Wright pic wrong for France, Spain
LONDON — Will Smith looks set to park Euro hit “I Am Legend” in top spot in its German and Italian launches this weekend but awards season contender “Atonement” isn’t generating much excitement in its debut in France and Spain.In Italy, post-apocalyptic zombie thriller “I Am Legend” is going against local soccer comedy “L’allenatore nel pallone 2,” which features soccer star Alessandro del Piero and Francesco Totti in cameo roles. Warner Bros. is releasing “Legend” on 520 and is expected to land the top spot with the hit sci-fier, which Smith came to Rome to promote amid a massive marketing push. Centered around a wacky coach played by comic Lino Banfi, “L’allenatore” is the Italo frame’s biggest opener, out on 620 via Medusa. But reviews have been mixed. “It will make more money than the original, but is visually inferior,” said Il Giornale. In a frame heavy with homegrown pics, the other significant debut is Italy’s first inter-racial romancer “Bianco e Nero” (Black and White), helmed by Cristina Comencini. Pic goes out on 285 via 01 Distribuzione amid high expectations given the pull of local TV-personalities-turned- thesps Fabio Volo and Ambra Angiolini. In the arthouse arena, Lucky Red is outing Gallic helmer Abdellatif Kechiche’s drama “The Secret of the Grain,” which took the best director nod in Venice and has been getting good Italian press notices. “I Am Legend“ is certain to dominate the box office in Germany, where the sci-fi thriller will benefit from Smith’s star status despite being largely panned by critics, which may ultimately spell short legs for the pic. ” ‘I Am Legend’ shows little feeling for allegory. Director Francis Lawrence instead celebrates the current state of action design and computer animation. As a result, the images of a deserted Manhattan are the most impressive of the film,” wrote daily newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung. Munich paper Abendzeitung added, “The story is hair-raising enough, but totally unsatisfying, almost infuriatingly so.” Sure to attract crowds on the arthouse circuit and in urban theaters is Wolfgang Eissler’s debut feature “Berlin am Meer,” starring popular young thesps Robert Stadlober (“Summer Storm”) and Axel Schreiber (“Turkish for Beginners”). Warner’s comedy about young people living and partying in Germany’s hip capital city has drawn mixed reviews while generating plenty of buzz. “The film is like reading Hermann Hesse: Naturally not to be taken seriously, but when you go with it, it’s a lot of fun,” said newspaper Die Welt. Also likely to drum up strong arthouse box office is “Control,” Anton Corbijn’s drama about Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, which goes out via Capelight. 3L’s Spanish-Argentine live-action/CGI hit “El Raton Perez” (The Hairy Tooth Fairy) could attract serious tyke attention; pic follows a girl and her pal who set out to save the mouse who collects baby teeth from under the pillows of children, after he’s kidnapped. Additional German releases include Lajos Koltai’s “Evening,” starring Claire Danes and Hugh Dancy, which goes out via Universal, and Concorde’s “La fille coupee en deux” (The Girl Cut in Two) by Claude Chabrol. In the U.K., “I Am Legend” is expected to retain top spot where Mike Nichols’ “Charlie Wilson’s War” is the most significant new release. The political thriller released on 405 screens by Universal is boosted by some solid promotional work by producer/lead actor Tom Hanks, who wowed West End crowds at the Jan. 9 U.K. premiere. Reviews have been largely mixed for the latest Yank pic mulling the impact of U.S. foreign policy. “Another deeply muddled, fence-sitting, obtuse Hollywood picture about American politics, excruciatingly unsure whether to crack wise satirically, or go into a glassy-eyed patriotic celebration,” sniped Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian. On the arthouse front, Romanian director Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days” goes out on 22 via Artificial Eye, hoping the buzz generated by the Cannes Palme d’Or win will draw in arthouse auds. Reviews have been very strong for the harrowing account of a woman undergoing an illegal abortion in Communist-era Romania. “A brutal masterwork,” wrote Bradshaw in the Guardian. “Brilliantly composed and riveting,” declared James Christopher in the Times. “A movie of devastating emotional impact,” praised Anthony Quinn in the Independent. Also going out in the U.K. this weekend is Steve Carell comedy “Dan in Real Life” via Icon, and Sidney Lumet’s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” via Entertainment. The latter has been dubbed one of the best films in the career of 83-year-old Lumet by the Brit crix. French box office is in something of a mid-winter lull as the start of the post-holiday sales and a lack of big bows has quietened cinema biz. Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild” had a decent first day for Pathe, with $228,465 on 172. Critical praise was effusive. “At once passionate and unnerving, dramatic and inspiring,” praised Le Parisien. Bloodthirsty alien chop ‘em up “30 Days of Night,” toplining Josh Hartnett, took in a so-so $150,900 on 199 for SND. Little love in the scribe department, alas: “A stupidly aggressive audiovisual ratatouille,” snubbed TeleCineObs. As if more evidence were needed that Gallic aesthetics bear little resemblance to those of the Anglo-American world, “Atonement” seem to be going nowhere for StudioCanal, bowing at $129,670 on 226. While making more than a few critics’ top 10 lists in Blighty and the States, many French scribes have mainly shrugged. While 20 Minutes felt Keira Knightley was “gripping as a tragic heroine,” single-star-wielding Le Monde felt helmer Joe Wright had let a “boring storyline” swallow up an otherwise quite good “retro and romantic melodrama.” “Rendition” also got off to a slow start for Metropolitan at $79,440 on 240. The critical consensus: a fair, but uneven effort. “The phony surprise ending and confused construction are deplorable,” pooh-poohed MCinema. The top local earner for new openers was helmer Cedric Anger’s hitman thriller “Le Tueur,” bowing at $43,250 for UGC on 92. Crits were mainly positive. As in France, Spanish critical reaction to “Atonement” has been mixed. UPI puts it out this weekend on 181, a moderate copy spread, aimed at reaping Oscar bounces generated by noms and possible kudos. But Wright’s film doesn’t have all the Spanish critics on its side. “It’s a story of surprising brilliance and calculated depth,” said newspaper ABC. “It’s not as good as the novel, for example, when war breaks out,” countered “Fotogramas,” which gave it an average three star rating. “’Atonement’ loses gas in its second part,” said Madrid’s Guia del ocio leisure guide. Reviews may well blunt pic’s perf. Exhibitors are unexcited by prospects for “Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem,” opening on a middling 350 run from Fox, after its underwhelming U.S. run. Spanish-Argentine “XXY,” a singular hermaphrodite tale from Lucia Puenzo, has more chance than most specialty pics from young Latin American helmers to carve out some niche biz in Spain. Released by co-producer Wanda on 34, a good spread for the pic, it has had upbeat press reactions. “It’s one of the most heterodox and delicate love stories that I remember in many years,” said El Pais. Additional reporting by Ed Meza (Germany), David Hayhurst (France), Emilio Mayorga (Spain) and Nick Vivarelli (Italy).