'Tropic,' 'Vicky,' 'Burn' spread the joy

BERLIN — Laughter is likely to be good for the European box office this weekend as “Tropic Thunder” strikes Germany, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” seduces Spain and “Burn After Reading” lands in Italy.

Ben Stiller looks set to vanquish the caped crusader as “Tropic Thunder” takes on the “The Dark Knight” for the top spot at the German box office.

While most local critics were tickled by Universal’s war-movie comedy, many have taken issue with the pic’s over-the-top narrative.

Berlin daily Berliner Zeitung wrote: “The qualities of this screwball experiment are in the detail, in the many subversive ideas with which Ben Stiller transforms his own film into a minefield, which thwarts every attempt at a sensible transition.”

“Tropic Thunder” faces little competition among the week’s new openers.

Sony is releasing David Mamet’s martial arts drama “Redbelt,” while Kinostar hopes to attract the young male demo with its Rick Yune actioner “The Fifth Commandment.”

While Constantin’s “The Baader Meinhof Complex” is set to ignite the box office next week, new German openers this weekend are likely to make just a modest impact. Kinowelt releases “Friedliche Zeiten,” Neele Leana Vollmar’s comedy about an East German family that flees to West Germany in 1968, and Andreas Morell’s Berlin-set episodic drama “Unschuld” goes out via Stardust/24 Bilder.

“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is undoubtedly the star at Spanish theaters this weekend. Shot in Barcelona and Asturias and with Spanish thesps Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem sharing a sexy plot with Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson, the Woody Allen pic is one of the most awaited of the season.

“Vicky” bows on 332 via Warner. In Catalonia, most copies will be in the Catalan language in what will surely be a test to see whether mainstream auds accept Catalan at multiplexes.

Spanish critics have largely praised Allen’s latest work. Newspaper La Razon singled-out Cruz for a superb performance, while El Pais wrote: “Despite all its imperfections, ‘Vicky’ is a torrent of freshness.”

Local exhibs have expressed nothing but excitement about “Vicky,” noting strong advanced sales and predicting it will be the filmmaker’s most successful film ever in Spain.

Pic faces little competition this week. Bryan Bertino’s “The Strangers” opens on 234 via Universal and Brian Robbins’ Eddie Murphy vehicle “Meet Dave” bows on 257. Both have received a tepid response by reviewers. Robbins’ last pic with Murphy, 2007’s “Norbit,” took $3.8 million in Spain.

In Italy, Medusa hopes the Coen brothers’ latest, “Burn After Reading,” will light up the box office after putting smiles on the faces of Italo critics.

La Repubblica detected shades of Capra in the starry laffer with Brad Pitt, George Clooney and John Malkovich. “An impeccable lesson in the art of comedy,” applauded Corriere della Sera. It opens on 407 screens.

The animated “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” looks likely to make yet more moolah out of the interminable sci-fi saga, but distributor Warner won’t be expecting to break box-office records as pic opens on just 203 screens to less than stellar reviews — “noisy, monotonous action for teens,” sneered Corriere della Sera.

Another laffer, the Peter Cattaneo-helmed “The Rocker” with Rainn Wilson, bows on 149 screens, via Fox.

Marco Pontecorvo’s “Pa-ra-da” about Romanian street children, which won over critics in Venice, is out on 53 via 01 Distribution.

A more mid-range selection of openers in Gaul seem to pose little threat to top the box office. Helmer-topliner Agnes Jaoui’s “Parlez-moi de la pluie” (Let It Rain) bowed at $666,300 on 432 for StudioCanal.

Reviews were massively mixed for the comedy-drama co-starring highly popular comic-thesp Jamel Debbouze.

“Irresistibly droll, scathing, finessed, and admirably written,” enthused TeleCineObs.

Cahiers du Cinema begged to differ: “a plodding, sinister script.”

“Dan in Real Life” debuted a distant second for EuropaCorp at $183,900 on 254. Scribes were more often than not won over by the romcom chemistry between Steve Carell and Juliette Binoche.

Le Monde called it “the irresistible purgatory of a loser in love.”

Other bows were rather weak. In spite of strong reviews, “La Belle personne” (The Beautiful Person), helmer Christophe Honore’s teen drama update of a 17th century lit classic, saw a first day of only $43,125 on 48 for Le Pacte.

While “Filth and Wisdom” did manage a bit of positive ink, Madonna’s helming debut went down like a lead balloon at the box office. La Fabrique de Films was richer by a paltry $29,730 on 105.

“Obviously, we’re rather disappointed” said a La Fabrique rep.

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

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