A film of Andrew Dice Clay doing his famously offensive stand-up routine will not be released to theaters in September as planned, and 20th Century Fox says the footage may go straight to cable or video.

So what's the problem, when Clay's first film, "Ford Fairlane," opened to a respectable though not great $6.5 million last weekend? Fox has almost as many explanations as there are groups offended by Clay's material, which is variously described as racist, sexist and homophobic.

But the studio does not say it diced Clay because the material strikes too many people as repugnant or that Fox's top executives thought the act was not worth defending. Still that's what many in Hollywood seem to believe. Clay did not respond to requests for comment. His appearances have sparked protests, as when singer Sinead O'Connor and comedian Nora Dunn boycotted "Saturday Night Live" when he hosted the show in May.

The first explanation for pulling the concert film was offered by Fox's distribution and marketing chief, Tom Sherak, who said the studio's desire to develop Clay as an actor is incompatible with furthering his career as a comedian.

If Clay wants to make it as a movie star, Sherak says, he must separate himself from his stage persona. Not that his persona is offensive: "I think what it is -- it's limiting. To be a movie star, you have to be broad-based."

Way back in 1982, when movies cost a lot less than $6.50, a Richard Pryor concert film raked in $36 million, and more recently, Eddie Murphy's raunchy "Raw" grossed $50 million. Clay is no Eddie Murphy, but concert films cost little to make and potentially pack a quick profit.

Sherak acknowledges that the studio could probably make money on the concert film but says, "In the long run, that money is nothing compared to what it would mean if we would make him a star."

Still, Sherak's explanation didn't seem to make a lot of sense to Fox Production President Roger Birnbaum. "I don't understand that," he said yesterday. "Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor are stand-up comics and they make movies. I don't know what he's alluding to."

Back to Sherak: Clay and Murphy are different stories, he says, since Murphy developed his persona on television before he started in film. "Andrew Dice Clay did not have that kind of background... . Eddie Murphy didn't have to separate himself from the onstage comic. Television did that for him."

But Birnbaum says the real reason for holding the concert film, which was shot last May, is that it's not finished. Once it's complete, Birnbaum says, the studio will decide its fate.

A "wraparound" was written to give the concert footage structure, or "build it into a film," as Birnbaum puts it. That script, by writer Michael Binder, was finished a couple of weeks ago and will be shot in August. Birnbaum says the film couldn't be ready for a September release because "the wraparound {script} was not in on time."

Maybe not, but Binder's agent, Bill Gross, indignantly says his client wasn't responsible for delaying the project. "I will absolutely not tolerate any suggestion that Michael Binder was late," he says. The studio came to Binder at the last minute and his client batted out a 30-page script in two weeks, he adds. "They didn't even have any anticipation of shooting this thing before August," Gross says.

According to a source familiar with the project, the wraparound has Clay being interviewed by a reporter who calls him a pig and says his comedy is "hurtful." Clay defends himself and invites the reporter to hang out with him for a few days.

Once that is filmed and the picture is finished, Birnbaum says, the studio will evaluate the movie and wait to see how it is rated. The rating will be key, he said, since major studios stay away from X-rated films. "If we get an X, we may have to release this movie in another way," Birnbaum says.

Fox has already felt pressure from Clay's foes, who some weeks ago spray-painted a billboard promoting Clay at the entrance to the Fox lot. Birnbaum dismisses that as "a minor, isolated incident." But he acknowledges: "I think Dice is a very controversial comedian. I think it's not productive that we have to spend a lot of our time explaining him to people or why we're in business with him. That is a problem. I'd much rather be spending my time finding another movie to make."

To many in Hollywood, that is the heart of the matter. "I think they feel it would not make a fortune and it's politically despicable," says one source close to the studio. And a producer speculates, "I'm sure that on the concert film, they wanted to put out the fire even at the loss of some revenue."