Laughter reigning

Romance, comedies boost o'seas B.O.

There’s little peace, love and understanding in the real world right now, so it’s no surprise that romantic comedies and straight-out laffers are drawing cinemagoers around the world.

A blend of music and romance is also in favor, typified by high-kicking debuts for “Moulin Rouge” in Spain, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

Meanwhile, two indigenous pics of different hues smashed records last week. Alejandro Amenabar’s chiller “The Others” became the highest-grossing Spanish pic ever on home turf, topping spy spoof “Torrente 2’s” $20.2 million. Bookers expect it to wind at or near “The Sixth Sense,” the market’s second-biggest earner at $24.2 million.

And in its 13th orbit in Japan, Hayao Miyazaki’s animated fantasy “Spirited Away” seized the mantle as the first foreign-lingo film in history to hit $200 million excluding North America.

The frame’s pacesetter overseas was “American Pie 2,” which drummed up $18.6 million from 1,701 engagements in 12 countries, hoisting cume to $44.3 million. The comedy was mighty in Blighty, surpassing the original by 162% and ranking as UIP’s sixth-biggest bow ever there and the market’s 12th best. “Pie 2” also had hot debuts in Turkey, Denmark and Finland, and it held sway in its third stanza in Germany.

“Bridget Jones’s Diary” captivated France, besting “Notting Hill” by 13% in Paris and its suburbs and just 10% below it nationally.

An exec at the UGC chain opined that the Renee Zellweger/Hugh Grant starrer, viewed locally as American rather than British, would have done well “with or without the current state of world affairs.” The exhib pointed to the sturdy soph session of “Chaos,” a gritty Gallic pic that deals with sexual roles and racism, as evidence that auds have not lost their appetite for serious fare. “Diary’s” cume reached $165.6 million.

In its first foreign excursions, “Legally Blonde” had winsome launches in Australia and Russia, fared OK in Norway, but was blah in South Korea.

Sweet in Mexico

“America’s Sweethearts” reigned in Mexico, clocking a record for a Julia Roberts vehicle and repping the market’s second-highest October preem. The Hollywood satire was No. 1 in Brazil, Malaysia, Yugoslavia, Croatia and Egypt, and it entered Germany as a respectable No. 2 behind the rampaging “Pie.” “Sweethearts” is showing good legs in Spain, but it slumped by 49% in Oz, pinched by “Legally Blonde”; its estimated cume topped $23 million from 20 markets — tracking reasonably well considering it didn’t go through the stratosphere at home.

Horror spoof “Scary Movie 2” commanded pole position in Italy, scaring up $2.2 million in six days on 334; “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” held OK. “Scary” has pocketed $36.3 million from 29 territories, while “A.I.” has now uploaded $139 million.

In Spain, Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge” was a strong draw in upscale urban centers and suburbs. Nationwide, the tuner outperformed the helmer’s “Romeo + Juliet,” nearly four times over, but it was behind the sixth outing of that other Nicole Kidman starrer, “The Others.” However, “Moulin” (cume: $64 million) was buffeted in France by “Bridget Jones’s Diary.”

‘Tomb’ aplomb

Actioners were not shut out by all this love and fun, as “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” ascended to roughly $122 million, spurred by Japan’s soph session despite a steep second weekend plunge.

“The Fast and the Furious” sped to $35.2 million from 22 countries, helped by Taiwan’s strong but not stellar $253,000 in five days on 46 and Spain’s resilient $2.5 million in 13 days (off 25%).

Straddling action and comedy, “Rush Hour 2” gravitated to $68.1 million, driven by Holland’s feisty $525,000 on 88 and holdover biz in Mexico, Brazil, Spain, Oz and Japan.

(John Hopewell in Madrid and Liza Klaussmann in Paris contributed to this report.)

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