Britain’s box office battle

'Duchess' goes up against 'RocknRolla'

LONDON — Guy Ritchie geezer gangster caper “RocknRolla” rocks up hoping to bag the B.O. swag in Blighty, where Keira Knightley period drama “The Duchess” also will be hoping to lord it over the competish on opening weekend.

Elsewhere at the European box office this weekend, Steven Soderbergh’s Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara pic “The Argentine” gets stuck into its first guerrilla warfare for Euro auds when it bows in Spain.

Notable expansions of late summer pics are “Wanted” (Germany), “X-Files: I Want to Believe” (Italy) and “Journey to the Center of the Earth” (Spain).

In the U.K., it’s a huge weekend for local fare as fast-paced London-set “RocknRolla” opens alongside “The Duchess.” Both pics received their world premieres in London’s West End this week so awareness is sky-high.

“RocknRolla,” which marks a return to the geezer gangster genre Ritchie pioneered with “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch,” gets a wide release from Warner Bros. and is expected by bookers to open in top spot. An opening North of $3 million is projected, with some predicting as much as $4 million.

Pic has received lots of media coverage all this week after Ritchie’s wife Madonna surprisingly showed up for the glitzy Sept. 1 world premiere in London.

Reviews have been mixed, with some real stinkers. “‘RocknRolla’ is a standard issue Ritchie thug movie, complete with captions, slow-motion shots of Thandie Newton and bags of raucous music,” sniped James Christopher in the Times, adding “Ritchie is clearly taking his cues from Quentin Tarantino, but he has clearly run out of invention, if not sheer nerve.”

The Daily Mail struck even lower: “This is Guy Ritchie’s third turkey in a row, after ‘Swept Away’ and ‘Revolver’ … it is a pitiful attempt to recapture the success of his first two movies.”

Scathing reviews are out of whack with industry reaction, which is mostly very positive.

Local helmer Saul Dibb’s “The Duchess” is boosted by the enduring popularity of period dramas in the U.K. and the attractive Brit cast of Knightley, Ralph Fiennes and rising star Dominic Cooper (“Mamma Mia!”).

Reviews have been mixed, with nothing nasty enough to dissuade punters. “For period drama fans, there is enough high-powered bed-hopping and elegant corridor-stomping to keep them entertained,” said the Sun tabloid.

An opening over $2 million is expected.

Other key releases in the U.K. are Nic Cage starrer “Bangkok Dangerous” (Entertainment) and “Disaster Movie” (Momentum Pictures). Neither has the blessing of the Brit crix, with “Disaster Movie” coming in for a particularly savage bashing: “With ‘Disaster Movie,’ the guys (Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer) who brought you the chronically unfunny ‘Epic Movie’ and ‘Meet the Spartans,’ have reached the reductio ad absurdum of their own cinematic methods by producing a movie so bad that it’s almost avant-garde,” said the Times.

Despite the bad reviews, exhibs forecast that “Disaster Movie” will still play O.K. with 10-15 males in the multiplexes.

Timour Bekmambetov’s high-octane actioner “Wanted” opens in Germany, where it looks set to blow Batpic “The Dark Knight” off the top of the charts.

The Universal release, starring Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy, has won over some local critics, who describe the actioner as ultra-violent but nevertheless top escapist fare.

“Timour Bekmambetov makes his Hollywood debut with a dazzling, furious and explosive comic adaptation, but his best effect remains Angelina Jolie as an action Amazon,” wrote trade magazine Blickpunkt: Film.

Andreas Dresen’s love story “Wolke 9” (Cloud 9) is one of the few films entering the fray this week. Senator Film is counter programming with the Cannes screener about an aging couple whose marriage of more than 30 years is rocked by an unexpected affair.

Also hitting screens is Italian animated fantasy “Winx Club: The Secret of the Lost Kingdom,” which may attract some tyke auds hungry for kid friendly fare; pic goes out via m4e/24 Bilder.

In Italy, fresh from the Venice fest, Italo-Turkish arthouse helmer Ferzan Ozpetek sees his “A Perfect Day” released at 414 cinemas this week. O1 Distribution is upbeat with reliable support from Italo film reviewers.

For fans of the cult sci-fi drama, 20th Century Fox is sending out 350 copies of Chris Carter’s thinking person’s actioner “X-files: I Want to Believe.” Pic has already flopped elsewhere in Europe.

Medusa releases Venice Golden Lion award contender “Il seme della discordia” (Seed of Discord), helmed by Pappi Corsicato, on 222 and David Leland’s comedy period piece “Virgin Territory,” starring Hayden Christensen and Mischa Barton, goes out on 180 via Eagle.

High-brow films getting an Italo launch are Italo helmer Pierpaolo Pasolini’s documentary “La Rabbia” (The Rage), out on 16 screens by Istituto Luce, and David Mamet’s drama “Redbelt,” out via Sony on 11.

In Spain, there is no clear expected winner this weekend as a flood of pics bow on similar copy spreads amongst general uncertainty about their performance. In addition, there’s a group of holdovers with promising legs.

Fox releases Soderbergh’s “The Argentine,” the first part of the Che Guevara biopic that debuted at Cannes, on a bold 340. Local bookers praise Fox for a bullish campaign but local crix have responded coolly.

Spain-Italy co-production “The El Escorial Conspiracy” bows via Sony on 300. The historical thriller helmed by Antonio del Real and starring Julia Ormond has been tepidly received by reviewers, who reproached it for an excess of pomp.

Tripictures’ 3-D pic “Journey to the Center of the Earth” bows on 297 and “Nim’s Island” opens on 277 via Universal. “Two interesting options for family auds toward the end of the summer,” said a booker. “If not dazzling, takings will be acceptable,” predicted another. Other bows include Filmax released Western “3:10 to Yuma,” which bows on 185, boosted by warm reviews.

It was a quiet day one for openers in Gaul, despite dank weather, usually conducive to mass cinemagoing. “Comme les Autres” was the top launch, earning a moderate $293,008 on 251. The drama about a gay couple and surrogate mother pulled adequately for distributor Mars, notwithstanding mixed reviews. Critic Vincent Garenq of Cinema.ch called the film a “true disappointment” for playing on the worst cliche’s of homosexuality and for giving the characters “a kind of childish preciousness worthy of the worst television films.” But Le Parisien and others gave high marks.

Sexual suspense pic “Manipulation” did an anti-climactic $89,818 on 182 for SND. Big stars Hugh Jackman, Ewan McGregor and Michelle Williams were not enough to attract big auds after dismal reviews across the boards.

“Inju, La Bete Dans L’Ombre” was well received. Bolstered by good word, the thriller still earned an unremarkable $69,752 on 178 for UGC distribution. Serge Kaganski of “Les Inrockuptibles” called the film “a brilliant sexual thriller in trompe-l’oeil, crossed by filmgoing recollections.”

Also out in the thriller/suspense category, “Matyrs” made $47,835 on 69 for Wild Bunch Distribution. The story of kidnap and revenge was directed by Pascal Laugier. “Le Sel de la Mer,” about a young woman’s journey to reexamine her family roots in Palestine, did $17,470 on 36 for Pyramide. Both films were favorably regarded by crix as well.

Additional reporting by Ed Meza (Germany), Lauren Seligman (France), Emilio Mayorga (Spain) and Michael Day (Italy).

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