'Papa' beats 'Sith' at Argentina's B.O.

BUENOS AIRES — The beach and a love-crazed father are hot in Argentina as winter begins.

“Papa se volvio loco” (Dad’s Come Back Crazy), starring vet thesp Guillermo Francella, has made a roaring start at the box office. It ended the two-week dominance of “Star Wars: Episode II — Revenge of the Sith” in its opening weekend, despite 20 fewer screens. And it came second in this past weekend (June 10-13) on 67 prints against the massive promotional push of “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.”

The laffer, which cost just under $1 million to make, notched 311,000 admissions in its first two weekends, the year’s strongest start of any domestic production. It is on track to surpass the 1 million tix target of producers Telefe Cine and Argentina Sono Films — a feat achieved by only a couple of local films a year.

“Papa” is about a husband and wife who travel to the beaches of the Dominican Republic on their second honeymoon to revive their marriage. The husband, played by Francella, falls for a tall, gorgeous woman — think a Caribbean Bo Derek in “10.” Rodolfo Ledo, best known for TV series, makes his directing and screenwriting debut.

Carlos Mentasti, general manager of Telefe Cine, thinks the pic’s success is due to its unabashed homage of glossy American-style comedies.

“Comedy is important now because people need to laugh, have a good time, especially in our country,” which is still recovering from the severe economic crisis of 2001-02, he says.

Mentasti has had an impressive record for finding hits over the past 21 years: “La furia” (The Fury), “Un Argentino en New York” (An Argentinian in New York), “Papa es un idolo” (Daddy is My Idol), “Apasionados” (Passionate People) and last year’s “Patoruzito,” an animated epic that was the third hottest local film ever with 2.2 million admissions.

His approach is simple. “All my films have very defined genres. It either fails or it’s a genre that people are looking for,” he told Variety. “Peligrosa obsesion” (Dangerous Obsession) which sold 950,000 admissions last year, was an action comedy in the vein of “Lethal Weapon.”

Mentasti doesn’t hide his admiration for “10.”

“I’ve always thought of doing a film with a Bo Derek. It’s a universal theme. It’s totally believable and can happen anywhere,” he says.

Even without star power or great reviews, the strong box office — helped by $250,000 in promotion and advertising spending, 20 times greater than average for a homespun pic — is generating interest for international distribution, Mentasti says. Telefe Cine, a unit of Spain’s Telefonica, plans to seek theatrical release in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in Europe and the U.S.

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