UIP looks to repeat success of 'Love Actually' in U.K.

LONDON — With the festive season fast approaching, big budget seasonal specialties lovingly wrapped in Hollywood are freezing out local pics across Europe.

UIP is pushing “The Holiday” hard in Blighty as the romantic comedy to see this Christmas. Awareness for the slushy pic shot up thanks to the winter wonderland themed U.K. premiere Tuesday, which was attended by Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz and helmer Nancy Meyers.

Exhibs feel the pic has a good chance of doing solid biz: ” ‘The Holiday’ has good prospects if it can reach some of the audiences who made Working Title’s Christmas romantic comedy ‘Love Actually’ such a suc-cess,” said one Brit booker.

“Love Actually” made almost $45 million in its first three weeks in December 2003 in the U.K.

Reviews for the “The Holiday” have been largely mixed: “We the audience are soon legless with disbelief, and brainless too. But in that condition the film is almost enjoyable,” wrote Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times.

After the disappointing perf by “The Nativity” in Italy last weekend, U.K. bookers are downbeat about its prospects in Blighty — a far less religious territory than Italy. Reviews have been mixed at best for the Enter-tainment release.

“This is biblical reconstruction of the sort that will only fully engage those who can invest religious meaning in its narrative. For non-believers, it’s a bit of a snooze,” wrote Dave Calhoun in influential London listings mag Time Out.

Italian box office remains stuck in a slump and exhibs see little reason why this weekend’s releases will reinvigorate flagging trade — even though it is a three-day holiday weekend.

“Unfortunately, this weekend will be no better,” a Rome-based distributor predicted. “And for the year, we’re well off last year.”

The distributor cited lackluster product as the main reason for the depressed state of the biz.

This weekend, the soph sesh of Warner Bros.’ “Happy Feet” is expected to end the two week run at the top of the charts of local pic “Anplagghed at the Cinema.”

There is no notable local pic bowing in Italy this weekend but two French pics debut — Patrice LeConte’s buddy film “My Best Friend,” from distrib Lucky Red, and the Alain Resnais helmed “Coure,” released by BIM. Both releases are expected to break into the top 10, tallying between $300,000 and $500,000.

Local releases are also thin on the ground in Spain where, due to two days national holiday this week, releases were moved forward from the regular Friday slot to Tuesday. Spanish bookers expect the soph sesh of “Deja Vu,” the third frame from “Casino Royale” and the eagerly-anticipated bows of “The Holiday” and “Happy Feet” to dominate the potentially money-spinning six-day weekend.

Encouraged by strong reviews, Spanish exhibs feel French comedy “Palais Royal!” can do solid biz at upmarket sites. It goes out on 103 with Alta and bookers are looking for a haul of $300,000 from its first six days.

The bow of “Happy Feet” is also expected to dominate Gallic biz but local tradesters also have high hopes for a pair of homegrown films.

Gallic laffer “Mauvaise foi,” which goes out on 211 with Wild Bunch, generating significant pre-release hype. The film is the directorial debut from popular French comic actor Roschdy Zem, who came to the fore with his perfs in films like the wildly popular “Chouchou.” Pic also stars another French fave — Cecile de France.

Another French opener that has caught the public’s attention is comedy “Madame irma,” directed by comic Didier Bourdon, who also stars in the pic about a fired CEO who tries to earn cash posing as a female fortune teller. Critics weren’t overly enthusiastic about the pic but it has generated good buzz on French chat shows and film sites. Pic, distribbed by Mars Distribution, goes out on 411 screens.

In Germany, James Bond comes under fire from a trio of prominent openers — “The Departed,” “Flushed Away” and “The Nativity Story.” “Casino Royale,” which is in its third frame, has been a great hit with Ger-man auds.

Exhibs expect the star power and strong reviews of “The Departed” to erode “Casino Royale’s” outstanding performance to date, but its violence and subject matter makes it less accessible to general auds than Bond’s latest adventure, said one exhib.

” ‘The Nativity Story’ and ‘Flushed Away,’ on the other hand, are strong contenders for the whole family, and the story of Mary and Joseph is especially resonant at this time of the year, when families are in full Christmas mode,” one exhib noted, predicting the weekend box office would be sliced up like a holiday pie.

The only Euro pic of note opening in Germany this weekend is Icelandic-German-Denmark-U.K. co-pro “Niceland,” released by distrib Alpha Medienkontor.

Additional reporting by Bern-hard Warner (Italy), Esther de Prado (Spain), Ed Meza (Germany) and Liza Klaussmann (France).

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