Adults take over theaters

LONDON — With summer tentpoles now winding down a variety of midrange pics compete for auds at the European box office this weekend.

The most significant bow for a megapic occurs in Italy where “Shrek the Third” finally hits theaters. The animated green ogre pic, which also debuts in Scandinavia this weekend, has already bitten off a boffo $418 million overseas.

After months of popcorn pics, adult auds are spoilt for choice this weekend as a slew of adult-skewed releases hits U.K. theaters.

Bookers expect hotel-set horror “1408” to prove the biggest draw of the openers. The John Cusack starrer from Paramount Pictures International is expected to top $2 million and best blood-soaked revenge thriller “Death Sentence.”

Both compete for similar auds but “1408” carries a less prohibitive 15 certificate (‘Death Sentence’ sports an 18 cert).

“Hallam Foe,” a coming of ager starring Jamie Bell as a peculiar peeping Tom character who spies on his female boss from the Edinburgh rooftops, benefits from extensive coverage in the Brit press generated by the opening night screening at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Bookers expect the pic to play well in Scotland but are not convinced it has much appeal to mainstream auds. Reviews have been largely mixed. “Jamie Bell has grown into a performer with warmth and style, and David Mackenzie’s direction is exuberant, but the story itself is self-regarding, and the ending, with its muddled vengefulness, strains both sympathy and credibility,” wrote Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian.

Gallic director/actress Julie Delpy’s walk-and-talker “2 Days in Paris” should perform well at upmarket sites thanks to strong reviews. “A very likable, smart, offbeat film,” enthused Bradshaw.

Hollywood remake “No Reservations” is not generating much buzz in Blighty. The female-skewed Catherine Zeta Jones starrer about an obsessive chef’s efforts to loosen up and find love has been given the thumbs down by the Brit critics. “There’s not an unpredictable moment in Carol Fuchs’ plodding, syrupy script; this dreadful remake of the moderately pleasing German film ‘Mostly Martha’ is misconceived from start to finish,” sniped David Gritten in the Daily Telegraph.

U.K. bizzers do not have particularly high hopes for Par’s “Year of the Dog,” or Fox’s “Breach.” The latter has received strong reviews but bookers do not feel that Yank lead Ryan Philippe yet has much B.O. allure in Blighty.

In Germany, it’s a free-for-all as bloodthirsty zombies take on Roman centurions while Jamie Bell watches from the rooftops.

Bolstered by strong reviews, Fox’s zombie horror sequel “28 Weeks Later” looks likely to displace “Knocked Up” from the top spot. The original “28 Days Later” opened at number two in June 2003 and cumed $4.5 million.

Tobis is saddling up Doug Lefler’s “The Last Legion” in hopes of attracting fans of historical adventure.

Prokino and distrib partner Fox are sure to boost the arthouse circuit with “Hallam Foe,” which is boosted by excellent reviews from the Teuton critics: “A feel-good movie in all the best ways,” gushed trade magazine Treffpunkt Kino.

Constantin Film’s local teen comedy “Kein Bund fuers Leben,” about reluctant young army recruits, may also pull in decent crowds. Director Granz Henman has proved he knows the genre with hit teen comedies such as “Ants in the Pants” and “More Ants in the Pants.”

Writer-director Elke Hauck’s local drama “Karger,” about a small-town steelworker dealing with the breakup of his marriage and the loss of his job, goes out via Novapool Pictures.

New Cologne-based distrib Za Film releases Mikhail Segal’s Russian World War II story “Franz + Polina,” about the star-crossed romance between a young German soldier stationed in Belarus and a local girl whose village is targeted for destruction by the SS.

Ulrich Grossenbacher and Damaris Luethi’s Swiss doc “Hippie Masala,” about aging flower children who have been living happily in India since the 1970s, may attract curious and like-minded Teutons; pic goes out via Kool.

In addition, Warner releases Robin Williams laffer “License to Wed”; Mika Ninagawa’s historical Japanese drama “Sakuran,” about the adventures of a rebellious courtesan on the rise in 18th century Japan, goes out via Rapid Eye Movies; RealFiction presents “Thomas Harlan — Wandersplitter,” a documentary about the leftist author and filmmaker and son of controversial Nazi-era director Veit Harlan.

Italy is playing catch up this weekend, with “Shrek the Third” finally unspooling on 770, after a boffo one-day preview on Aug. 22 scored $2.4 million on 480.

Expectations are therefore high for the green ogre with $6 million-$8 million considered a likely opening figure, despite the fact that Italy’s media is focused on the Venice fest.

Local distribbery Filmauro is going against “Shrek” with Roland Joffe’s steamy torture suspenser “Captivity” on 260, a move that is expected to pay off.

In the arthouse arena, Mikado is outing Kim Ki-duk’s Cannes competish pic “Breath,” which should find favor with local cinephiles given Ki-duk’s strong Italo following.

BIM is outing Eric Rohmer’s pastoral romancer “Les Amours d’Astree et de Celadon” on 25, in tandem with its Venice outing.

In Spain, Imanol Uribe’s sea adventure film “La Carta esferica” bows on 211 copies via Universal.

Local critics reaction has been mixed. On the upside, they concur in praising Spanish thesp Carmelo Gomez’ work and the able direction of Uribe (“Carol’s Journey”). However, reviewers suggest the pic could have done with a bigger budget and is too adult-skewed to appeal to younger teens.

The film is based on a novel by Spanish writer Arturo Perez Reverte, who also provided the source material for last year’s local B.O. hit “Alatriste.” But Spanish industryites do not predict “Carta” will approach the blockbusting levels of “Alatriste,” which banked $22.6 million and was the highest-grossing Spanish film of last year.

Bowing on 265 via Aurum, Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof” has been lionized by the Spanish press with Spain’s most popular film monthly “Fotogramas” giving it a “must-see” five stars.

The latest pic from the Doraemon toon franchise — Ayumu Watanabe’s “Doraemon, Nobita’s Dinosaur 2006″ — goes out on 159 via Luk International. And bookers feel it has decent B.O. potential due to the popularity of the “Doraemon” TV series in Spain.

In France, two Yank midrange offerings — Adam Sandler laffer “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” and Kevin Costner starrer “Mr Brooks” —compete for auds. Firm film festival favorite “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days” from Romanian director Cristian Mungiu gets a bullish release.

Additional reporting by Ed Meza (Germany), Emilio Mayorga (Spain) and Nick Vivarelli (Italy).

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