Muscular duo set to stay Euro chiefs

No opposition to B.O. leaders

LONDON — A quiet frame at the European box office this weekend in terms of mainstream openers paves the way for “American Gangster” and “Beowulf” to post solid soph sesh holdover and expansion biz.

In the U.K., last weekend’s punchy openers “American Gangster” and “Beowulf” should continue to boss biz.

While bookers expect “Sleuth” and “The Darjeeling Limited” to swell the tills in London’s West End and key sites, no openers are expected to pack the multiplexes.

Feel-good fantasy “August Rush” gets the widest release, out on 334 via Entertainment. Child actor Freddie Highmore delighted Brit auds in “Finding Neverland” but savage reviews do it no favors: “Watching this yucky emotional drama is like being sprayed with treacle from a high-pressure hose,” wrote the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw.

Michael Caine and Jude Law thriller “Sleuth” is released by Para-mount on 147 amid very poor reviews. “Perhaps the most charitable view is to suspect that the whole film is some kind of sadistic mind-game, in which Branagh (director) and Pinter (writer) are hell-bent on humiliating their actors. If that’s the case, they’ve succeeded magnificently,” sniped Chris Tookey in the Daily Mail.

Despite the reviews, the combined appeal of two of Blighty’s leading male thesps should generate some interest.

Fox out Wes Anderson’s “The Darjeeling Limited” on 194 amid mostly mixed reviews. “Like the train from which it takes its title, Wes Anderson’s new picture is outrageously colorful, wonderfully designed and packed with intrigue. It also feels, like that train, maddeningly one-paced, hopelessly muddled in its direction and barely acquainted with any meaningful form of reality. Your inclination to buy a ticket will depend largely on your previous experience of this peculiar filmmaker,” suggested Anthony Quinn in the Independent. Anderson does have a cult following in Blighty.

Werner Herzog’s “Rescue Dawn” — out on 78 via Pathe — also battles for arthouse auds.

In Italy, Stephen King adaptation “1408” is the biggest opener in a frame otherwise filled with local titles, in-cluding the bows of Mafia actioner “Milano-Palermo: Il Ritorno” and comedy “Lessons in Chocolate.”

“1408,” starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, is going out on 250 via Lucky Red amid some doubts the haunted hotel pic will scare up substan-tial biz.

Buena Vista International is outing “Milano-Palermo,” toplining Giancarlo Giannini, on 243 boosted by positive write-ups, while “Chocolate” is being served up by Universal on 200 also with good buzz. These releases mark a rare case of two Italo titles released by Hollywood majors in the same frame.

Smaller Italo openers include fam-ily fantasy “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising,” out on 99 via Fox, Julie Taymor’s Beatles musical “Across the Universe,” on 81 via Sony, and Teu-tonic Hitler comedy “Mein Fuhrer,” out on 60 via Warner Bros.

In the arthouse arena, BIM Dis-tribuzione is releasing Gallic philo-sophical thriller “Conversations with my Gardener,” starring Daniel Auteuil, on 29.

In Germany, with no blockbuster competition entering the fray this week, “American Gangster” and local ani-mated hit “Lissi” look likely to keep their hold at the top of the charts.

Elsewhere, a slew of openers mean B.O. coin is likely to be shared around widely.

Universal’s German-Austrian-Swiss historical spoof “Tell,” about the legendary Swiss bowman and his struggle for Swiss independence, may attract sizeable auds with its wacky comedy-sketch style.

Sony Pictures’ Beatles-inspired musical “Across the Universe” is likely to benefit from strong reviews. “A true monument to the best band in the world,” wrote weekly Focus.

Prokino is hoping to generate plenty of arthouse interest with the animated “Persepolis” and its positive buzz, while “Happily N’ Ever After,” a U.S.-German CGI animated production going out via NFP and Fox, will likely entice plenty of tykes.

Offering another alternative to mainstream fare is Vanessa Jopp’s dysfunctional family comedy “Meine schoene Bescherung” from X Ver-leih/Warner. Also hitting screens are Warner’s political thriller “Rendition,” Concorde’s Palme d’Or winner “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days” and Ki-nostar’s horror pic “Seed.”

In France, cinema biz remains rea-sonably solid despite the public trans-port strikes.

Debutant helmer Olivier Baroux’s romantic comedy “Ce soir, je dors chez toi” bowed at a decent $324,235 on 273 on Wednesday for StudioCanal.

“Beowulf” managed a so-so open-ing for Warners, with a first-day take of $280,730 on 481. Most crix were unimpressed: “This accumulation of technological and artistic contradictions has created a monstrous modernist hybrid,” moaned Le Monde.

“Lions for Lambs” looks like a dud for Fox, with a bow of $217,495 on 390. While some reviews were posi-tive, most were indifferent at best. “The three linear stories are told with the rhythm of an overly chatty old TV drama,” yawned Le Parisien.

“Saw IV” opened over 35% weaker than last year’s franchise installment. Its opening-day tally was $403,065 on 197.

In Spain, local chiller “The Or-phanage’s” remarkable six weeks at the top of the box office looks set to end this weekend with the bow of “Beo-wulf.”

Even so, “Orphanage” has matched a six-year record: the last film to stay atop the Spanish B.O. for six weeks was Alejandro Amenabar’s “The Others” in 2001. Santiago Segura’s “Torrente 2” stayed at No. 1 for seven weeks a few months earlier the same year.

Cuming $32.3 million through Thursday, Juan Antonio Bayona’s chiller is just a week or so off passing “Mortadelo & Filemon” to become the second highest-grossing Spanish film of all time, after “The Others.”

“Beowulf” goes out on a strong 450 copy spread via WB. “It will open great, taking $3 million-$4.5 million,” enthused a booker. “‘Beowulf has highly appealing ingredients — cast, director and a visual originality that will seduce young audiences,” declared another upbeat booker.

Spanish pic “Rec,” co-helmed by Jaume Balaguero (“Fragile”) and Paco Plaza (“Romasanta”), bows on 275 via Filmax. The reality TV parody pic is a hit with local crix who are unanimously positive and is currying good blogosphere buzz. Exhibs predict a bow of $1.5 million.

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

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