‘Code’ breaks, but will it play in Perugina?

Can 'Code' put Cannes behind?

This article was updated at 5:45 p.m.

CANNES — Reviews and word of mouth here for “The Da Vinci Code” have been glum, but will it matter?

The film makes its global bow today and, based on preliminary statistics and predictions from exhibs and distribs around the world, “Code” looks likely to put Cannes behind it.

The U.S. is predicting a haul of at least $50 million for its opening weekend. Pic is looking strong in France and Italy, and distribs in Germany, Spain, Latin America and China also expect hot bows — though some fret over long-term results.

In the States, movie ticketing service Fandango said “Code” is accounting for 81% of all advance sales. In comparison, sales for DreamWorks Animation’s “Over the Hedge,” which also opens today weekend, accounts for 4%.

Pic bowed Wednesday on 885 French screens to a solid $1.9 million (1.5 million Euros), despite the fact that 12 million in Gaul were watching the European Champions League soccer final. “Code” sold 232,898 tickets — 50,000 in Paris alone — making it the year’s second-biggest Gallic bow after “Les Bronzes 3.”

Wednesday’s tally is well behind opening day figures in France for last year’s “Star Wars — Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” (641,799 tickets) and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” (606,591 ducats).

German exhibs are not bothered by initial negative reviews.

“It’s been shown again and again that negative reviews rarely affect a film’s box office performance,” says Arne Schmidt, a spokesman for Cinemaxx, Germany’s biggest multiplex chain.

“Critics have a very different set of criteria for film than the general public. We are sure that ‘The Da Vinci Code’ will have an excellent start. We are expecting it to attract up to 6 million viewers,” he added.

That number, translating to about $50.5 million, was confirmed by Cinemaxx CEO Hans-Joachim Flebbe.

If so, “Code” would trail “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” ($68 million) but top “Star Wars — Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” ($48 million).

Schmidt cautioned that sunny weather could hurt the film’s overall performance.

In Spain, Sony will have 750 prints, an all-time record. Exhibitors there say the country’s low level of newspaper readership means that most auds will be unaffected by the early negative reviews. One exhib commented: “Art film’s audiences may read reviews. But not ‘Da Vinci Code’s’ followers. Why would they care?”

Bookers expect opening-weekend records, but predict the pic will drop like a stone in its soph session.

One exhib said: “Even if it gets a great word of mouth, which I doubt, it’s the kind of movie one wants to see before someone spoils it.”

In Latin America, the sentiment is similar. Said a Brazilian distributor: “My only doubt is if upscale auds might be put off by reviewers’ reactions. Otherwise the Cannes reception won’t affect ‘Da Vinci Code’s’ opening, which will be huge.”

Despite massive drubbings in the Italian national media, “Da Vinci” remains poised to make a killing in Italy, where advance ticket sales have soared to unprecedented levels, as pic readies for release on a massive 910 screens, about half the country’s total capacity.

“Opening weekend is guaranteed to be a record-breaker. Then we’ll see; there might be a drop, but I’m pretty confident it will have legs,” said one booker.

Italy’s largest multiplex chain, Warner Village Cinemas, has sold more than 20,000 advance tickets, setting an internal record. On Wednesday, top Italo dailies La Repubblica and Corriere Della Sera ran front-page stories and rivers of ink describing the pic’s critical drubbing on the Croisette.

“Cannes critics don’t necessarily reflect the general public. Friends of mine who saw it there really liked it,” said Giuseppe Grispello, commercial director of the Vis-Pathe multiplex chain.

The fate of “Code” appears uncertain in the Mideast. Circuit-Empire, pic’s distrib there, held its first press screening in United Arab Emirates Wednesday night. The pic will not be released in Lebanon, Egypt, Syria or Jordan due to Christian protests, with the only locked-in release date in the whole region the May 31 bow in the Emirates.

Hopes that the ban would be relaxed following pic’s unveiling are up in the air. “Nothing’s changed so far but let’s see what happens,” said Hiyam Itani, Circuit’s press manager.

“Code” unpools on 393 prints in China, which translates as a very wide release in about 600 theaters. Columbia TriStar Film Distribution Intl. is forecasting a gross of about $9 million.

“Code” preemed in Beijing on Wednesday night, a few hours ahead of the official Cannes bow. Press coverage so far has been mainly about the gala event, as opposed to reviews. Initial reactions have focused (favorably) on Ian McKellen, even though Tom Hanks is better known. Other early reactions suggested a high degree of satisfaction with auds, considering that “Code” is more complex than the average Hollywood blockbuster, which are often seen as too simplistic for Chinese viewers.

The religious controversy means little to most Chinese, and the hubbub in Cannes is expected to fuel interest in the film, rather than dampen it.

(Patrick Frater, John Hopewell, Ali Jaafar, Alison James, Liza Klaussmann, Ed Meza and Nick Vivarelli contributed to this report.)

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