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True romance will never die. But bromance?


Well, that’s a different story.


One of the most popular movie genres of the past decade, the bromance — that is, a love story between resolutely heterosexual men — seems to be fizzling. Recent examples like “Get Him to the Greek” and “Funny People” underperformed at the box office, and the stars who once defined the genre are seeking out other roles (Seth Rogen as a superhero?). This summer’s movie schedule has been leaning on tween-oriented fantasies like “Twilight” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” with seemingly fewer dude-meets-dude comedies.


Where does that leave “Dinner for Schmucks,” due in theaters Friday? The film stars two bromance veterans, Steve Carell (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) and Paul Rudd (“I Love You, Man”). Rudd plays a corporate climber whose cruel-humored boss hosts a dinner party where the goal is to invite the biggest cretin; Carell plays the potential winner, a social misfit whose hobby is dressing dead mice in elaborate costumes.


Based on a 1998 French comedy, “Dinner for Schmucks” may be properly classified as an annoying-friend movie, much like 1987’s “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” which starred Steve Martin as the uptight career man and John Candy as the overtalkative bumbler. But “Dinner for Schmucks” also adheres to the modern bromance formula: The men meet, grow close, break up and — spoiler alert! — fall back into each other’s arms.


That formula may have reached its peak in 2007, when “Superbad,” spearheaded by Judd Apatow — the writer-director-producer who practically invented the bromance — grossed $121 million, according to BoxOfficeMojo. More recent entries haven’t performed as well. Apatow’s “Funny People” was one of last year’s biggest disappointments, grossing only $51 million.


And while “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” grossed $63 million in 2008, its spinoff, this year’s “Get Him to the Greek,” eked out just $58 million.


What’s more, the stars of these movies seem increasingly keen to leave them behind. Rogen, the quintessential bromantic leading man, has slimmed down to play a superhero in the coming “The Green Hornet.” Jonah Hill, of “Superbad,” is currently starring as an insecure mama’s boy in the comedy-drama “Cyrus.” And Michael Cera, Hill’s cuddle-mate in “Superbad,” has been gravitating toward teen love stories — with actual girls — like “Youth in Revolt” and the action-comedy “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” which opens next month.


There are a few bromance-style films due for release this year, but they seem like throwbacks to older, more familiar formulas. “The Other Guys,” opening Aug. 6, casts Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as mismatched cops. “Due Date,” scheduled for Nov. 5, is a road-trip comedy with Robert Downey Jr. as an expectant father traveling with a disaster-prone wacko (Zach Galifianakis, also in “Dinner for Schmucks”).


Does this mean we’re seeing the return of the old-fashioned buddy-film, with less overt emotion and more gruff shoulder-punching? If so, the bromance may be headed back into the closet.


———


As the star of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (2005), Steve Carell helped kick off the bromance fad. Since then, however, he has mostly avoided the genre in favor of more traditional comedies.


“Little Miss Sunshine” (2006) — A black comedy with Carell in a more dramatic role: a gay literature professor who recently attempted suicide.


“Evan Almighty” (2007) — Carell’s character from “Bruce Almighty” got his own movie, and Carell got one of his few flops.


“Dan in Real Life” (2007) — Another semi-dramatic role, this time as a widower who rediscovers love with Juliette Binoche.


“Get Smart” (2008) — Though poorly reviewed, this action comedy based on the classic TV spy spoof still grossed $130 million, according to BoxOfficeMojo.


“Date Night” (2010) — Carell and Tina Fey played a married couple mistaken for criminals. The two stars didn’t make the knockout team that many viewers expected, but the film pulled in a healthy $98 million.


  ——— 


BROMANCE MOVIES


Here’s a look at bromance movies — in their widely varied forms — over the decades:


“The Defiant Ones” (1958): Often cited as the first bromance, this drama stars Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier as escaped convicts who loathe each other but are literally chained together. Their friendship eventually grows so strong that they can’t bear to part.


“The Odd Couple” (1968): This Neil Simon comedy doesn’t feature a “meet-cute,” but it’s one of the definitive male-bonding films. Two divorced friends, the slovenly Oscar (Water Matthau) and the compulsively neat Felix (Jack Lemmon) move in together and quickly become as adorably dysfunctional as any married couple.


“Lethal Weapon” (1987): One of the great buddy-films, with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as LAPD detectives with opposing personalities. Their spousal relationship is clear (especially in the sequels) with Gibson as the reckless husband and Glover as the fretting wife.


“The Shawshank Redemption” (1994): Another mixed-race “marriage,” with Tim Robbins as a wrongly convicted prisoner and Morgan Freeman as the lifer who befriends him. Hardly a woman in the cast, and it’s the two men who end up together on a tropical beach.


“The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (2005): The film that put Judd Apatow on the map is ostensibly a romance between a sexual novice (Steve Carell) and a warm-hearted eccentric (Catherine Keener). What resonated with audiences, however, was the bonding between the men (played by Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd and others), who comfort and support each other in their affectionately insulting way.


“Superbad” (2007): Like most teen flicks, this one was about boys trying to get lucky with girls. But the stars, Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, made bromance history with their famous spooning scene: “I just want to go to the rooftops and scream, ‘I love my best friend, Evan!”


“The Bucket List” (2007): Morgan Freeman (again) and Jack Nicholson play terminally ill men who help each other fulfill their life goals. The bromance formula is followed to the letter—the meet, the split, the tender reunion—and the exotic scenery (France, Africa) is almost as romantic as the 2gether-4ever ending.


“Role Models” (2008): Rudd and Seann William Scott play two screw-ups forced to do community service work with misfit kids. This was partly a lousy-parent comedy like “Bad Santa” or “The Bad News Bears,” but the film also focused on the two dudes’ break-up and inevitable make-up.


“Funny People” (2009): Judd Apatow’s first flop cast Adam Sandler as a successful but depressed comedian and Seth Rogen as a young joke-writer. Aside from that bromantic relationship, there were two more — one involving Jonah Hill, another with Jason Schwartzman — which may have overloaded audiences.


“I Love You, Man” (2009): The most blatant example of the bromance again features Rudd, this time as a guy who lacks a best man for his wedding; Jason Segel plays the overgrown adolescent who might fit the bill. As you might guess, the climactic wedding scene has almost nothing to do with the bride.

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