "Wedding Crashers," an R-rated romantic comedy that is one of the summer's breakout hits, as a measure of the appetite for this sort of fare. Universal Pictures has high expectations too for "The 40 Year-Old Virgin," another R-rated comedy opening next Friday.

"Movies don't have to be 'Gone With the Wind' if they are entertaining," said Geoff Ammer, Sony's president of worldwide marketing, who was at Disney when the first "Deuce Bigalow" was released. "Rob as a person is a very popular guy, and this character has a lot of goodwill."

When it made the first "Deuce Bigalow" movie, Disney had fought (but failed) to get a PG-13 rating from the Motion Picture Assn. of America and believed the R rating hurt the financial performance of the film, which was released under Disney's Touchstone label. Nevertheless, it hired screenwriters David Garrett and Jason Ward to pen a sequel screenplay.

Not long after the duo turned in their script and a rewrite, Disney decided that the sequel was simply too risque and would never get the PG-13 rating it wanted. At the same time, the studio also was focusing more on Disney-branded family films such as its current releases "Sky High" and "Herbie: Fully Loaded."

"There are only so many movies you can make in a given year, and this didn't fit into our long-term approach," said Dennis Rice, Disney's publicity chief. "We were uncomfortable with this kind of humor."

According to a person familiar with the deal, Schneider enlisted comedy star Adam Sandler, who was "Deuce Bigalow's" executive producer and is a longtime Schneider friend and collaborator, as well as Sandler's producing partner, Jack Giarraputo, to help find "European Gigolo" a new home. While Disney-owned Dimension Films was interested, the winning suitor was Sony, where Sandler's production company is based. Ironically, Sony had passed on a chance to make the first "Deuce Bigalow" movie.

In exchange for relinquishing its rights, Disney will collect 5% of the gross receipts of "European Gigolo," which cost about $22 million to make.

For both Sony and Disney, it's a good deal. Sony gets a proven concept, while Disney can pocket some money without risking any capital and might even see a surge in DVD sales for the first "Deuce Bigalow."

In the end, the very things that made Disney nervous about "European Gigolo" -- its constant sexual jokes and sight gags -- are being featured in Sony's marketing campaign.

The studio is running a "European Gigolo" TV spot that parodies Paris Hilton's famously steamy carwash commercial for Carl's Jr. The studio has run ads in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue and on cable channels, such as Spike TV, that are popular with young men. And in the film's poster, the Tower of Pisa is used as a phallic double entendre.

If the "Deuce Bigalow" sequel is a hit, it would mark the second time in a year that Disney has walked away from a moneymaker.

In 2004, the studio forced its Miramax division to unload Michael Moore's documentary "Fahrenheit 9/1l." The film went on to gross $119.2 million domestically for Lions Gate Films.

If "European Gigolo" is a huge hit, however, Disney can get back in the game: The studio has retained the ability to share in half of a third "Deuce Bigalow" movie with Sony, if such a film gets made.

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