‘Captain’ can’t right o’seas ship

Panned pic faced stiff competish from 'Bridget'

Critics can’t make or break films, but they did no favors to “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” in its world preem in the U.K., while auds in many other territories didn’t need reviews to tell them there’s precious little reason to patronize cinemas right now.

Topliners Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz might have winced if they’d read the reviews for “Mandolin,” which Universal will release domestically in August. The Times critic says witheringly of Cage: “Before long he seems totally to lose confidence in the role and himself.” And the reviewer was no kinder to Cruz: “All she seems to do is moon about, looking martyred in a head scarf.”

Such panning probably deterred auds in London, which is more review-driven than the rest of the U.K., as John Madden’s romantic drama drew a good, but not exceptional, $3.7 million from 379 sites in six days. While that was 16% better than the six-day bow of “The English Patient,” the latter launched on 30% fewer prints. Exhibs were expecting more profitable B.O. music from “Mandolin” in Blighty given that the book (by a Brit) on which it’s based sold more copies there than anywhere else and the pic had the benefit of the May 7 public holiday.

Besides the reviews, though, bookers noted the pic faced stiff competition from “Bridget Jones’s Diary” (which appeals to a similar, female-skewed demographic). The Renee Zellweger/Hugh Grant starrer easily retained pole position in its fourth lap in the U.K., tallying a socko $40 million in 27 days.

There was some consolation for Working Title: the producer is responsible for both films, which collectively accounted for about 56% of the frame’s total B.O.

Lee Tamahori’s “Along Came a Spider” spun a mediocre debut, a letdown considering the U.K. was the top-grossing territory for its predecessor, “Kiss the Girls,” which clocked $5.1 million.

Universal and MGM had something to celebrate as “Hannibal” ascended to $168.7 million (driven by Japan’s tasty $26.4 million in 32 days and Korea’s $2 million in 12 days) to beat domestic’s $164.5 million. One Tokyo tradester predicts the cannibal saga will wind up with better than $40 million.

Add “What Women Want” to the list of overachievers overseas, as its cume swept past’s domestic’s $182.6 million to $187.1 million nearing the end of its campaign.

Jennifer Lopez dethroned Sandra Bullock in Germany as “The Wedding Planner” took pole position, knocking off “Miss Congeniality,” which had reigned for five straight weeks. But Lopez’s romance posted figures that are at least 50% below the level usually achieved by top earners. As one Teutonic booker says, it was the season’s first hot, sunny weekend, so “no one is going to sit in a dark theater.”

The ultra-consistent “Congeniality” brought in $5.3 million from 2,367 engagements in 43 markets, hoisting its cume to $82.3 million, boosted by a sturdy preem in Finland and strong holdovers in Argentina and Brazil.

“Exit Wounds” isn’t catching fire abroad, typified by lifeless debuts in Germany, Austria, South Korea and Israel. Although Steven Seagal has never been a major star in Germany, one exhib opined that an actioner of that caliber could have opened bigger, especially as it’s been awhile since action fans last had a fix. The Seagal/DMX headliner showed more heft in the action markets of the Philippines (ranking No. 1 with $391,000 on 54 for Warner Bros.’ best bow of the year in that territory) and Thailand.

The French box office was buoyed by the rock-solid soph session of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s fantasy/romance “Amelie From Montmartre,” but “Highlander: Endgame,” “Men of Honor,” “Disney’s the Kid,” “The Contender” and “Bring It On” all had soft landings, although “Bring It On” was commended for its politically correct approach to cheerleading. “Best in Show” was lauded by one Gallic critic for its “improvisational brilliance,” but the quirky pooch mockumentary was too off-the-wall for local tastes.

“Men of Honor” was received a bit better in Belgium and Holland; its cume is $24.2 million, led by Mexico’s $4.4 million, Taiwan’s $2.2 million and Spain’s $2.2 million through its third mission; the Navy divers’ drama drowned in the U.K., Oz and Brazil, and was ho-hum in Italy.

After corpsing in Mexico and Australia, domestic dud “Say It Isn’t So” connected more effectively in Spain, mustering $785,000 in five days on 223, but it stiffed in Brazil and Taiwan. Teen romances sans stars don’t always travel well, as evidenced by “Save the Last Dance,” which thus far has shown fancy footwork in the U.K., Germany and Oz but stubbed its toes in Spain, Brazil, Sweden and Taiwan.

In Australia, “The Mexican” stayed aloft in its third lap, ahead of freshman “13 Days,” which was No. 1 in some locations and performed strongly on just 66 prints. The Cuban Missile Crisis saga has been an attention-grabber in Japan and solid in Germany, but it bombed in the U.K. and made little impression in Spain and Italy; the cume is about $27 million.

Miramax’s “Chocolat” reached $65.6 million, spurred by Japan’s sweet $2.1 million in 10 days, where two Toho toons, “Detective Conan” and “Crayon Shinchan,” had robust third rounds.

In its last foreign stop, “Meet the Parents” isn’t generating a lot of laughs or bucks in China, fetching $197,000 in 12 days on 91 screens. Distrib CJE hopes the laffer will build momentum as it expands gradually to 466 screens; cume stands at $135.2 million.