'Museum' gap filled by 'Charlotte's Web' in U.K.

LONDON — Upmarket slasher “Hannibal Rising” looks to carve out a decent opening in Europe this weekend while in Blighty the continued absence of “Night at the Museum” leaves the door open for “Charlotte’s Web” to lure in the kids.

Despite lacking the presence of Anthony Hopkins, “Hannibal” is expected to topple last weekend’s big opener “Night at the Museum” from the top of the charts in Italy.

“Hannibal,” which goes out on 386 via Filmauro, is boosted by massive marketing and strong reviews. “The Cannibal could have been worn out; but instead, by bringing him back in time our curiosity is piqued,” said Corriere della Sera about the Peter Webber-helmed slasher toplining Gallic thesp Gaspard Ulliel.

Some Italo exhibs, however, are cautious about prospects for “Hannibal” in the crowded frame, which also sees the debut of Luc Besson’s “Arthur and the Invisibles” on 365 via 01 Distribution and the bow of Nancy Meyers romancer “The Holiday,” which arrives on 330 via Universal.

Though La Repubblica called “The Holiday” “too long and derivative,” local bookers feel the romantic drama will open well in the loved-up run up to Valentine’s Day.

Italian reviews for “Arthur” have been positive. “The characters are original and the transitions between live action and animation more natural than usual,” said La Repubblica.

01 has high hopes for this European challenge to Hollywood toons, but exhibs aren’t so sure, with one predicting that it would do “OK, but nothing like a Disney or DreamWorks pic.”

Also bowing in Italy is Anthony Minghella’s “Breaking and Entering,” starring Jude Law and Juliette Binoche, on 80 via Buena Vista, and Italo comedy “Mi fido di te,” starring comic duo Ale & Franz on 105 through Medusa.

Brit exhibs are confident that Paramount’s “Charlotte’s Web” will attract plenty of cinemagoers. E.B. White’s 1952 classic children’s book, which “Web” is based on, is still widely read by youngsters, who should make the film version a half-term vacation hit. An opening frame of $3 million is projected.

Family pic “Web” benefits from the fact that there is no ground being given in the showdown over the “Night at the Museum” DVD release date; Fox is not pushing back the April 3 homevid release date and the major Brit exhibs are not playing the Ben Stiller laffer.

WB gave Hugh Grant-starrer “Music and Lyrics” a starry West End premiere and local bookers expect it to open well. The romantic comedy, which also stars Drew Barrymore, should prove the number one Valentine’s Day film in Blighty.

Powered primarily by good brand recognition, “Hannibal” is expected to bow brightly in the U.K., although exhibs are not confident it will display much staying power beyond its opening weekend as the marketplace is very competitive at present. “Thanks to Momentum’s supportive campaign, it should pack the multiplexes in its first 10 days but then fade,” said one booker, who expects a $2 million opening three-day figure.

Despite the huge popularity of soccer in Blighty, there are very modest industry expectations for BVI’s “Goal 2: Living the Dream.” The first installment did good biz in the north-east of England due to the pic’s Newcastle setting but “Goal 2″ is set in Madrid and has been getting very little buzz.

“A game of two halves … both of them dire,” was the dismissive verdict from London listings mag Time Out.

“Hannibal” got off to modest start in Gaul, taking $347,135 on 367 for Quinta. Local star Ulliel’s portrayal of the infamous Dr. Lecter is a far cry from his recent roles as a 19th-century pickpocket in “Jacquou le Croquant” and as Audrey Tautou’s love interest in “A Very Long Engagement.”

Despite not much love from the Gallic crix, Fox’s “Night at the Museum” got off to a fast start Wednesday, taking $668,181 at 676 on its first day.

The only major French new release — Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s “Odette toulemonde” — starring the ever-popular Catherine Frot, brought in a respectable $274,733 for Pathe on 248. The whimsical musing on the art of happiness has failed to warm the hearts of Gallic crix.

In Germany, “Rocky Balboa” steps in the ring with local exhibs expecting it to have a fight on its hands to knock last weekend’s boffo opener “The Wild Soccer Bunch 4″ from the top spot.

Fox’s “Rocky Balboa” almost did not get a Teuton release due to a row between exhibs and distribs over the DVD release date of “Eragon.” But Fox agreed not to break the window and “Rocky” comes out punching for auds.

Local laffer “Die Aufschneider,” a comedy-satire about competing medical clinics facing financial cutbacks and having to resort to extreme measures to stay in business, is launched via the 3L distrib. Homegrown comedy has worked well of late in Germany.

In Spain, local laffer “Cinema Days” goes out on 250 through Buena Vista, repping the biggest release for a Spanish film on home turf this year. But the pic is not setting tradsters’ pulses racing.

The highest-profile Spanish release is Warner Brother’s 351-screen “Blood Diamond” launch. Local exhibs expect it to land in first or second spot but have their reservations about its long-term commercial appeal due to the difficult subject matter. Reviews have been underwhelming. “The movie pretends to shake consciences when in fact it just provides an excessive portion of suitable spectacle,” said Fotogramas magazine.

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

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