Comedies likely to be popular at cinemas

Although Euro box office biz is expected to be modest this weekend as auds wait for next weekend’s touch down of “Iron Man,” comedies are likely to give exhibs a reason to smile in most territories.

Once again, local fare is expected to fare best in France, where laffer “Cash” got off to a fast start Wednesday.

In the U.K., “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is the opener expected to bow biggest in a modest frame. The romantic comedy starring love-him-or-hate-him Brit comic Russell Brand has pulled decent preview figures — $775,000 at 345 in two days — and is expected by bookers to pull $2.5 million this weekend via Universal. Reviews have been largely dismissive. “This is another from the Judd Apatow stable, and further proof that the quality control there is in freefall,” sniped Anthony Quinn in the Independent.

None of the other openers are generating much excitement.

Quirky Brit comedy “Three and Out,” which toplines Mackenzie Crook as a London Underground train driver scheming to financially benefit from deaths on the tracks, has been in the Brit news a lot this week due to a rail workers picket of the April 21 world premiere in London in objection to perceived tastelessness. But bookers do not believe the exposure will equate to big biz for the Worldwide Bonus Entertainment release. Reviews have been savage. ” ‘Three and Out’ is a British comedy that starts falling apart the instant you locate a seat,” wrote James Christopher in the Times. Daily Mail said: “…my guess is that it can have been made only by aliens with a limited understanding of how human beings work.”

Other significant openers are Jessica Alba starrer “The Eye,” a Hollywood version of the Pang brothers’ 2002 Hong Kong spookfest (out on 372 prints via Lionsgate U.K.) and Entertainment release thriller “Deception,” which stars Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman, and goes day-and-date with the U.S.

Neither have exhibs’ hearts fluttering with excitement.

In the arthouse arena, animated “Persepolis,” a firm fave on the fest circuit, is expected to play well. Optimum Releasing sends it out on 44 screens.

Of holdovers, Mike Leigh’s mellow comedy “Happy-Go-Lucky” is expected to hold well in its soph sesh thanks to excellent word of mouth, as is Colin Farrell starrer “In Bruges.”

In Italy, “Meet the Spartans” is the biggest opener in a crowded Hollywood-heavy frame that hopes to capitalize on the country’s April 25 Liberation Day national holiday.

Fox is outing its sword and sandals spoof on 280, driven by massive marketing with high expectations, despite critical drubbings. “Cheaply made” and “just not very funny,” slammed La Repubblica. But count on ancient history to draw in Italian auds.

Dueling with “Spartans” is Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson starrer “Fool’s Gold,” out on 236 via Warner Bros., with decent prospects of separating Italo teen auds from their Euros, given that the romance/adventure mix is known to click in Italy.

Medusa is instead trying to lure more mature Italos with Lajos Koltai’s bereavement drama “Evening,” boasting an all-star cast, including Meryl Streep and Vanessa Redgrave, going out on 182. But reviews are only mixed.

Supernatural screwball comedy “Over Her Dead Body,” toplining Eva Longoria, goes out on 140 via Eagle Pictures with decidedly modest prospects. “Not one gag hits the target,” blasted La Repubblica.

Italo helmer Giuliano Montaldo’s Dostoyevsky biopic “I demoni di San Pietroburgo” (The St. Petersburg Demons) is going out on 110 via 01 Distribuzione, boosted by positive reviews, but lacking appeal for the country’s crucial teen crowd.

Scarlett Johansson-Natalie Portman costumer “The Other Boleyn Girl” goes out on 100 via Universal with rather good odds for solid returns.

A slew of local and international titles hit German screens this week, with Warner’s “Fool’s Gold” and Kinowelt’s drama “Lauf um dein Leben” (‘Run for Your Life’), likely to top the charts.

They’ll face tough competition from Disney’s teen romance “Sommer” (Summer) and Constantin’s “The Wave,” which are expected to continue their strong runs.

The fact-based “Run for Your Life” has gotten plenty of press for its story of a real life athlete who beat a near fatal heroin addiction to become a champion Ironman triathlete.

Yet pic has failed to impress local critics: “The director portrays his protagonist’s drug addiction and family problems with abundant cliches and he rapidly checks off the story points of his new beginning. Even good actors like Max Riemelt and Uwe Ochsenknecht are unable to improve things,” sniped daily newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

David Assmann and Ayat Najafi’s award-winning documentary “Football Under Cover” is certain to generate loud buzz on the arthouse circuit. Going out via Flying Moon/Zorro, this year’s Berlinale queer Teddy Award winner follows a female soccer team from Berlin as they travel to Tehran for a friendly game against the Iranian national women’s team.

Also likely to do well is “Dragon Hunters,” Universum/Disney’s CGI-animated fantasy based on the popular toon series, while Farbfilm/Barnsteiner’s tyke film “Bloede Muetze!,” from director Johannes Schmid, could spark interest among older tykes with its story of a boy in a new school who realizes his friends are suffering from family problems at home.

Additional releases include Ingo Haeb and Jan-Christoph Glaser’s “Neanderthal,” about a teen suffering from neurodermatitis while trying to deal with his dysfunctional family, going out via Farbfilm/Barnsteiner; Fox’s “The Savages”; Jamie Babbit’s lesbian comedy “Itty Bitty Titty Committee” (Salzgeber); and Arsenal’s heartwarming French comedy-drama “The Grocer’s Son,” by Eric Guirado.

In Spain, the two strongest bows are “Fool’s Gold,” and David Ayer’s “Street Kings.”

“Gold” bows on 275 via Warner. The best expectations put its takings around $1.5 million. This adventure romcom turns on archeological disasters, a highly topical subject, since the Spanish government is currently in dispute with Odyssey Marine Exploration, a U.S. treasure hunting company.

Cop drama “Street Kings” opens on 300 via Fox. “The movie offers an appealing casting (Forest Whitaker, Keanu Reeves). It will probably place first,” said a booker. “Fox is increasing its copy spread again, but I don’t see their usual brilliant campaign,” pointed out a second booker.

Filmax releases high school bullying drama “Cobardes” (Cowards) on a bold 252. Pic is the soph effort from Jose Corbacho and Juan Cruz, whose last pic, “Tapas,” nabbed $3.8 million in 2005. Crix has been generally positive, but not as effusive as they were for “Tapas.”

Two other new releases come from debut helmers. Guillermo Groizard’s identity thriller “Proyecto Dos” opens on 120 via BVI. And Javier Gutierrez offers up “Before the Fall,” a sci-fi suspenser released on 128 via UPI.

In France, another local offering opened strong as gentleman thief laffer “Cash” pulled off a stonking first-day haul. The comedy, toplining Jean Dujardin and Jean Reno, took in $833,570 on opening day for TFM on 522. “Pure champagne escapism,” hailed Tele 7 Jours. “This French version of ‘Ocean’s 11’ is … nice, but dispensable,” said aVoir-aLire

“27 Dresses” opened OK for Fox, at $304,060 on 230. Scribes were actually generally kinder than many in other territories. Said Le Monde: “The viewer’s life need not be disturbed in any way by this lightweight sentimental comedy.”

Spanish horror shocker “[Rec],” helmed by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza, bowed at $265,800 on 170 for Wild Side. Widely compared with “The Blair Witch Project” for the hand-held camera POV effect as cops, firemen and a TV news crew get sucked deeper into an apartment building from Hell, the French scribes went gaga. “A thousand times more frightening and assured than ‘Blair Witch’,” said MCinema.

Meanwhile, “Leatherheads” looks a bit of a busted flush for Paramount, managing only $109,000 on 148 for Paramount.

Austrian helmer Michae
l Haneke’s Hollywood remake of his own hard-hitting psycho killer drama, “Funny Games,” managed $80,565 on 118 for Les Films du Losange. “Brilliantly manipulative… an unending nightmare,” felt TeleCineObs.

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

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