'Asterix' stands firm in France

LONDON — “Cloverfield” crashes into four of the five big Euro box office territories this weekend hoping to scare up a bow as big as it monstered Stateside.

France — where local comicbook franchise “Asterix at the Olympic Games” will utterly dominate biz this weekend — is the only major territory in Europe not to receive “Cloverfield.”

In the U.K., “Cloverfield” opens on 376 locations via Paramount hoping to replicate its huge U.S. launch.

Pic’s prospects for a bumper bow are boosted by some very strong reviews: “The film is actually an old-fashioned monster movie that has been retuned into an unexpected — sometimes unwatchable — sensation. The panic is exquisite. The unnerving novelty about ‘Cloverfield’ is the quality of shock. Fantastic,” wrote James Christopher in the Times.

Anticipation for “Cloverfield” is high in Blighty where local media has picked up on the innovative marketing methods employed to build pre-release buzz.

Brit bookers expect a bow of around $5 million this weekend and expect the movie to hold slightly better than it did in the U.S. where it plummeted 68% in its second frame.

Exhibs confidently predict a top spot finish for “Cloverfield” thanks to its short running time, the strong reviews and Par’s in-your-face promotional campaign.

“Cloverfield” is the highest profile of a number of largish nationwide U.K. releases. Entertainment unleashes romantic comedy-fantasy “Over Her Dead Body” and Momentum saddle up ugly-duckling fable “Penelope.”

Both pics target young female auds and bookers predict both will do solid-enough trade given there has not been much for teen girls since “St Trinian’s” launched in December, other than January hit “P.S. I Love You.”

Of the holdovers, the Coen brothers’ Oscar contender “No Country for Old Men” looks likely to avoid any falloff in its third frame due to an expansion, strong word of mouth and awards season buzz.

Contender Films release Brit filmmaker Nick Broomfield’s Iraq drama “Battle for Haditha” at arthouse sites. Pic is boosted by solid promotional work from Broomfield and strong reviews: “Broomfield has produced a moving, even-handed and often revelatory account of a military campaign that deforms soldiers and civilians alike,” wrote Sukhdev Sandhu in the Daily Telegraph.

Pathe sends out French-language kid’s pic “Asterix at the Olympic Games” at just three U.K. sites — the Edinburgh Filmhouse, Manchester Printworks and West London Gallic hangout Cine Lumiere — despite boffo biz over the English Channel.

In France, homegrown comedy “Asterix” grossed a whopping $4.1 million on a record-breaking 1,078 screens nationwide on its first day, Wednesday.

And going in to the weekend, expectations are massive. The months-long publicity blitzkrieg accompanying the $115 million production — a record-breaker for a French film — seems to be paying off for a delighted Pathe, at least initially.

However, the third instalment in the live-action franchise bowed 35% weaker in Gaul than number two, 2002’s “Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra,” which saw first-day admissions of 629,148 on 900.

Local critics have been nothing short of merciless. TeleCineObs lamented “the poverty of the dialog, the laziness of the gags, the tunnels of boredom, and the aberrant participation” of a slew of cameo celebrities, including soccer legend Zinedine Zidane.

Other new releases were totally eclipsed by the arrival of “Asterix.”

French helmer Nicolas Boukhrief’s “Cortex” had an okay bow for Wild Bunch, with $107,575 from 190. The thriller toplines Andre Dussollier as a retired detective, who may or may not have uncovered dark goings-on in an old folks’ home. His perf was judged “masterful” by Tele 7 Jours.

Franco-Serbian production “Promise Me This” made $82,040 on its first day on 119 for Mars. Helmer Emir Kusturica’s latest was generally met warmly by the scribes. “Funny, romantic and poetic,” said MCinema.

Other bows had limited releases. “Things We Lost in the Fire” rolled out on 50 for Paramount, earning $26,800 on its first day. The weepy family drama toplining Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro was seen as being “poignant in its performances, but lacking in dimension and rhythm” by Metro.

In Italy, Woody Allen’s “Cassandra’s Dream” is the biggest opener, going against “Cloverfield” with both pics propelled by big promo drives and the Woodsman expected to win.

The London-set sibling crimer starring Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell is rolling out on 360 via Filmauro, which has been carpet-bombing Italos with TV spots for the pic and even getting media-shy Allen to make tube and radio plugs.

“Molto bello,” wrote La Stampa. “Woody Allen’s perfect devices imbue this film with ethical depth and narrative lightness at the same time,” the Turin daily said.

Allen is historically a big draw in Italy where “Match Point” pulled in $11.4 million, its highest European tally and almost half of that pic’s Stateside take.

“Cloverfield” is going out on 300 via Universal launched by an Internet-driven campaign similar to the marketing Stateside for the Manhattan-set sci-fier.

Italo auds are also getting “P.S. I Love You” debuting on 245 via 01 Distribuzione amid high expectations for the Hilary Swank starring chick flick.

In the arthouse arena, Austria’s Oscar-nommed Holocaust drama “The Counterfeiters” is going out on 22 via Lady Film.

The box office heats up in Germany with the release of Universal’s “Cloverfield,” which local exhibs expect will unseat “Nation Treasure: Book of Secrets” from the number one spot.

Pic has benefited from the strong online buzz that has followed the movie over the Atlantic.

Strong reviews have given Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild” a boost. Local trade magazine Treffpunkt Kino called it Penn’s best work to date, while Blickpunkt: Film described it as “wild, rebellious, unconventional — a film that grabs you and doesn’t let you go.” Pic goes out via Tobis.

Disney hopes to capture tyke auds with its live-action adaptation of the 1960s toon “Underdog,” while Constantin may face an uphill battle with the “Asterix,” which has received scathing reviews across the board.

In contrast, Sylke Enders’ local relationship drama “Mondkalb” has received wide praise for its offbeat story of a woman who finds love after escaping her past. Pic goes out via X Verleih/Warners.

Falcom releases Alexander Pickl’s German-produced Brazilian drama “Show de Bola,” about a talented Rio youth who’s trying to decide between a life of crime in the favela or a professional career in soccer.

Spain will test how far cinemagoers are now in synch with U.S. tastes, and malleable to U.S. blog buzz.

Just a few years ago, a comedy like “Juno” wouldn’t have made much of a mark with Spaniards but Fox brings it out on a middling 150 print run hoping to win over auds. Exhibbers are hedging their bets on its prospects but hoping awards season hype and good word of mouth once it gets going will prove decisive.

Sylvester Stallone vehicle “Rambo” opens hoping to stir retro hearts as “Rocky Balboa” did last year.

“Pic will do great in its first frame, though Stallone’s spare tires could shorten its legs,” quipped a Spanish exhib.

“Rocky Balboa” banked $7.7 million in Spain in early February last year.

“Rambo” is pumped up by a warm critical reception: “It’s a monumental gore orgy, with an overwhelming classic style,” said monthly Fotogramas.

“Cloverfield” opens on 250 via UPI amid relatively muted expectations. Main roadbump is the conservatism of the Spanish ad campaign say local bookers: “The online marketing company did a wonderful campaign in the U.S. We don’t have that in Spain. Campaigns here were a lot more conventional.”

Also going out wide in Spain is Rob Reiner’s “The Bucket List” on 270.

Arthouse auds get Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” on 57 copies via Vertigo.

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

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