'Pay It Forward' still a loser, despite new name in Italy

Lesson No. 1 from last week’s mixed-bag B.O. frame: German audiences don’t want to revisit World War II — at least not as it’s evoked in “Enemy at the Gates,” Jean-Jacques Annaud’s epic which has suffered from poisonous word-of-mouth in the territory ever since it was slaughtered by critics at the Berlin Film Festival.

Lesson No. 2: The spring season is destined to idle when a bunch of losers such as “Pay It Forward” (optimistically but ineffectually retitled “A Dream for Tomorrow”), “The Legend of Bagger Vance” and “Digimon — The Movie” are dumped in Italy. Lesson No. 3: No matter the season, auds will turn out in droves for the right film, as evidenced by strapping debuts by “Miss Congeniality” in Australia, Thailand and Malaysia, “What Women Want” in Spain and “The Emperor’s New Groove” and “Chocolat” in Germany. (Still, cinemas in Blighty found it tough to compete with the distractions of a televised “Comic Relief” charity fund-raiser and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.)

And then sometimes, it’s a good idea to forget some long-standing lessons.

For instance, the willingness of stars to travel and tubthump their films usually pays dividends. But Kevin Costner’s recent trip to London to hype “Thirteen Days” had no palpable effect on its desultory preem.

Teutonic exhibs were not surprised by “Enemy at the Gates” tanking, reasoning that folks generally are sick of war films unless they’re as classy, entertaining and star-driven as “Saving Private Ryan” and “Schindler’s List.”

“I don’t want to be constantly reminded of our country’s dark past,” one booker says.” We’ve seen it and heard about it countless times. And this is not even a good film — it’s long-winded and boring.”

The Jude Law/Joseph Fiennes headliner delivered respectable figures in the U.K., but was ho-hum in France, where one tradester believes it was handicapped by the moniker “Stalingrad.”

Donald Petrie’s “Miss Congeniality” scored Roadshow/WB’s seventh-highest bow in history Down Under, where one exhib noted topliner Sandra Bullock has a sizable following, femmes have been starved for appealing films lately, and the pic benefited from being trailered for months. Oz helmer Shirley Barrett’s “Walk the Talk” stiffed on home turf after failing to secure more than a handful of good locations.

“The Emperor’s New Groove” bettered “Mulan’s” launch in Germany by 17% in local currency, positioned to capitalize on the school vacation which starts this week; its cume topped $29 million, with many major markets ahead.

Lasse Hallstrom’s “Chocolat” whipped up $6.5 million from 1,493 screens, tallying $26.7 million in 35 territories. One German programmer hailed the Judi Dench/Juliette Binoche starrer as a surprise hit — with most evening sessions SRO — and praised local distrib Senator’s marketing efforts.

“The Exorcist” director’s cut levitated to $51.7 million, driven by lusty bows in France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and New Zealand. William Friedkin’s chiller delighted one Gallic tradester, who opined, “The French are wary of American films in general, let alone re-releases, so we were amazed by the turnout.”

“What Women Want” vaulted to $149.2 million, powered by Spain’s socko preem and its remarkably strong fifth round in Germany. “Before Night Falls” resonated nicely on 108 prints in Spain, fanned by huge media coverage for Javier Bardem’s Oscar nom.

After causing a storm when the local censors seemed likely to slap an X-rating on “Baise-Moi,” the French import opened with an 18-plus tag in Spain with barely a whimper.

“Hannibal” swallowed $9.1 million from 3,013 engagements in 23 countries, hoisting its cume to $125.5 million. “Cast Away” hit $176.8 million (paced by Japan’s lucrative $20.4 million in 26 days), “Meet the Parents” moved along to $126.5 million, and “102 Dalmatians” touched $99.1 million, spurred by Japan’s neat $6.2 million in 12 days, a fave with vacationing kids.

Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic” reached $25.4 million on the back of a lively bow in Mexico and soph sessions in Oz (where the fall-off was a worrying 41%), France, Italy, Taiwan and South Korea; only a few major markets, including Japan and Germany, are upcoming.

Guy Ritchie’s “Snatch” didn’t catch fire in Italy, but ranked as a healthy No. 2 in South Korea; its estimated cume is $40 million.

Pleasant springtime weather kept the Italo B.O. fairly soft, but there were solid contributions from local freshmen “Amici Ahrarara,” first feature toplining popular TV comic duo Fichi d’India, centering on two luckless cousins attempting to patent their bizarre inventions; and “Ignorant Fairies,” Ferzan Ozpetek’s meller about a woman’s discovery of her late husband’s double life with a gay lover.

Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” jumped to the top spot in India; its estimated cume is $63.6 million.

Early in its foreign campaign, Jennifer Lopez starrer “The Wedding Planner” had a fair opening in Holland but plunged in its second round in Italy (where it’s called “Sooner or Later I’ll Marry”), after OK runs in Singapore, Malaysia and Norway.

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