Theaters braced for festive onslaught

LONDON — Feelgood fare baked in Hollywood should cook up biz at the European box office this weekend as auds get in the festive family spirit.

Musical “Enchanted” is the widest new release in the U.K. where “Bee Movie” also buzzes into theaters. The latter also debuts in Germany and France.

The Italo frame sees the release of mainstream local comedy fare “Natale in Crociera” and “Una Moglie Bellissima.” Pair are up against the debut of “The Golden Compass,” which widens into Italy looking to continue its solid European perf.

The fat Italo frame’s biggest opener is “Natale in Crociera” (“Christmas on a Cruiseship”), the latest installment in the lucrative Aurelio De Laurentiis franchise toplining comic Christian De Sica, which opens on 800 via Filmauro amid high expectations for a bow North of $10 million.

The other wide local opener is “Una Moglie bellissima” (“A Very Beautiful Wife”), the new romantic laffer by popular thesp-helmer Leonardo Pieraccioni, out on 650 via Medusa, about which exhibbers are a bit less enthused.

“The Golden Compass” gets its Italo bow via 01 Distribuzione on 450 amid mixed reviews. “Nicole Kidman is a bit ridiculous as a bad witch,” maligned La Repubblica. Still, the Chris Weitz helmed fantasy boosted by massive marketing should provide an alluring alternative to local lightweight fare.

Discerning adult Italo auds are likely to be taken by David Cronenberg’s dark thriller “Eastern Promises,” which opens on 180 via Eagle Pictures.

In the U.K., Disney send out “Enchanted” on 466 sites hoping the pic will pack the plexes despite the fact Amy Adams (“Junebug”) is no household name in the territory. Reviews have been largely pro. “I haven’t been as delighted and surprised by an old-fashioned Disney tale since I was a child,” raved a particularly delighted James Christopher in Times.

Paramount release “Bee Movie” on a bullish 436 hoping the feelgood animated pic will prove a hit with families over the festive period. Jerry Seinfeld touched down in Blighty for the Dec. 6 U.K. premiere. Reviews have been good-to-mixed: “Amusing and likeable, but scarcely memorable,” wrote David Gritten in the Daily Telegraph.

Not all U.K. debuts are feelgood family fare. Universal saddles up James Gray’s crime drama “We Own the Night” on a bold 265. Pic, which re-unites Gray with “The Yards” stars Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg, should appeal to male auds who have already copped “American Gangster” (it enters its fifth frame this weekend). Other significant U.K. release is “Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” which Icon unleash on 351.

In Germany, Universal’s “Bee Movie” goes up against “Hitman,” with the CGI animated laffer certain to buzz to the top of the charts, followed closely by Fox’s “Hitman.”

While animated comedies continue to attract large auds, “Hitman” is sure to draw the young male gamer demo.

Also hitting theaters are Sony’s “3:10 to Yuma,” starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe, and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers starrer “August Rush,” going out via Tobis.

While the former may attract fans of Bale and Crowe, Westerns have traditionally faced an uphill battle in Germany, while “August Rush” may do OK as family-friendly fare during the holiday season but poses little threat to animated competition.

Local openers include Volker Schloendorff’s Cannes screener “Ulzhan,” a melancholy road movie about a French man who, after losing his family, sets off on a lonely journey through Kazakhstan, going out via X Verleih/Warner; and “Vorne ist verdammt weit weg,” NFP/Warner’s comedy based on star Frank-Markus Barwasser’s popular cabaret show.

Spain faces a transition weekend between last week’s big bow “The Golden Compass,” which wound up with a first five-day $8.0 million off 505, and next weekend’s “I Am Legend.”

In the meantime, studios, ambitious indies and specialty distribs engage in a battle not just of pics but also release strategies. And a low score for the mainstream indies will dent their bottom line significantly.

Of the indies, the most ambitious play comes from A Zeta, which puts out “August Rush” on 200 copies with a bold one page ad in El Pais, Spain’s most-read quality daily.

UPI is also going for broke, releasing “Lust, Caution” on a crossover mainly multiplex spread of 126. But it’s playing off far better reviews: “You can forgive the film its largeurs because it has explosive sections of great cinema,” said El Pais, which chose Lee’s film as its film of the week.

And indie New World is making one of its biggest bets of the year, releasing “1408” on 300 copies. Shockfest arrived hot at the Sitges fest in October, but was then somewhat overshadowed by local chillers, such as recent B.O. champ “The Orphanage.”

“Spaniards love genre movies, but that’s still a bold move,” said one fellow distributor.

A third indie, DeAPlaneta, has “Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” going out on 298.

Two distribs, however, are going for caution. Festive offering “Fred Claus” bows on 149, a sufficiently contained release to give it a chance of making it through the Christmas crush.

And top arthouse distrib Alta Films will release Nick Broomfield’s “Battle for Haditha” on 10 prints. “We thought of dubbing, but decided this is an issue film not an action movie, which will play best subtitled at classic arthouse locations,” explained Enrique Gonzalez Kuhn, Alta’s head of acquisitions.

In France, “Bee Movie” bowed promisingly on day one, taking $1.1 million on 803 via Paramount. Pic got a helping hand from the Gallic crix. Tele 7 Jours called it “pure candy. Sure to amuse old Seinfeld fans.”

Metro’s verdict was “funny and mischievous. Ideal for the whole family.”

Disney’s locally made heart-warmer “The Fox and the Child” also looks a commercial contender, with a first-day total of $810,000 on 703.

The latest from “March of the Penguins” helmer Luc Jacquet was described as “a passionate reflection of the place of mankind in the world,” by TeleCineObs.

StudioCanal release “Elizabeth: the Golden Age” did not click with French auds. Despite generally strong reviews, it opened at a flat $78,160 on 171.

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

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