Hollywood pauses as sport reigns

LONDON — Holdovers and expansions should dominate biz at the European box office this weekend with studios swerving blockbuster releases as the European Championship soccer tournament enters the do-or-die knock-out stages.

Biggest box office uptick should occur in Spain where “The Incredible Hulk” and “Sex and the City” arrive to delight both senors and senoritas.

In the U.K., it’s a big weekend for local product with a trio of homegrown films opening and no big new U.S. juggernaut rolling in to spoil the party.

John Maybury’s British drama “The Edge of Love,” which stars Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller, is looking to capitalize on its high-profile world premiere Wednesday as opening night of the Edinburgh Intl. Film Festival.

The pic about the life and complicated loves of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys) platforms in 31 screens in London (mostly West End) and 12 in Dublin this weekend via Lionsgate U.K. before going nationwide on June 27.

“Love” has received mostly supportive reviews from the Brit crix. “Darkly seductive,” wrote Sukhdev Sandhu in the Daily Telegraph. “I’m not sure Knightley or Miller have ever been more beautifully photographed, and they reward the director with what are, by a long chalk, their best performances,” wrote Anthony Quinn in the Independent.

A Lionsgate spokesperson said they plan on expanding “Love,” which also stars Cillian Murphy, to some 180 screens on June 27.

Also garnering strong reviews is debut director Rupert Wyatt’s prison breakout drama “The Escapist,” which Vertigo Films smuggle out on 68 locations.

Referring to it as “the British debut of the year,” Daily Telegraph reviewer Tim Robey described it as an “ingeniously crafted drama.”

Appealing cast includes Brit thesps Brian Cox, Joseph Fiennes and Damian Lewis.

Noel Clarke’s directorial debut “Adulthood,” a follow-up to West London-set teen gangster pic “Kidulthood,” which proved a homevid hit, isn’t generating much buzz. Bookers expect gritty pic to play well with male teens in inner London locations but struggle for auds in the sticks.

Also bowing are a pair of U.S. scarers — Mitchell Lichtenstein’s freakish comedy “Teeth,” about a young woman blighted by her toothed (and male member eating) vagina, released by Momentum Pictures, and “The Ruins” from Paramount, about Yank backpackers in deep trouble in Mexico. Neither is expected to pull big bucks at the U.K. box office, although bizarre subject matter of “Teeth” could draw inquisitive auds looking for something entirely different from the multiplex norm.

“The worst date movie imaginable,” joked Quinn.

Abdel Kechiche’s “Couscous,” a French-set social-issues family drama, which was a firm fave on the fest circuit, should prove a hit at upmarket U.K. arthouse sites thanks to receiving lots of five-star reviews from the broadsheets.

In Spain, expectations are high for this weekend’s B.O. with local bookers and distribbers confident that big openers “The Incredible Hulk” and “Sex and the City” will reactivate recent slow trading, despite hot summer weather and Euro soccer fever (Spain play their quarter-final match on Sunday night).

Sony’s “Hulk” bows on a muscular 450 and looks a shoo-in for the top spot, replacing last weekend’s champ “The Happening.”

“Even some critics who could have been expected to demolish the movie showed moderation. ‘Hulk’ could take $4 million,” forecast a booker.

Tripictures’ “Sex and the City” bows on a wide 359. While the critical reception has been only luke-warm, commercial prospects are good. “Maybe couples will split up at the theaters. The lads will go for ‘Hulk’ and ladies opt for ‘Sex’. This could result in a double sale of popcorn!,” joked a booker.

Going up against the big guns is plucky local pic “3:19,” which Sorolla releases on a generous 82. Debut director Dany Saadia’s romantic comedy stars emerging Spanish star Miguel Angel Silvestre. Vacationing tyke auds are offered Michael Hegner’s “The Ugly Duckling & Me” — out on 147 via Filmax.

In Italy, “Hulk” stomps out on a muscular 480 with a clear field, given that the frame’s second-biggest opener is Abel Ferrara-directed screwball comedy “Go Go Tales.”

“Hulk” has buono Italo buzz with La Repubblica opining that “This time Hulk kicks butt.” The only snag for Universal is that Italy is playing Spain on Sunday in a key Euro quarter-final soccer match that will mean mostly empty movie theaters.

“Go Go Tales,” which Ferrara shot in Rome’s Cinecitta studios, also bows with buzz, largely due to a highly publicized scene in which Asia Argento kisses a slobbering Rottweiler. Local distribbery Mediafilm is outing on 120.

Thin Italo weekend also sees Yank adolescent angst pic “Gardener of Eden” bow on 42 via Medusa, and Julianne Moore starrer “Savage Grace”

Both go out on 20 via BIM Distribuzione.

In Germany, Kinowelt’s Jason Statham starrer “The Bank Job” goes up against Tobis’ “Reservation Road,” in what looks set to be another modest showing at the box office.

As popularity for the Euro soccer matches rages, fuelled further by Germany’s Thursday quarter-final victory against Portugal, this week’s crop of pics offers little in the way of blockbuster titles, with new releases facing a tough time against “Sex and the City” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”

“Reservation Road” may generate solid arthouse interest in view of the stellar reviews. “With less capable actors, the film could have easily slid into absurdity, but Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Connelly play their parts in a manner that is indescribable, so discrete and restrained and at the same time so deeply moving that you easily follow them on a rollercoaster of emotions,” wrote Munich daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

Also hitting theaters is Patrick Swayze drama “Jump,” Joshua Sinclair’s real-life account of the 1928 murder trial of famed photographer Phillippe Halsman amidst the growing menace of anti-Semitism in pre-war Austria, which goes out via Kinostar.

Universal releases “Nim’s Island,” which could nab a major portion of the recently under-repped tyke audience, while Kinowelt offers Tilda Swinton starrer “Julia” and NEF/Stardust brings out Christophe de Ponfilly’s “L’etoile du soldat” (The Soldier’s Star), about a Russian soldier’s capture during the Soviet-Afghan War.

In France, there are no gangbuster bows on the cards this weekend. “Made of Honor” got off to a reasonable start on Wednesday, taking $260,000 on 290. Most scribes greeted the romantic comedy with a shrug. “The charm works if you’re not too demanding,” said MCinema.

Local laffer “La Personne aux deux personnes” (Me Two), toplining Daniel Auteuil as a mild-mannered accountant with the ghost of a 1980s crooner living in his head, bowed at $201,100 on 410 for StudioCanal. The crix lapped it up: “Even if the subject matter is ‘classic,’ you can’t resist the delirious way in which it’s handled,” thought FigaroScope.

“Speed Racer” also wowed scribes, if not necessarily the ticket-buying masses. It made a mere $124,360 on 277 for Warner Brothers.

Much the same fate befell “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” “A well-blended cocktail of romance and pure farce, served up by a hilarious cast,” said Tele 7 Jours. All to little avail, as Paramount saw a first-day of only $67,170 on 118.

The reception for Belgian helmer Bouli Lanners’s offbeat road movie “Eldorado” has pleased local outfit Haut et Court. It took in $36,975 on 53.

“We’re very happy. It was a better opening day than we’d anticipated,” said assistant head of distribution Caroline Occelle.

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

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