Pic opens in U.K. as schools close

ROME — Besides “Ratatouille” touching down in Blighty, across Europe it’s midrange fare all over the menu, with local pics in Italy, Spain and France among the widest openers.

Disney execs are hoping to cook up a box office feast with the U.K. release of “Ratatouille.”

Foodie rat toon, the widest release in Blighty’s this weekend, is being rolled out at 416 sites and has glowing reviews and a smart marketing campaign going for it. Release will be buoyed by the week-long school holidays, which start Monday in some areas and on Oct. 22 in others.

Popular U.K. TV chef Jamie Oliver has been recruited to voice the character of the health inspector in the feature, while print ads linking the film to the rugby World Cup semi-final — in which England takes on France on Saturday — has also heightened awareness.

“It’s turning a potential threat for audiences into a marketing opportunity,” said Lee Jury, exec marketing director with BVI U.K.

“The half-term (holiday) release date, which worked brilliantly for us on ‘Finding Nemo,’ should help us. We can’t wait to see the figures. Let’s just hope the sun doesn’t come out.”

Disney’s marketing team has also released a specially commissioned Pixar short featuring the “Ratatouille” characters bemoaning the evils of piracy. The short was placed on the ad reel of every U.K. print.

In other Blighty bows, Sony has “Resident Evil: Extinction,” Paramount is outing “The Nanny Diaries” on 200-plus sites, and Verve Pictures are releasing Kevin Costner thriller “Mr. Brooks” on 200.

“Mr. Brooks,” in which Costner goes against type to play your friendly neighborhood serial killer, has received mixed reviews.

“If you can stomach the psychological codswallop of a serial killer keeping the demons at bay via Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, it may well be possible to enjoy this taut-ish thriller,” wrote the Guardian newspaper’s Cath Clarke.

Metrodome is boosting its release of acclaimed Austrian Holocaust pic “The Counterfeiters” after receiving $510,000 from the U.K. Film Council’s P&A Fund. Extra coin means pic will now bow on 80 screens using both digital and 35mm prints. Pic is Austria’s candidate in the foreign language Oscar race.

Icon brings out New Zealand horror pastiche “Black Sheep” at 180 sites.

Pic, a tongue-in-cheek zombie flick, has proven a guilty pleasure for many U.K. critics.

“There’s something irresistibly silly about this Kiwi comedy-horror. If nothing else, it contains the year’s single best visual gag, as a bleating, zombified ewe drives a truck off a cliff,” wrote The Telegraph’s Tim Robey.

Last of the new Brit releases is Eros Intl.’s “Bhool Bhulaya,” starring Bollywood superstar Akshay Kumar, on 55 prints across the country.

In Italy, which will be getting “Ratatouille” next week, the widest opener is lowbrow local laffer “SMS,” about the adulterous effect of a text-message mix-up, out on 360 via Medusa.

Exhibbers are iffy whether this tamely trashy pic will oust classy George Clooney starrer “Michael Clayton” — also a Medusa pic in Italy — from the top spot.

Italo auds are also getting a wide range of new midrange Hollywood titles.

Matthew Vaughn’s epic fairy-tale fantasy “Stardust,” starring Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, is out on 265 via Universal, going against “Resident Evil: Extinction,” which Sony is releasing on 254.

Nicole Kidman/Daniel Craig starrer “Invasion” is bowing on 168 via Warner Bros. amid mixed reviews for this “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” remake.

“’Invasion’ is a metaphor of itself; the enth clone,” wrote La Repubblica.

More specialized Italo outings are Jane Austen biopic “Becoming Jane,” on 62 via Eagle Pictures, and Sundance feminist romancer “Waitress,” which Warner Bros. is releasing on 25.

In Germany, where “Ratatouille” opened boffo last week, Sandra Bullock starrer “Premonition” leads a slew of new outings expected to keep B.O. buoyant.

“Premonition” is helmed by Germany’s Mennan Yapo, which, on top of Bullock’s big Teutonic following, has generated added publicity for this surreal suspenser suited for a broad demographic, going out via Kinowelt.

Teutonic auds are also likely to be taken with “December Boys,” the coming-of-ager starring Daniel Radcliffe, which Variety’s review noted is destined to be forever known as “Harry Potter Gets Laid.”

Michael Moore’s “Sicko” also makes its debut at German wickets, via Senator. But given that health care is less of a hot-button issue in Europe than Stateside, it is not expected to generate biz remotely in the boffo range of “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

More likely to get action is Constantin’s “Pornorama,” a 1960s-set comedy about two brothers who set out to make a “sex education” film. First from helmer Marc Rothemund since his hit Nazi-era drama “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days,” “Pornorama” has good prospects of rousing local auds.

Less clear are the prospects for Universal’s terrorist action drama “The Kingdom,” as U.S. war pics are largely snubbed by Germans. Peter Berg’s film however has won critical kudos: “‘The Kingdom’ is one of the few U.S. films that express doubt about the ‘American way of life.’ It illustrates that the U.S. has failed in the Middle East,” wrote daily newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau.

Fox’s fantasy “The Seeker — The Dark Is Rising” may attract younger viewers, but one local exhib expressed doubts that pic, with no name stars, would have much of a chance against the competition.

W-Film’s award-winning “Gegenueber,” meanwhile, may generate some arthouse biz due to its acclaimed performances, but pic’s stark depiction of marital abuse in a policeman’s dysfunctional family may limit its prospects as a weekend date movie.

Also limited to specialty venues is Angela Schanelec’s atmospheric family drama “Nachmittag,” about a young woman who returns to her country home and meets her troubled former love, a writer trapped by his narcissistic mother. Pic goes out via Peripher.

In Spain, thanks to the Hispanic Day holiday on Friday, the Oct.11-14 four-day frame should set 2007 records for domestic product with “The Orphanage” bow.

Chiller from first-time helmer Juan Antonio Bayona, a Picturehouse pickup for the U.S., goes out on a bold 348 via Warner Bros. Expectations are unanimously high.

“It will take around $3 million over the first four days,” said one booker. “Its marketing campaign has been so good that the movie doesn’t even seem Spanish,” he added.

That should goose B.O. in a year when homegrown pics have become tantamount to box office poison.

Spain’s arthouse-avid critics for once have given their thumbs-up to a genre film, praising both its craft and a superb lead perf from Spanish actress Belen Rueda.

Blog scribes are also behind the movie.

Rueda (Alejandro Amenabar’s “The Sea Inside”) is an important factor in broadening demo appeal.

Booker’s final cume estimates ranged between $16 million-$20 million.

“It will become this year’s ‘Alatriste’ ,” said one booker, referring to the Spain-made Viggo Mortensen swashbuckler, which grossed $24 million at the home B.O.

“We have just had a couple of weekends with no movie surpassing the Euro 1 million ($1.4 million) mark. There’s no important soccer match on TV, it’s a three-day Spanish weekend and there’s no other movie that can overshadow it; so it’s perfect,” said one distribber.

The only other opener that could theoretically spoil the fiesta for “The Orphanage” is “The Heartbreak Kid,” bowing on 301 via UIP. But that is not likely.

“Its Spanish title is terrible,” lamented one distributor. Pic is being released with a title translatable as “Compulsive Marriage.”

Adria Garcia and Victor Maldonado’s kiddie toon “Nocturna,” from mini-major Filmax, bows on 158.

“Although it won’t be close to the success of “The Hairy Tooth Fairy” (Filmax’s latest toon hit), it will do well because we haven’t had a similar type of pic for several weekends,” said one booker.

In Gaul, Gaumont is happy about the warm reception for BBC/Discovery Channel co-production “Planet Earth,” which has bowed at $319,315 on 449, amid largely glowing reviews.

Geo-docu is enjoying the second-best bow for a documentary in Gaul since “March of the Penguins” nearly three years ago.

Studio Canal is less pleased about the launch of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s mythology-heavy fantasy “His Majesty Minor.” The $43 million production, toplining Jose Garcia as a man-pig hybrid and Vincent Cassel as a satyr, looks like a rare commercial misfire for Annaud in Gaul, bowing at $169,340 on 497, the widest opening in the frame.

“Very static and rather stupid,” blasted Telerama

Paramount has high hopes for “Knocked Up” on the strength of generally good reviews for the Judd Apatow comedy, which bowed at $156,500 on 344.

“Under a rather trashy surface lies a fine and nuanced comedy,” said TeleCineObs.

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

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