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Euro heroes fight to retain top spot

'Fuzz,' 'Finals' defend turf against imports

LONDON — Expect little change at the top of the charts across Europe as homespun faves “Taxi 4,” Hot Fuzz” and “Night Before Finals — Today” look set to hold top spot in their soph efforts in France, Britain and Italy.

De Niro’s second directorial effort “The Good Shepherd” and Jim Carrey-starrer “Number 23” are given saturation releases in the U.K. this weekend but bookers expect local laffer “Hot Fuzz” to hold the top spot comfortably.

Edgar Wright’s buddy cop actioner spoof has proved a huge hit on hometurf, racing to a boffo $15.5 million in its first seven days, eclipsing the $12.8 million final cume of Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead” — which also starred “Fuzz” topliners Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

Bookers expect “Shepherd” to take between $1.4 million and $2 million. It its favor is the heavyweight cast including Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin and Joe Pesci. It is disadvantaged by the long 167 minute running time. Reviews have been largely mixed: “A wan, muted film that is never less than interesting, but rarely more than that either,” wrote Sukhdev Sandhu in the Daily Telegraph.

U.K. exhibs expect Joel Schumacher’s thriller “Number 23” to prove more front-loaded than “Shepherd.” Tradesters applaud the trailer, which they feel should draw in teen auds on opening weekend but aren’t particularly upbeat about its potential staying power. Reviews will not help its cause: critic Peter Bradshaw described it as a “mind-numbingly silly conspiracy thriller” in the Guardian.

Clint Eastwood’s “Letters From Iwo Jima” bows in Blighty this weekend to coincide with the Oscars and WB will be hoping it does significantly better than “Flags of Our Fathers,” which flopped when in was released on Dec. 26 in the U.K. Brit crix prefer “Iwo Jima” to “Flags.”

Italian bookers expect “Night Before Finals — Today” to hold top spot in Italy where seven new pics enter the fray. Italian box office biz has been buoyant in 2007, with admissions up 22% on 2006 through mid-February.

Turkish-born Italo helmer Ferzan Ozpetek’s ensemble pic “Saturno contro” goes out on 390 via Medusa backed by critical support. Ozpetek’s “Facing Windows” pulled $16 million in 2004 but his last effort, “Sacred Heart,” failed to excite auds.

“Saturno contro” looks to keep up the run of Italian pics doing boffo biz on home turf. Thanks largely to “Manual of Love 2” ($25 million gross to date) and “Night Before Finals —Today” ($10 million), Italian pics have accounted for a massive 40% of the total 2007 take in the territory.

Italo bookers have solid expectations for Hugh Grant-starrer “Music and Lyrics,” which WB send out on 340. Romantic comedies often work well in Italy.

“Notes on a Scandal” gets a limited release on 90 via Fox, boosted by strong reviews. La Repubblica raved about both Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, saying the pic is bolstered by “the superlative stature of these two great talents.”

Homegrown faves “Taxi 4” and “La Vie en rose” continue to boss Gallic box office biz.

Nic Cage vehicle “Ghost Rider” got a fast start on Wednesday, raking in $664,595 at 426 through SND. Auds were unperturbed by negative vibes from the crix.

The crix were kinder to two light-hearted local openers, which both bowed brightly.

Valerie Guignabodet’s weeper “Danse avec lui,” starring Mathilde Seigner, took in a shade under $364,000 on 308, a decent return for Wild Bunch on its first day. “A simple, powerful story,” said Tele 7 Jours.

Pierre Jolivet’s “Je crois que je l’aime,” with ever-popular local thesps Vincent Lindon and Sandrine Bonnaire, opened at a respectable $356,563 on 251 for StudioCanal. “A light-hearted, profoundly enjoyable look at the beginnings of love, and fears about commitment,” sniffled Figaroscope.

In Spain, Antonio Banderas and Jennifer Lopez starrer “Bordertown” bows on 270 via Tripictures. Banderas has proven box office appeal in Spain, especially in his hometown region of Andalusia, but Lopez the thesp is yet to convince Spanish auds.

Local bookers are hopeful for a strong “Bordertown” bow as most of the other weekend releases are small and aimed at arthouse auds. But exhibs are not convinced that the pic’s worthy social issue will excite multiplex auds.

Distribs Fox and Golem have chosen this weekend to release “The Last King of Scotland” and “Venus,” hoping to capitalize on the Oscars buzz surrounding topliners Forest Whitaker and Peter O’Toole.

This weekend’s box office in Germany is likely to look a lot like last weekend’s, despite a slew of new openers, including five films that premiered at the Berlinale last week.

“Ghost Rider” goes up against high-profile Berlinale screeners such as Warner’s “Letters From Iwo Jima,” “La Vie en rose” from Constantin, Falcom’s “Bordertown” and “Notes on a Scandal” from Fox.

But local exhibs reckon this weekend’s top titles will be the same ones as last weekend, with “Rocky Balboa” duking it out with Buena Vista’s German tyke pic “The Wild Soccer Bunch 4” and Tobis’ “Hannibal Rising.”

Of the Berlinale screeners only “Ghost Rider” and Edith Piaf biopic “La Vie en rose” go wide enough to get a shot at the top end of the charts. The rest battle for scraps on the arthouse circuit.

Senator’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” goes out on about 100 screens with local bookers hoping Oscar buzz can help it draw auds in a crowded marketplace.

Other German openers include Delphi’s Austrian horror film “In 3 Tagen bist du tot!,” Rapid Eye Movies’ Bollywood gangster pic “Don,” which screened in the Berlinale’s Forum sidebar, 3L’s “Lonely Hearts” starring John Travolta and MFA’s Estonian/Latvian animated feature “Leiutajatekula lotte.”

Additional reporting by Nick Vivarelli (Italy), Ed Meza (Germany), David Hayhurst (France) and Gorka Bilbao (Spain).

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