'Intouchables,' 'Immaturi,' 'Torrente' surpass U.S. films

ROME — As the Eurozone angsts over the debt crisis, a batch of local comedies is scoring mightily in France, Italy, Spain and Germany, providing comic relief for auds, and increasingly crossing borders — while eroding Hollywood market-share in several territories.

Riding the crest of the Euro-laffers wave is Gaumont’s Gallic phenom “Intouchables” (Untouchable) Variety (Jan. 16-22), which has cumed some $140 million, and counting, over 10 frames in French-speaking territories. Pic made its first auspicious non-Gallic outing, bowing in Germany at No. 4 via Senator, on Jan. 5 and has since pushed to the top of the charts, topping debutante “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” with a total take of some $8 million.

Sold to 40 territories, the comedy about a stuffy quadriplegic aristocrat and the black ex-con he hires from the Paris projects, seems to validate the adage that auds turn to feel-good movies as an antidote to economic woes.

In Gaul, “Intouchables” and other hit comedies, such as Dany Boon’s “Welcome to the Sticks” followup “Nothing to Declare” drove box office figures to a 45-year high of 215 million tickets sold in 2011. Concurrently, the Hollywood market share in France dropped, albeit slightly, to 46% from 47.6% in 2010.

Laffers were the main driver for the muscular rise in French film exports, up 26% in 2010.

Meanwhile, in 2011 and early 2012, homegrown comedies have been scoring mightily across continental Europe. And lately some are even starting to travel, though outside Gaul, comedy is still largely a local delicacy.

•In Italy, a clutch of comedies drove the local box office share to nearly 40% in 2011, just as Hollywood’s Italo market-share plummeted to 48% from 60%.

The latest Italian hit is Medusa’s “Immaturi — il viaggio,” about a bunch of thirtysomething former high-school buddies reuniting on a Greek isle. This sequel to 2011 hit comedy “Immaturi” bowed numero uno in Italy on Jan. 4. Talks are under way for a French release of the original, as well as sales of remake rights in Gaul and the U.S.

Spearheading the Italo comedy charge is Medusa’s “Che bella giornata” (What a Beautiful Day), a mildly politically incorrect laffer starring TV comic Checco Zalone as a Milan security guard with the hots for a sexy Arab, who’s an aspiring terrorist. Pic earned $57 million locally, almost double the final “Harry Potter” pic at the start of the year, to become Italy’s top all-time local grosser and top 2011 draw. Nine Italo comedies were among the top-20 grossers in Italy last year, including Paolo Sorrentino’s English-language Sean Penn-starrer “This Must Be the Place.”

•In Spain, where Hollywood pics plunged, the top movie in 2011 was 3D “Torrente 4: Lethal Crisis,” the fourth installment in the “Torrente” comedy franchise, centered on a lovable, albeit sexist and racist, lowlife cop. It arrested $25.5 million via Warner Bros, ahead of the latest “Harry Potter” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” “Brain Drain 2,” about a gang of disaffected Spanish youths who wreak havoc at Harvard U., weighed in at No. 3, via Universal.

“Torrente 4″ has been sold by Buenos Aires-based FilmSharks Intl. to a host of territories, including France, Italy, Russia and all of Latin America. It has been optioned for a remake by New Line in the U.S. and La Petite Reine in France.

• In Germany, eight of the top 10 titles in 2011 hailed from Hollywood but a clutch of local laffers, co-produced by resident arms of the majors, scored mightily, most notably Til Schweiger’s Warner Bros.-produced megahit “Kokowaah,” which rang-up $39 million via Warner Intl. While the merits of this vehicle for the Teutonic superstar might get lost in translation, Schweiger’s 2007 hit “Rabbit Without Ears” could still get the Hollywood treatment after Newmarket picked up remake rights in 2010.

So what are the elements that can make Euro comedies travel?

“It depends on the main story and the acting, rather than on dialogue-driven jokes, which might be too local,” says Guido Rud, topper of FilmSharks Intl.

Adds Gaumont head of intl. sales, Cecile Gaget: “The only way comedies can cross borders is if the script steers a path between situation comedy, strong stories and a big slice of emotion. If you have facts that are too linked with specific culture, it doesn’t travel.”

Gaget notes that Gallic megahit “Welcome to the Sticks” did only OK outside France; however, Italo remake “Benvenuti al Sud” did boffo biz last year, and there is plenty of buzz now about an Italo sequel to “Sud” titled “Benvenuti al Nord” scheduled for release via Medusa Jan. 18.

Culturally specific elements are precisely what seem to click with Europeans these days, especially when it comes to triggering belly laughs. That may help explain the overall below-par returns in Europe of a slew of Hollywood romantic comedies, including “New Year’s Eve,” “No Strings Attached” and “Just Go With It.”

But there are other factors for the falloff.

“Hollywood is making the movies it wants to make, which work in the global marketplace but not everywhere,” says producer Riccardo Tozzi, head of Italy’s motion picture association Anica. He adds U.S. studios are more focused on emerging markets in Asia and the Middle East than on Europe.

Meanwhile, after Germany, the next stop on the “Intouchables” tour will be Spain in early March, via distrib A Contracorriente, then Medusa in Italy and Gaga in Japan, among other territories. Pic’s challenge is to best record-breaking “Sticks,” both at home and abroad.

Gaget recalls that when “Intouchables” world-preemed at San Sebastian last fall, a joke about unemployment in the pic had Spanish auds laughing out loud. U.S. auds will be let in on the joke later in 2012 via the Weinstein Co., which also has an English-language remake in works in tandem with original producers Quad and Gaumont.

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