Homegrown fare hold well in U.K., Italy, France

LONDON — Home baked pics “Hot Fuzz,” “Day Before Finals — Today” and “La Vie en rose” put in strong soph perfs in Blighty, Italy and Gaul this weekend while Yank superhero actioner “Ghost Rider” blazed a trail in Germany and Spain.

Red hot buzz propelled Universal’s “Hot Fuzz” to a stunning second frame. Edgar Wright’s local laffer dipped just 24% at the weekend, taking $6.5 million at 432 screens for a running cume of $23.4 million.

The hold was better than any of the competish and particularly impressive as the spoof cop actioner opened whammo Feb. 16-18.

The opening 12 day take for “Hot Fuzz” is almost double the final cume banked by Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead” ($12.8 million), which also stars “Fuzz” comic duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

Bookers attribute “Fuzz’s” monster success to the huge popularity of “Shaun” on DVD and liken the pattern to the performance of the “Austin Powers” franchise in Blighty. The first pic, “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery,” banked a modest $8.6 million in 1997 but gained a huge following on homevid, which helped catapult the sequel, “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” to $50.9 million in 1999.

Best opener in the U.K. was Jim Carrey-starrer “The Number 23,” which took $2.4 million at 322 via Entertainment. Brit bookers welcomed the opening frame perf, especially given the pic received poor reviews from the Brit crix. Exhibs now project a final cume close to $8 million.

Robert De Niro’s “The Good Shepherd” failed to bring home auds in droves. The CIA pic took fifth spot in its first frame with $1.2 million at 339 through Universal. Reviews were okay but not strong enough to draw big auds in a marketplace crowded with upscale awards season fare.

Homegrown pics ruled the roost in Italy where “Night Before Finals — Today” held top spot with $3.2 million at 589 for a running total of $13 million, according to national box office compiler Cinetel.

But boffo opener “Saturn in Opposition” was the real star of the show this weekend, taking $3 million at 379 via Medusa.

“Saturn,” which depicts the bereavement pains of a bunch of friends, including a gay couple — just as debate over gay marriages rages in Italo parliament — scored a stellar $8,000 screen average.

Helmed by Turkish-born Ferzan Ozpetek, pic is packed with local A-listers, including Stefano Accorsi and Margherita Buy. It is being hailed as a return to form for Ozpetek whose “Facing Windows” grossed $16 million in 2003.

As predicted, Hugh Grant romancer “Music and Lyrics” clicked with Italo auds, who often prove a sucker for romantic comedies. The WB release hauled $1.7 million on 325. “Lyrics” also did solid biz in Blighty, falling a respectable 36% in its second outing.

The grittier “Notes on a Scandal,” which has proved a nice earner for Fox in the U.K., also fared well in Italy. The Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett pic, about a teacher seduced by her 15-year-old student, banked $424,000 on just 94 for Fox.

As in Blighty and Italy, local product in its second frame held top spot in France where Olivier Dahan’s biopic of Edith Piaf “La Vie en rose” edged ahead of last weekend’s champ “Taxi 4.”

Multiplying the admissions figures by the average ticket price of $7.66, “La Vie” drew $7.8 million at 718 for the Feb. 21-25 five-day weekend for a $19.9 million gross in its first 12 days.

“Taxi 4″ took the second lap less well, dipping 43% in its soph sesh. But the Luc Besson-penned actioner still managed $7.3 million at 867 for a $22.7 million total.

More modestly budgeted local fare also did decent trade in Gaul. Pierre Jolivet’s romantic comedy “Je crois que je l’aime” made $2.2 million at 251 for StudioCanal in its first five days. “Danse avec lui,” helmed by Valerie Guignabodet with top local thesp Mathilde Seigner, brought in $2.1 million on 308 for Wild Bunch, which has been pleased to see it performing well both in major metro centers and in the sticks.

In Spain, Nicolas Cage vehicle “Ghost Rider” held top spot despite dipping 52% to $1.5 million at 419 in its second weekend.

Fox sent out Forest Whitaker-starrer “The Last King of Scotland” in Spain hoping Oscars buzz would entice auds. The pic took a reasonable $419,000 at 90 for seventh spot and local bookers are hoping the Whitaker best actor win will help pic hold well.

Other Oscars contenders benefited from the awards warmth in Spain. WB’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” leapt up 20% in its 20th frame for an impressive $10.8 million running total. “Babel,” “Letters From Iwo Jima” and “Little Miss Sunshine” also stayed strong, dipping 15% and 16%, and rising 9%, respectively, for cumes of $12.6 million, $836,000 and $3.6 million.

“Ghost Rider” also topped the charts in Germany with $2.4 million at 362. The result was north of local bookers’ expectations, who were concerned that the pic would not resonate with Teuton auds as the Marvel Comics character is not well-known.

Homegrown tyke comedy “The Soccer Wild Bunch 4″ churned out $1.5 million at 720 through BVI and has now cumed $12.4 million. The pic added screens in its fourth frame and rose 14%.

“Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Notes on a Scandal” bowed in Germany to decent results, grossing $618,454 and $455,823 at 143 and 122 respectively. Both results met bookers’ upbeat expectations.

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

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