'Mesrine' muscles out rivals in France

LONDON — Bondpic “Quantum of Solace” is expected to dominate biz at the European box office once again this weekend. The 007 thriller opens in Spain and is likely to deliver solid holdover biz elsewhere.

Besides Bond, the major move comes from Warner Brothers, which expands Ridley Scott’s CIA thriller “Body of Lies” into Germany, Italy and the U.K., hoping the cast’s star wattage will sell lots of ducats.

Major U.S. release “Twilight” is mostly held back in Europe, but the vampire romancer does invade Italo wickets this weekend.

Local pic packing the biggest punch is Gallic offering “Mesrine: l’ennemi public nombre 1″ (Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One), which got off to a fast start on Wednesday.

In the U.K., none of the newbies look likely to unseat “Solace” from the top spot. Pic has been showing great traction on home turf since its whammo bow, and is unlikely to be bettered by this weekend’s fresh fare, which includes wide releases for “Body of Lies” (WB), “My Best Friend’s Girl” (Lionsgate U.K.), “Blindness” (Pathe) and “Quarantine” (Sony).

Of the four, Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio starrer “Body of Lies” is likely to bank the most greenbacks. Strength of the cast and wide name recognition of the director (Scott) should guarantee solid multiplex biz for the thriller.

Expected to go well at upmarket sites is fest circuit fave “Waltz With Bashir.” The innovative animated doc, which Artificial Eye sends out on 57, has been getting lots of love from the Brit crix and could work as effective counterprogramming to “Solace.”

In Germany, “Solace” is expected to continue its domination of the box office in its third frame but a slew of new openers are vying with “The Accidental Husband” and hit French laffer “Welcome to the Sticks” for second and third places.

Likely to do well thanks to its considerable star power, Warners’ “Body of Lies” takes on Universal’s “Baby Mama” — whose star Tina Fey is suddenly enjoying massively increased name recognition here due to her “Saturday Night Live” take on Sarah Palin — and Fox’s actioner “Max Payne.”

“Ridley Scott is in his element,” said newspaper Leipziger Volkszeitung. “Scott shows how cinematic suspense is really built.”

Concorde hopes to attract arthouse auds with “Brideshead Revisited,” as does Senator with Wim Wenders’ Cannes screener “Palermo Shooting.” Also hitting theaters are Kinowelt’s horror pic “The Strangers,” Senator’s nature documentary “The Meerkats” and Christian Schwochow’s debut drama “Novemberkind,” about a young woman trying to solve a family mystery, going out via Schwarz-Weiss.

In Italy, “Twilight” touches down on a wide 600 via local distrib Eagle Pictures amid expectations the teen romance vampire pic will click with local youths and sink its fangs in the numero uno slot. A 15-minute sneak preview of the Catherine Hardwicke-helmed adaptation from the best-selling vampire books saga was the hot ticket at the Rome Film Festival in October.

Despite some critical drubbings — La Repubblica called it “boring,” waxing nostalgic about the days in which vampire pics were truly scary — “Twilight” is expected to be a big Italo draw.

The biggest competish “Twilight” faces in Italy comes from “Body of Lies,” which bows via Warner Bros. on 370 amid tepid reviews.

The Italo arthouse arena sees a trio of strong outings.

Local helmer Edoardo Winspeare’s unconventional Mafia pic “Galantuomini,” centered around a female mob boss, bows on 90 via 01 Distribuzione.

Israeli helmer Oded Davidoff’s noir “Someone to Run With” launches on 60 via Medusa.

Jonathan Demme’s Anne Hathaway starrer “Rachel Getting Married” opens on just 21 via Sony, which clearly doesn’t think “Rachel” can lure Italo auds despite critical kudos following its Venice launch.

“Solace” finally arrives in Spain via Sony on 533 and there’s little doubt among industryites that it will bring in dazzling numbers as it has already done elsewhere in Europe. Pic is expected to do better than “Casino Royale,” which cumed $11.6 million.

“Takings under $3.8 million for the weekend would be disappointing,” said a local booker. “It should take about $4.5 million,” suggested another exhib. A third booker analyzed: “Running time of previous releases came in at around two hours. ‘Quantum of Solace’ is shorter, which means four screenings per day and most likely a very high screen average; just don’t expect much stamina.”

Another concern is Spain’s rampant piracy. Spanish bootleggers are already flogging DVDs of “Solace.”

Reviews have been mostly mixed. But everybody acknowledges the reliability of the franchise. “No license to bore” is the title of the La Vanguardia review. “An ending as brilliant as its budget,” said cineyteatro.com.

With Bond set to dominate trade, there are few other notable openers in Spain. Western “Appaloosa” accepts the undercover agent’s challenge, opening on 186 via Tripictures. Crix response has been mainly upbeat.

Manga releases Yannis Smaragdis’ “El Greco” on 100. The Greek-Spanish co-production is a biopic of one of Spain’s greatest artists, Cretan-born Domenikos Theotokopoulos.

In France, there was no contest at all for top spot among Wednesday’s new releases. “Mesrine: l’ennemi public nombre 1,” the second installment in helmer Jean-Francois Richet’s two-part biopic on one of Gaul’s most grandiose gangsters, bowed with a boffo $923,900 on 501 for Pathe.

This beat last month’s launch of the first half of the Vincent Cassel-starrer, “Mesrine: L’instinct de mort” by over 21,000 admissions.

In distant second was satirical laffer “Musee haut, musee bas.” Helmer Jean-Michel Ribes’ star-studded adaptation of a Gallic legit hit bowed at $241,000 on 305 for Warner, which probably expected a better return on the back of generally positive reviews, a recently hyper-competitive home market notwithstanding.

“Two Lovers” had a decent enough launch of $188,840 at 229 for Wild Bunch. Helmer James Gray has long been a winner with critics in Gaul, and his latest offering toplining Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow continues the run. “Possibly the best of his four films,” wrote Liberation. “Its power is disarming.”

Guy Ritchie’s Brit gangster pic “RocknRolla” impressed French crix, but didn’t excite auds on day one. Ritchie has “refound the energy, inventiveness and British humor of his earlier works,” according to Le Figaroscope, but it bowed to a measly $50,125 on 180 via StudioCanal.

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

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