Spacey pic likely to beat Clooney film

LONDON — Blackjack thriller “21” spins into European wickets this weekend, debuting in the U.K., Germany and Spain.

Frame also sees Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Stones concert doc “Shine a Light” get its first exposure on the exhibition circuit as it opens in the U.K.

George Clooney screwball comedy “Leatherheads” goes up against Kevin Spacey gambling thriller “21” in Blighty, with bookers backing the latter as the more likely to hit the B.O. jackpot.

Awareness for “Leatherheads” is no problem. The April 8 U.K. premiere, attended by Clooney and co-star Zellweger, received lots of press attention. And it is getting a bullish release; Universal sends out “Leatherheads” at 330 theaters.

However, bookers are unconvinced Brit auds will fall for a pic mixing romance and American Football (which is not popular in Blighty) and predict a modest opening of around $2 million. Reviews have been mostly two and three star. “An amiable footballing souffle,” said the Times. “Clooney fumbles his passes,” sniped the Daily Telegraph.

Robert Luketic’s Las Vegas-set “21” goes out on 350 prints via Sony and looks set for a nice first round. Previews on Wednesday were decent — $224,791 at 281 — indicating it has mainstream appeal. Pic’s prospects are done no harm by the fact topliner Spacey has been in the news a lot of late for his outspoken criticism of the BBC in his capacity as artistic director of London’s Old Vic theater.

Reviews for “21” have been far from glowing: “a lightweight caper movie … it’s as shallow and cliched as ‘Ocean’s Eleven,’ but nowhere near as fun,” slammed the Daily Mail.

“Shine a Light,” which Fox wheels out on a significant 170, should play well with fans and others looking for something a little different from the norm.

Fox held a highly successful U.K. launch event on April 2, where pic was screened at the Odeon, Leicester Square, and simulcast to 100 digital screens nationwide. Event netted an impressive $315,000 and helped build lots of hype around the doc.

“The film gets you up close and personal to the Stones, as if you were the fifth band member, so we wanted to create a live experience for cinema goers,” commented Elizabeth Kesses, Fox marketing director, adding that attendees at the regional screenings saw footage from the red carpet and received a special tour t-shirt.

“Light” reviews have been largely positive but not rapturous. “The awful truth is that concert movies really can be quite dull, and well photographed though this one certainly is, you can spend 10 or 20 minute stretches wondering what you’re going to have for supper and whether to stop off at Tesco (a local grocery chain),” joked the Times.

French helmer Catherine Breillat’s “The Last Mistress” should play well at upmarket arthouse sites thanks to some good reviews. “A handsome and atmospheric piece that explores Breillat’s preferred themes of sex and misery with gusto,” praised the Times. “An extravagant, high-minded riot,” said the Guardian.

In Germany, Warner Bros.’ “The Red Baron” flies into theaters this week to battle Sony’s card-counting caper “21″ and Zorro’s local comedy-drama “Up! Up! To the Sky.”

Local exhibs expect all three to open in the top five and are betting on “21″ taking the top spot.

With local heartthrobs Matthias Schweighoefer and Til Schweiger (who appeared together in Schweiger’s hit comedy “Rabbit Without Ears”) starring in “The Red Baron,” exhibs are expecting plenty of business from female auds. Local exhib chain Cinemaxx even programmed the pic for this month’s Ladies Night in the hopes of exploiting the pic’s hunk factor.

Nikolai Muellerschoen’s drama portrays World War I flying ace Manfred von Richthofen as an emotional and sensitive man who adheres to a chivalrous code of conduct and reminds his men that they are sportsmen, not butchers.

In Hardi Sturm’s “Up! Up! To the Sky,” starring popular thesps Max Riemelt and Katja Riemann, a young man believes he’s an alien from a distant planet, while his worried mother is convinced he need psychiatric help.

Also hitting theaters this week is John Jeffcoat’s “Outsourced,” going out via Fox, which looks certain to do well on the arthouse circuit and in urban cinemas. ” ‘Outsourced’ is a charming comedy that allows two cultures to clash in an unconventional manner,” wrote Munich newspaper Abendzeitung.

Other openers include Sidney Lumet’s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” going out via Koch Media/Neue Visionen; Disney’s “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour”; and Pandora’s “A Thousand Years of Good Prayers,” from Wayne Wang.

In Italy, “Nim’s Island” is the biggest opener in a Hollywood-heavy frame, which also sees the bows of “Leatherheads” and Clive Owen/Monica Bellucci actioner “Shoot ‘Em Up.”

Jodie Foster family fantasy “Nim’s Island” is going out on 305 via local distrib Moviemax, boosted by a massive marketing push that has seen Foster hold a highly publicized film class for Roman schoolkids.

Reviews for “Nim” aren’t raves, with La Stampa calling the pic’s young co-protag Abigail Breslin “insipid,” but that shouldn’t hold back the Italo family crowd, exhibs say.

Italo romancer “La seconda volta non si scorda mai” (Never Forget the Second Time”) is the second-biggest opener, launching on 236 via Mikado. “Seconda” is toplined by TV starlet Elisabetta Canalis, which should give it some pull, though expectations are merely moderate.

“Shoot ‘Em Up,” featuring a much YouTubed Bellucci/Owen sex scene, got the thumbs up from La Repubblica, which said “the mix of action and humor works.” Steamy actioner goes out on 205 via Eagle.

“Leatherheads,” which also got a warm welcome from Italo crix, is going out on 220 via Universal, which should score handsomely with this romancer in Italy, where Clooney is a big draw. Clooney has been all over the Italo media after making the trek.

“The Oxford Murders” goes out on 102 via Warner Bros without much buzz, despite having John Hurt and Elijah Wood as co-protags.

In the arthouse arena, Anna Negri’s Sundance entry “Riprendimi” (Good Morning, Heartache) bows on 80 via Medusa, while Steve Buscemi’s “Interview” is going out on 45 via Fandango.

In Spain, three openers, Masayuki Ochiai’s “Shutter,” Nacho Garcia Velilla’s “Chef’s Special” and “21,” stand out among a flood of comedies. This trio of pics should kickstart Spanish biz, which flagged last weekend.

Fox’s “Shutter” goes out on 302. Although crix have generally ignored the movie and bloggers’ reactions hasn’t been upbeat, bookers predict it will place first or second. Sony’s “21″ opens on 258 to mixed critical reaction. “It’s a movie that handles its cards with a gambler’s efficiency,” said newspaper El Pais.

Bowing on a bold 235 via Warner, “Chef’s Special” is one of the openers also showing at the Malaga Film Festival, alongside Manuel Gutierrez Aragon’s “Todos estamos invitados” and Juan Luis Iborra’s “Enloquecidas,” released respectively by Alta Films (112 copies), and El Paso Producciones (15 copies).

Comedy “Special” was welcomed enthusiastically by Malaga auds and critics. “It will be one of the best Spanish openers of the year,” forecast a booker.

“Todos” turns on a controversial theme — Basque terrorism, which causes some hesitation among exhibs. However, the reception at Malaga was excellent. Spanish thesp Veronica Forque’s received rave reviews.

It is not a big week for new releases in Gaul, with little chance of the pack of newcomers giving the likes of “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis” (Welcome to the Sticks) or “Disco” a run for their money.

“Nim’s Island” earned SND $344,700 from 399 screens on opening day. The few critics that bothered to see it in Gaul were mainly mildly amused. The island “is a destination without surprises,” said 20 Minutes, “but its clement climate can entice children without overly boring their parents.”

French helmer Philippe Harel’s laffer “Walkers in St. Tropez” bowed at $322,310 on 520 for TFM. Toplining Karin Viard, the sequel to 1997′s minor hit “Hikers” has generally laid an egg with local scribes. Elle said, “You wait for a memorable scene … then, alas, you just wait for the film to end.”

Meanwhile, dance romancer “Step Up 2 the Streets” earned Paramount $309,130 on 148. Jessica Alba’s latest spine-tingler, “The Eye,” brought in $231,870 on 188 for Mars, and Russian helmer Sergei Bodrov’s “Mongol,” a biopic of Ghenghis Khan’s salad days, enriched Metropolitan to the tune of $150,350 on 151.

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

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