'Class' opens in France

LONDON — Lots of new midrange releases jockey for position at the European box office this weekend where the key local bow is German terrorist drama “The Baader Meinhof Complex” and Gallic Palme d’Or winner “The Class” opens on home turf.

Of the Yank fare, “Righteous Kill” debuts in the U.K. and Italy, and there are expansions for “Wall-E” (Germany), “The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” (Italy), “The Boy with the Striped Pajamas” (Spain) and “Tropic Thunder” (Spain).

West Germany’s brutal but groovy left-wing terrorists may have met their match in Disney’s doe-eyed space robot as Constantin’s “The Baader Meinhof Complex” tries to gun down “Wall-E” at the German box office.

One local exhib predicted “Wall-E” may inch ahead over the weekend, but said the full week remains a tossup in what is the box office bout of the year.

Local estimates put the weekend gross for both pics at around $5 million.

“There’s great interest in ‘Baader-Meinhof.’ We saw that on its opening day Thursday. But ‘Wall-E’ is likelier to win the weekend because it will attract more families,” a booker said.

Both films have won enthusiastic praise from local critics. Munich’s Abendzeitung described “Baader-Meinhof” as a masterful work that illustrates “how intelligent and idealistic people can sink into the insanity of terrorism” and praises director Uli Edel and writer/producer Bernd Eichinger for making a “breathtaking, realistic film.”

Welt Kompakt compared the star of “Wall-E” to Charlie Chaplin, saying the film is “a direct link to the primary matter of cinema,” while Frankfurter Rundschau called it “a film like no other,” but one that recalls classics, from “Silent Running” to “Planet of the Apes,” adding that it’s a work that could have come from French filmmaker Jacques Tati, “made with the same meticulous obsession for design and sound.”

Prospects look bleak for other new openers, including Concorde’s medical thriller “Pathology” and Peripher’s suicide bomber thriller “Day Night Day Night.”

In the U.K., 12 new pics flood the already bloated marketplace. In a weekend where some fresh fare will doubtless fall by the wayside, the most notable new releases are “Righteous Kill” (Lionsgate U.K.), “Taken” (Fox), “Death Race” (Universal) and “Appaloosa” (Entertainment).

The dream pairing of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino should see “Righteous Kill” do solid multiplex biz despite some savage reviews from local crix.

“Director Jon Avnet probably thought he’d hit the jackpot when he got the pair to sign on for a movie that would keep them side by side. Alas, Righteous Kill is nothing like ‘Heat’; it’s not even warm,” sniped Anthony Quinn in the Independent.

“The two actors share 120 years of Hollywood history on the mean streets of New York, and they hog the screen like a couple of retired and tipsy golfers,” said James Christopher in the Times.

“Kill” goes into the weekend with $235,000 already in the trunk from Sept. 25 biz. Pic opens this weekend on 323.

Liam Neeson starring abduction thriller “Taken” is better liked by the Brit crix. “What you do need to know is that the film is perfectly calibrated to put the fear of God into every parent, and it works like a bad dream,” wrote Christopher.

Jason Statham starrer “Death Race” (out on 270) and oater “Appaloosa” (out on 150) are expected to do okay but not boffo biz.

In Italy, “The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” finally arrives, debuting on 480 copies via Universal, which will be hoping that the Brendan Fraser starring sequel can do the business once again.

Italo critics detected the bottom of the barrel being scraped for the Mummy’s third outing.

Reviewers weren’t much kinder about “Righteous Kill,” out in 360 screens via 01 Distribution.

“Boring” declared La Stampa newspaper, which hoped the two superstars would “choose their films less cynically in the future.”

Other notable release is “Fireflies in the Garden,” which stars Julia Roberts, Willem Dafoe and Emily Watson.

“Stellar cast but banal,” sniffed Corriere della Sera about the drama, which Medusa saddles up on 180.

Cedric Kaplisch’s drama “Paris” could go well at arthouse locations, thanks to lots of love from Italo crix, who have praised the Altman-esque drama. “A pleasure” purred La Repubblica of the pic, which stars Juliette Binoche and Gallic pin-up Romain Duris.

In Spain, a pack of new pics arrive to enliven the marketplace. The main attractions are the “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” “Tropic Thunder” (which both bowed at the San Sebastian festival) and “Babylon.”

“Striped Pajamas” goes out on 260 via BVI. Local crix reaction has been mixed. Bowing on 325 via Paramount, “Thunder” got unqualified love from Spanish scribes. A “frantically funny movie,” said La Vanguardia. “An absolutely perfect blockbuster,” summarized El Pais.

Fantasy actioner “Babylon” opens on 303 via Aurum. “Action and sci-fi are an excellent combo. It’s a pity that its campaign has been low-key,” suggested a booker.

DeAPlaneta’s “Passengers” bows on 149. “I don’t think this is a good moment to release an air-disaster pic,” said a booker, referring to the fact that 155 people died in an airport accident in Madrid in August.

Produced by Warner and Almodovar brothers’ El Deseo, debber Belen Macias’ “El Patio de mi carcel” (My Prison Yard) is released by Warner on 92. Pic’s prospects are boosted by the very well-known cast in Spain — Veronica Echegui, Blanca Portillo and Candela Pena. It was better welcomed by auds rather than crix at San Sebastian.

In France, “Faubourg 36” (Paris 36) opened well Wednesday for Pathe at $622,000 on 595. Helmer Christophe Barratier’s study of three jobless Parisian theater workers struggling through the dirty ’30s has been well received by local scribes. “It revives the ambiance of the golden age of French cinema,” thought Le Journal du Dimanche.

“Entre les murs” (The Class) also made a bold bow for Haut et Court, pulling $520,000 on 368. The Palme d’Or winner and Gaul’s foreign picture Oscar contender had the Gallic press gaga at the portrayal of the lives of high school kids — played by amateur thesps — in one of Paris’ rougher neighborhoods.

The initial box office results were “very encouraging,” said Haut et Court distribution director Laurence Petit.

“We’re getting a bigger young audience than we had anticipated, especially in urban areas, with a lot of parents taking their children.”

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

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