It’s murder at the Euro box office

'Gangster,' 'Beowulf' battle for control

ROME — It’s “American Gangster” against “Beowulf” at the European box office where the 1970s New York-set crime saga and the gory Hollywood adaptation of the ninth-century Brit epic will do battle alongside some muscular local bows.

Ridley Scott’s crimer toplining Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe opens with good odds of gunning down the competish at the U.K. box office this weekend.

Universal Pictures Intl. is releasing “Gangster” on 455 screens buoyed by the pic’s stellar Stateside performance and high profile stars

The release a week earlier of unofficial soundtrack album “American Gangster” by U.S. rapper and media maven Jay-Z has also helped boost pic’s media profile.

Reviews have, however, been mixed. The Telegraph’s Sukhdev Sandhu hailed, “It’s great to see two alpha-male leads strut their stuff,” while The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw was left cold by “a startlingly original true-life story told in an oddly unoriginal way.”

Robert Zemeckis’ “Beowulf,” which includes a selection of Brit talent including Ray Winstone and Anthony Hopkins, is also going out wide, via Warner Bros.

A splashy U.K. preem, highlighted by photo-friendly pairing of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt prancing down the red carpet, has been followed by generally positive notices.

“Whatever the liberties taken, this ‘Beowulf’ seen in glorious performance-capture 3D at the Imax, makes for rip-roaring entertainment,” said the Independent’s Anthony Quinn.

Optimum Releasing unveils “Brick Lane,” the big-screen adaptation of Monica Ali’s best-selling novel about a Bangladeshi woman who comes to live in London.

Pic has been attracting plenty of ink ever since local residents of the real Brick Lane prevented helmer Sarah Gavron from lensing on location for fear pic misrepresented the Bangladeshi community. The vocal protests were also rumored to be the reason behind the decision to pull the film as the Royal Film Performance, which Prince Charles was due to attend. Pic eventually preemed at the London Film Festival.

Optimum is releasing pic on 91 screens across the country, an indication of the high hopes the distrib has for the pic to draw mainstream auds. “We’re very proud of the film,” said Optimum CEO Will Clarke. “We’re going for the crossover audience. Even though there has been some controversy around it, the film itself isn’t that controversial. It has a lot of other elements.”

Elsewhere in Blighty, Sony releases “The Jane Austen Book Club” nationwide, Lionsgate U.K. is opening “Earth” on 15 screens, while Metrodome bows “Anna M.” Minnow distrib Axiom Films releases “The Wayward Cloud” and “I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone” on one and two screens respectively, while Contender Films is releasing “Weirdsville” on seven screens.

In Italy, where “Gangster” will bow in January, “Beowulf” is being released on 405 via Warner Bros., going against low-brow Italo pic “Wedding in the Bahamas,” which Medusa is outing on 530 amid predictions the trashy laffer will take the weekend crown.

Italo reviews for “Beowulf” have been tepid. Weekly Panorama said that “rather than an epic movie, it will stick in our minds as a massive heap of special effects.” Pic will screen in 3-D on eight Italo sites.

“Wedding,” which toplines funnyman Massimo Boldi, is an attempt to get an early jump on the Christmas season when Italians invariably flock to local comedies with low common denominators, which do gangbuster biz despite critical drubbings.

The crowded Italo frame also sees outings of two other strong local titles, Pupi Avati horror pic “The Hideout,” starring Laura Morante, which 01 Distribution is releasing on 211, and Mimmo Calopresti’s Calabria-set “L’Abbuffata,” with Gerard Depardieu, which Istituto Luce is outing on 90.

“A Mighty Heart,” out on 16 via Universal, Pierce Brosnan starrer “The Matador,” on 20 via Mediafilm, and Cannes Camera d’Or winner “Jellyfish,” on 15 via Sacher Distribuzione, are among smaller Italo outings.

In Germany, “American Gangster” will duke it out with “Beowulf“ for the top spot, but Kinowelt’s local satire “Free Rainer” also looks certain to generate plenty of interest with its attack on the modern TV biz.

Directed by Hans Weingartner, who helmed the hugely popular “The Edukators,” “Free Rainer” is the story of a TV channel topper who, after achieving huge success with trashy formats, has a sudden change of heart and declares war against low-brow programming.

Also hitting screens is Marc Alexander Meyer’s debut feature “Wir sagen du! Schatz,“ a dark comedy about a lonely and desperate man who kidnaps a number of people, including a woman, a boy and an old woman, in order to form a happy family for the holidays. Pic goes out via Zorro.

Other openers include Rif Film’s award-winning Turkish-German thriller “Takva”; Farbfilm/Barnsteiner’s Berlin drama “Schoener Leben”; Michael Cahill’s “The King of California,” starring Michael Douglas (3L); Leonardo DiCaprio’s environmental docu “The 11th Hour” (Warner); Sony’s “Daddy Day Camp”; and French-Argentinean gay drama “La Leon” (Salzgeber).

In Gaul, the massive strikes that look set to continue indefinitely have not been kind to the box office. Some distribbers estimate as much as 30% of their business has been down since trains and public transport services first went on the blink nationwide on Wednesday.

“Gangster,” though, did great guns on opening day, taking in over $590,000 on 379.

Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. “A sumptuous duel of Hollywood stars,” said Paris Match.

Gallic crix were even more blown away by “Faut que ca danse!,” the family laffer helmed by Noemie Lvovsky toplining Jean-Pierre Marielle and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, which was seen as “ironic and droll in the Lubitsch school,” by Le Nouvel Observateur.

“A small comic masterpiece, tempered by a life-affirming philosophy,” gushed Le Monde.

“Danse!” bowed at $130,655 on 186 via UGC.

Fatih Akin Cannes standout “The Edge of Heaven” has pleased Pyramide, bowing at $113,160 on 161.

In Spain, the frame will be marked by a slew of local bows following the B.O. phenom initiated in previous weeks by Juan Antonio Bayona’s boffo chiller “The Orphanage.”

Ten movies will open at Spanish wickets, but none with a large run.

Most bookers think “Orphanage” will stay on top after five frames and a $30 million running cume, just behind “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” ($31.4 million Spanish cume), which is still the leader in Spain’s annual ranking.

The widest of three Spanish titles opening this weekend is 1920s-set romancer “Luz de Domingo” (Sunday Light), directed by 1982 Oscar-winning Jose Luis Garci (“To Begin Again”) on 115 prints via Sony.

“Great performances,” said newspaper El Pais; “A strong, painfully Spanish pic,” said newspaper La Razon.

“We have to see if Garci’s usual followers remain loyal to him,” said one booker.

“ ‘Domingo’ raises the question of how much Spanish cinema and auds have changed,” underscored an exhibber.

Epitomizing new trends in Spanish cinema is “Fermat’s Room,” the feature debut of Spanish helmers Luis Piedrahita and Rodrigo Sopena, which bows on a modest 56 via Manga. In “Room” four math experts are given different tests by an unknown killer in a shrinking chamber. This challenging movie echoes Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s “Sleuth” and Alfred Hitchcock “The Rope.” “If exhibbers are a little patient, ‘Room’ may benefit,” said a booker.

“Moon in the Bottle,” the feature debut of Grojo, goes out on a notably limited 30 via Fox. Pic combines circus and cabaret in a colorful choral tale about a ghost writer performed by Spanish TV star Edu Soto.

Tony Gilroy’s “Michael Clayton” opens on 263 via DeAPlaneta. Exhibbers expect this legal thriller to place second to “Orphanage.” George Clooney is a big draw in Spain.

Additional reporting by Ed Meza (Germany), Ali Jaafar (U.K.), David Hayhurst (France) and Emilio Mayorga (Spain).

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