Love for local films set to grow

Valentine's Day launches drive box office

LONDON — Homegrown releases still sporting lipstick marks from appreciative local auds’ rapturous reception on Valentine’s Day look set to storm the box office across Europe this weekend.

Valentine’s Day faves readying themselves for more action include “Hot Fuzz,” “Night Before Finals — Today,” “Taxi 4” and “La Vie en rose.”

Edgar Wright’s cop spoof “Hot Fuzz” is all set for a boffo opening frame on home turf. The local laffer, which stars Simon Pegg and Simon Frost, proved a huge hit on Valentine’s Day — its opening day — taking $1.76 million on 500 screens. The take was better than the $1.4 million garnered by Hugh Grant romancer “Music and Lyrics” — a film with more obvious appeal to dating lovebirds.

And the Valentine’s Day bow looks like no flash in the pan for “Hot Fuzz” — it performed well again on Thursday, taking $1.2 million.

“Hot Fuzz” has benefited from a bullish campaign from Universal. Posters with the laugh-out-loud funny “Big Cops. Small Town. Moderate Violence” tagline are seemingly at every underground station and on every bus stop in London.

“Fuzz” buzz has been sky-high this week thanks to tireless promotional work from Pegg and Frost, who showed at the BAFTAs on Sunday and tub thumped at the “Fuzz” world premiere in London on Tuesday. Reviews from the Brit crix were either positive or mixed.

Exhibs predict a $7 million opening figure for Friday-Sunday. Wright’s previous effort “Shaun of the Dead,” which launched Pegg and Frost, grossed $12.8 million in 2004. Brit bookers expect “Fuzz” to double that cume.

With none of this weekend’s fellow openers generating much excitement in Blighty, the way is clear for “Hot Fuzz.” Michel Gondry’s Gael Garcia Bernal-starrer “The Science of Sleep” should play well in upmarket arthouse theaters.

In Italy, another homegrown Valentine’s Day hit looks set to dominate weekend business.

Local romantic comedy “Night Before Exams — Today,” released by 01 Distribuzione, is destined for the top spot. The sequel to 2006 sleeper hit “Night Before Exams” opened boffo on Valentine’s Day, scoring $1.1 million on 707 on its first day.

The cross generational tale mixing educational and romantic mishaps got the thumbs down from La Repubblica, which called it “schizoid” in its attempt to please all demographics but exhibbers are predicting the new “Night” yarn, which transposes 80s-set original to present day, will easily top the $16 million take of the original. Both are helmed by wunderkind Fausto Brizzi and star young heartthrob Nicolas Vaporidis.

Like “Hot Fuzz” in Blighty, “Night Before Exams — Today” faces little competish from fellow openers. Oscar hopefuls “The Last King of Scotland” and “Letters From Iwo Jima” bow on 50 and 40 via Fox and WB respectively.

“Taxi 4” — the latest installment in the hugely popular Gallic franchise — opened big on its first day on release Wednesday in France.

The EuropaCorp release, which is scripted by Luc Besson and directed by Gerard Krawczyk, got off to a fast start with $3.5 million at 867 in its first day and should continue to outpace rivals this weekend. Reviews have been fair to good although some Gallic crix suggested the car-chase high jinks are becoming a touch old hat by the fourth lap.

Edith Piaf biopic “La Vie en rose” also exceeded industry expectations on its first day. Going out on 675 via TFM, the pic posted a boffo $1.8 million opening day. Reviews heaped kudos on helmer Olivier Dahan and star Marion Cotillard for their portrayal of the French cultural icon. The film, which was lauded at the Berlin Film Festival, also stars Gerard Depardieu.

The strong local flavor of the two Gallic pics overpowered the bow of Fox’s “The Last King of Scotland,” which managed just $86,897 at 103 on its first day on release. Steven Soderbergh’s WWII thriller “The Good German” fared little better; hauling just $77,777 via WB. “German” also bows in Germany this weekend.

Nic Cage vehicle “Ghost Rider” rides into Spain at 415 through Sony. The superhero pic has been backed by a big publicity campaign for its first outing in a major Euro territory and local bookers expect it to take between $3.3 million and $4 million in its opening frame. The superhero pic also debuts in Russia this weekend.

Italian box office smash “Manual of Love 2” arrives in Spain and local bookers are quietly confident it will appeal to auds. “While it may have too many local Italian jokes, sex symbols Monica Bellucci and Elsa Pataky should draw male audiences,” said one Spanish booker. Initially, DeAPlaneta releases “Love 2” on a tentative 165.

Spanish bookers do not have particularly high expectations for thriller “Bosque de sombras,” which Filmax saddle up on 120. The U.K.-French-Spanish co-production, which stars Gary Oldman and Virginie Ledoyen, will battle it out for auds with awards season contenders “The Lives of Others” and “Letters From Iwo Jima,” which both get limited releases buoyed by some love from the crix.

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

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