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Hollywood gang to rule at Euro B.O.

Seasonal pics make their move

BERLIN — Hollywood fare is set to dominate much of Europe this weekend, with the possible exceptions of Germany and Italy, where local pics are likely to top the charts.

A brace of seasonal pics and a homicidal outlaw are the most notable entrants to the U.K. this weekend. Warner Bros. critical fave “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” with Brad Pitt as the doomed train robber, bows on 65 screens boosted by a host of rave reviews.

“A tremendously stylish, intelligent retelling of Western myth,” wrote the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, while the Times’ James Christopher wrote, “The moment Pitt swaggers through a wheat field armed with a warm pistol and a three-piece black suit, we know we are in the presence of a superior bastard. The Western is alive and well.”

Warner’s other release, “Fred Claus,” starring Vince Vaughn as Santa Claus’ disgruntled brother, has been less well-received by Blighty crix. Pic, which is weekend’s widest release, bowing on 400 playdates, has received a most un-festive reception. “The actual effect of films such as this … is to put you in an entirely non-Christmas, non-joyous and non-charitable mood,” wrote the Independent’s Anthony Quinn, while the Telegraph’s Tim Robey bah-humbugged, “There’s nothing fascinating about ‘Fred Claus,’ unless you get to wondering how many better presents $150 million could have bought.”

Elsewhere, Fox U.K. bow vidgame adaptation “Hitman” on 350 screens, while Sony Pictures released “This Christmas,” about an African-American holiday family reunion, on 75 playdates.

Optimum Releasing bow gritty Ryan Reynolds vehicle “The Nines” on, appropriately enough, nine screens, while Revolver has Kenneth Branagh-helmed opera “The Magic Flute” bowing on a dozen screens.

British Pakistani multi-hyphenate Jamil Dehlavi self-distributes hot-potato drama “Infinite Justice,” about an American journo kidnapped by Islamic extremists and loosely based on the tragic story of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Pic is opening at one site in London’s West End.

In Gaul, “Enchanted” looks sure to top the box office after storming out of the gate. Disney certainly took no half-measures, opening on 659 screens, with a tidy first-day payoff of $1.02 million.

French scribes never seem to get enough of Disney animation. “Hilarious and touching,” said Le Parisien, while 20 minutes was delighted by its “poking gentle fun at so many of the Disney cartoon classics.”

“The Heartbreak Kid” bowed well for Paramount, with a first-day take of $283,095 on 319. Pic looks set to benefit from the Farrelly brothers’ strong following in Gaul. The Ben Stiller topliner is “relentlessly Farrellian… leaving all their upstart imitators in their wake,” wrote Premiere.

Two Cannes Palme d’Or nominees also bowed this week. Wild Bunch is pleased with returns for James Gray’s thriller “We Own the Night,” which received a standing ovation at a critics screening at this year’s fest.

It bowed at $251,620 on 245.

Scribes were won over by the gritty cops and robbers thriller. Le Figaroscope deemed it “affecting and solid as a war between the police and the hoods overlaps into wrenching family tragedy.”

“My Blueberry Nights,” Chinese helmer Wong Kar Wai’s English-language debut, has been more of a mixed bag, both commercially and critically, taking in $177,630 on 229 for StudioCanal. While Le Monde wrote, “Wai creates a highly sensual pleasure, with his visual and narrative skills at their height.” Telerama found it simply “alluring, but still a minor film.”

Spain’s local bet this weekend is brothel-creeping erotic thriller “Canciones de amor en Lolita’s Club,” helmed by Vicente Aranda (“Mad Love”) and bowing on a contained 123 copies from AZ Cinema.

Budgeted at $6.3 million — a high tab for a Spanish pic — and set for much of the time in an upmarket bordello, “Club’s” main draw is its physically engaging cast: Eduardo Noriega (“Open Your Eyes”), in a double perf as identical twins, and Canadian-Colombian actress Flora Martinez (“Rosario Tijeras”) as the whorehouse’s top-notch puta, who combines an extraordinary Latino voluptuousness with a Lauren Bacall-ish sometimes-harsh, sometimes-tender volubility.

Although pic was panned by the critics, one booker predicted pic would take $750,000 in its first frame.

UPI’s “Bee Movie,” which goes out on 421, will likely place first.

However, with no absolute stand-outs this weekend, new bows will cannibalize one another.

Fox releases Xavier Gens’ “Hitman” on 300 screens, the second largest release this weekend. Vidgame-based pic counts on Olga Kurylenko (“Paris, je t’aime”) as femme lead, playing yet another prostitute.

DeAPlaneta is hoping Scarlett Johansson’s popularity in Spain will translate to box office euros for “The Nanny Diaries,” which bows on 250.

Holdovers “Enchanted” and “Beowulf” both have a lot of life left entering their soph seshes, as does Spanish zombie scarefest “Rec,” up to $2.9 million through Thursday.

In Germany, Constantin Film’s romantic comedy “Warum Maenner nicht zuhoeren und Frauen schlecht einparken,” Leander Haussmann’s screwball adaptation of Allan and Barbara Pease’s best-selling therapeutic relationship book “Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps,” looks set to top the charts with a solid chance of dislodging “American Gangster” from the number one spot.

Pic, which toplines Benno Fuermann and Jessica Schwarz, is sure to appeal to female auds and may turn out to be a must for reluctant boyfriends, noted one exhib.

The film has tickled local critics. Munich newspaper Abendzeitung quipped: “Cinematic relationship therapy has seldom been so easy.”

Exhib is also expecting Uwe Boll’s latest, “In the Name of the King — A Dungeon Siege Tale,” starring Jason Statham and Burt Reynolds, to actually make it into the top 10. Although Boll’s recent productions, horror pic “Seed” and terrorism spoof “Postal,” bombed here, exhib says Statham’s fan following could result in a solid box office for Fox’s fantasy actioner.

Impressed by Boll’s efforts, trade magazine Blickpunkt: Film wrote: “The director’s ambitions are recognizably epic,” adding that “Statham flings himself into battle with passion.”

Pic could see competition from Sony Pictures’ human hunt adventure “The Condemned,” which is aimed at a similar demo.

The slew of local titles competing at the box office this week also include Rudolf Schweiger’s “Sniper’s Valley,” starring Max Riemelt and Adrian Topol as German soldiers in the Kosovo War, which goes out via Movienet; and two films with similar setups: Martin Gypkens’ “Nothing but Ghosts,” Senator’s episodic ensemble pic about young Teutons traveling the globe, and Sonja Heiss’ “Hotel Very Welcome,” Kinowelt’s episodic ensemble pic about young Europeans traveling in Asia.

Arsenal releases Georgian helmer Dito Tsintsadze’s “The Man from the Embassy,” which picked best actor prize in Locarno; Ben Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone” goes out via Disney; Warner is hoping to benefit from the holiday spirit with “Fred Claus”; Richard Gere starrer “The Hunting Party” goes out via Central; and Concorde rolls out Kevin Costner starrer “Mr. Brooks.”

In Italy, local kiddie toon “Winx — The Secret of the Lost Kingdom” is the biggest opener in what is considered a crucial test of whether homegrown animation can compete with Disney and DreamWorks product.

The first feature film to stem from worldwide smash TV series “Winx Club,” about five teenage fairies, made by Italy’s Rainbow studio, is bowing wide on 660 via 01 Distribuzione, amid high expectations after world-preeming at the Rome Film Festival.

“Winx” is going against musical fantasy “August Rush,” starring Robin Williams, which also bowed at the Rome fest, out on 200 via Medusa.

As for other openers in Italy, Paul Haggis helmed drama “In the Valley of Elah” is out on 170 via Mikado, while 01 is outing “The Nanny Diaries” on 122. Political thriller “The Kingdom,” toplining Jamie Foxx, bows on 100 via Universal, and Warners has comedy “Fred Claus” out on 94.

In the arthouse arena, Italo thesp Fabrizio Bentivoglio’s directorial debut “Lascia Perdere Johnny” bows on 65 via Medusa after preeming at the Turin fest.

Additional reporting by Emilio Mayorga (Spain), Nick Vivarelli (Italy), David Hayhurst (France) and Ali Jaafar (U.K.)

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