Even ‘Hitch’ can’t find niche at Italo B.O.

Smith laffer, 'Hostage' enliven Blighty

The Italian B.O. has been in a funk for months, and even “Hitch’s” arrival last week failed to spark biz.

The territory’s grosses slumped by 13% on the prior weekend. But, as one booker in Naples noted, ” ‘Hitch’ began well enough but the market has been very slow so, in this negative market, the results aren’t bad.”

The Will Smith/Eva Mendes starrer opened around 11% below “What Women Want” in Italy — but significantly better than that Mel Gibson vehicle in the U.K., South Korea and Belgium.

Genre fans in Italy weren’t curious to find “Hide and Seek,” just as they were lukewarm about “Blade: Trinity” the week before.

“Hitch” and a solid debut for “Hostage” did enliven Blighty, where takings were up by 27%. Smith’s flying one-day visits to London, Birmingham and Manchester last month stoked interest in the romantic comedy, and exhib predicts a mild 30%-35% second weekend drop. Bruce Willis’ admirers were keen to catch him in “Hostage” after his low profile of late, and the crix weren’t unkind, although some poked fun at the far-flung plot.

The champ overseas for the second consecutive frame, “Hitch” collared $30.2 million on 4,640 screens in 42 markets, and its cume through March 15 hit $70.8 million. The date doctor caper was No. 1 in 14 markets including Belgium, Holland, Hungary and Scandinavia, and it easily retained the lead in its soph sessions in Germany and Australia.

In South Korea, “Hitch” was well beaten by “Mapado: All About the Hemp & Widows,” local drama about five grannies who trap and torment a gangster and a corrupt cop on a remote island, and by fellow frosh “Million Dollar Baby.”

Clint Eastwood’s poignant drama also punched up healthy screen averages as it debuted in Hong Kong and South Africa, and its estimated cume reached $47 million. Spain is its top market, where the euthanasia theme resonates with folks who flocked to “The Sea Inside.”

France is in the doldrums after February was off by nearly 15% on the prior year, despite a handy bow for “Boudu,” a remake of Jean Renoir’s 1932 pic “Boudu sauve des eaux,” starring Gerard Junot (“Les choristes”), Gerard Depardieu and Catherine Frot; the original also inspired “Down and Out in Beverly Hills.”

The stellar cast of “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” didn’t pique much interest in France, where helmer Wes Anderson isn’t well known. Viewed as “too high brow” by one exec in Italy, the comedy was cut to 61 prints in its second weekend there after launching tamely on 138.

Released day-and-date with domestic, “Robots” was the victor in Mexico, although more than 20% below “Ice Age’s” entry. Fox’s toon was No. 1 in Malaysia but second in Singapore and Indonesia.

In Spain, biz dropped a bit despite nifty bows by “Blade: Trinity” and “The Longest Penalty in the World,” a local soccer pic, whose lead Fernando Tejero, star of primetime comedy series “Aqui no hay quien” is hugely popular.

In their first foreign engagements, “The Pacifier” was tops in Taiwan, eclipsing “Be Cool.” The John Travolta starrer opened marginally better in depressed Oz, where “Friday Night Lights” became yet another casualty in the gridiron-themed genre, despite getting a hefty kick-off from UIP.

Ticket sales slumped by 20% in Germany as none of the rookies including “Elektra,” “Son of the Mask,” “Alfie,” “Racing Stripes” and Frankie Potente starrer “Creep” stirred auds. “Stripes'” failure disappointed exhibs, who said kids weren’t hooked despite the fact popular local thesps did the voices. The little zebra didn’t get out of the gate either in Japan, but it’s shown better form in the U.K. and Australia.

(Sheri Jennings in Rome, Esther de Prado in Madrid, Liza Klaussmann in Paris, Archie Thomas in London and Christian Koehl in Cologne contributed to this report.)

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