Midrange pics have space to prosper

LONDON — A busy frame at the European box office sees lots of new midrange fare compete for auds, who are still biting on whammo international box office hit “Mamma Mia!”

With “The House Bunny” the only Hollywood pic opening wide — it bounds into the U.K., Germany, Spain and France — there is room for local fare to flourish. Notable homegrown newbies are “Krabat” (Germany), “No Problem” (Italy), and Spanish duo “Sexy Killer” and “Santos.”

In the U.K., a slew of midrange openers including “The House Bunny,” “Mirrors” and “City of Ember” enter an already competitive marketplace, where “Mamma Mia!” and holocaust drama “Boy in the Striped Pajamas” have been holding particularly well.

Exciting industryites more than any of this weekend’s bows is the massive advance tickets sales for “High School Musical 3: Senior Year.” The teen dance pic doesn’t open until Oct. 22, but many perfs are already sold out.

Back to this weekend, “The House Bunny” goes out on 346 via Sony, Fox/Walden family film “City of Ember,” which stars Tim Robbins and Bill Murray, gets a similarly wide release via Entertainment, as does Kiefer Sutherland chiller “Mirrors” — 342 — via Fox.

Despite her work in the “Scary Movie” franchise, “Bunny” star Anna Faris is no household name in Blighty, but the pic could show box office bounce due to the recent success of femme-skewed comedy fare like “Mamma Mia!” and “Sex and the City.”

“Bunny” reviews have been mostly con, with a few positives.

“There are some cute lines (‘Remember, the eyes are the nipples of the face,’ she tells them), but, for all Faris’s buoyancy, this is nowhere near as good as ‘Legally Blonde,’ or all the other vaguely grrl-power teen movies it mimics,” wrote Sukhdev Sandhu in the Daily Telegraph.

Bookers expect “Bunny” to open top with close to $2 million.

The success of “Mirrors,” a U.S. remake of an Asian horror, directed by a Frenchman, Alexandre Aja, and shot in Romania, is partly dependent on whether Sutherland can be a big bigscreen draw in the U.K. His smallscreen series “24” was a hit in Blighty.

Exhibs are hoping for $1.6 million.

Tradesters praise the trailer for “City of Ember,” which is expected to edge out “Mirrors” with $1.8 million.

Naples-set mafia pic “Gomorrah” should go well at arthouse wickets thanks to very strong reviews.

“Pungent and frightening in scene after scene,” declared Tim Robey in the Daily Telegraph.

Optimum Releasing has posters all over London and unleash it on 39 screens.

In Germany, Fox’s local fantasy epic “Krabat” takes on Universal’s thriller “Eagle Eye,” both of which look likely to displace current chart-toppers “Wall-E” and “The Baader Meinhof Complex.”

Benefiting from strong name recognition, Marco Kreuzpaintner’s adaptation of Otfried Preussler’s bestselling novel recounts the 17th-century yarn of an orphan boy who learns the dark arts from an evil sorcerer.

Much darker than the kid-friendlier “Harry Potter,” “Krabat’s” main challenge will be to attract auds of all ages without frightening away younger tykes and their parents. That said, pic’s all-star cast that includes Daniel Bruehl, David Kross (“The Reader”) and Robert Stadlober (“Summer Storm”) will certainly entice moviegoers.

Good buzz around D.J. Caruso’s “Eagle Eye” puts the Shia LaBeouf starrer in direct competition for the same target audience.

Also certain to generate plenty of interest is Sven Unterwaldt Jr.’s World War II laffer “U-900,” about the zany antics of a U-boat crew, which stars popular comedian Atze Schroeder.

Other openers include Brigitte Bertele’s “Nacht vor Augen” (B.Film), about a distressed young German soldier trying to readjust after a tour in Afghanistan; “Hans Steinbichler’s drama “Autistic Disco” (Zorro), about a group of troubled outsiders who head for the Alps for group therapy; and Sony comedy “The House Bunny.”

In Italy, local laffer “No Problem” is the biggest opener in a frame crowded with six other bows, most notably “Disaster Movie,” Stephen King adaptation “The Mist,” and “The Women,” all of which could pose a problem for the formulaic Neapolitan farce.

“No Problem,” by helmer/thesp Vincenzo Salemme who plays a snag-riddled soap star, is going out on 460 via Medusa amid mixed reviews, though critical drubbings are not a big deterrent when in comes to populist pics in Italy.

“Disaster Movie,” starring Carmen Electra, is debuting on 240 via Eagle Pictures with solid prospects to click with Italy’s teens, the country’s top moviegoing demographic.

“The Mist” bows on 220 via Lucky Red, which has put molto marketing muscle behind the Frank Darabont chiller. Critics though haven’t been impressed. La Repubblica opined that it’s “better to read the book.”

Clearly catering to the Italo femme crowd, “The Women,” is going out on 220 via BIM. Meg Ryan, Eva Mendes and Annette Bening give this remake star pull. But reviews are far from stellar, with Corriere della Sera saying “Women” “lacks spunk.”

Italy’s arthouse arena sees heated competish this weekend with Laurent Cantet’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “The Class” launching amid plenty of plaudits on 71 via Mikado, while Kathryn Bigelow’s powerful Iraq pic “The Hurt Locker” debuts on 70 via Warner Bros. after world-preeming in Venice to great praise.

As elsewhere in Europe, a slew of openers swamp the Spanish marketplace. Tip for the top spot is the Coen brothers’ “Burn After Reading,” which bows on 318 via Universal. Despite a mixed reaction from local crix, exhibs project an opening of no less than $2 million. Daily paper El Mundo declared, “Its major appeal is to see how George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich and Tilda Swinton become true imbeciles.”

Monthly Fotogramas said, “It’s a scathing X-ray from a distrustful and paranoid society.”

Paramount’s “Eagle Eye” bows on 340, tepidly welcomed by crix. “At least it never becomes boring,” says La Razon. Bookers expect an opening of $1.4 million.

Two Spanish productions aimed at teens — Miguel Marti’s “Sexy Killer” and Nicolas Lopez’s “Santos” — bow this weekend and both are boosted by the warm audience reception they received at the Sitges Film Festival.

Warner’s “Sexy Killer,” starring Macarena Gomez as a fashionista college campus psycho, opens on a bold 250. “Between wild parody and nonsense,” said El Pais. “Funny, clumsy, chaotic and wild,” said La Razon. “Santos,” about a dweeby comicbook writer turned reluctant superhero, bows on an even bolder 300 via BVI.

Other bows for the weekend include Sony’s “The House Bunny,” out on 250, Filmax’s “Mad Money” on 127 and DeAPlaneta’s “Happy-Go-Lucky” on 50.

In France, only two major bows debuted on Wednesday. Woody Allen, who has rarely put a foot wrong with the French in nearly 40 years of film-making, seems to have another hit with “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” It earned Warners $655,650 on 412 on day one.

The scribes were mostly blown away. The film “breaks new ground with a sensuality never before seen in his work,” thought Metro.

A critical pummeling did little to dent the appeal of Robert De Niro/Al Pacino starrer “Righteous Kill,” which earned $498,000 on 394 for a pleased Metropolitan. “We’re happy with the early returns, since the press all over the world has been pretty bad,” said marketing exec Sebastian Chenard. And Gaul was no exception: helmer Jon Avnet “applies himself to his subject matter, but without any real spark,” said Telerama. “A thriller devoid of scope,” dissed La Croix.

Other releases included Blighty-set feral teens from hell thriller “Eden Lake,” which bowed at $52,550 on 124 for La Fabrique de Films.

“The House Bunny” took in just $42,150 on 115 for Sony.

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

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