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Brits are in the mood for romance

'Music and Lyrics' waltzes into top spot in U.K.

LONDON — Hugh Grant romancer “Music and Lyrics” edged ahead of “Charlotte’s Web” for top spot in Blighty while “Blood Diamond” and “Night at the Museum” continue to tussle it out at the top across Europe.

“Music and Lyrics” took top spot in Blighty with $3.7 million at 432. The bow for the WB release was on or slightly below bookers’ projections. It is expected the romancer will play well through the week, especially on Valentine’s Day. Bookers refute crix’s suggestions that Brit auds are growing tired of a string of similar performances from Brit thesp Hugh Grant. “Playing one role well never hurt Cary Grant or John Wayne,” observed one exhibber.

“Charlotte’s Web” captured the attention of auds in its Brit launch, ensnaring $3.7 million at 490 via Paramount. E.B. White’s 1952 classic children’s book, which “Web” is based on, is still widely read by youngsters and the pic looks set to do solid biz throughout the half-term vacation, which effectively runs for the next two weeks — half of school kids are off this week, the rest are off the next.

Bookers expect a “Web” final cume approaching $19.4 million.

Judi Dench-starrer “Notes on a Scandal” followed up on its good bow with a 21% soph sesh slide, chalking up an impressive $5.3 million cume to date. Perf was unaffected by its failure to win any BAFTAs on Sunday, despite being nommed in four categories.

Prequel slasher “Hannibal Rising” failed to catch the imagination of Brit auds. The pic did $2 million at 341, which was good enough for fourth spot in the charts. Bookers attribute the soft bow to the lack of Anthony Hopkins’ name at the top of the poster and the savage reviews. “A hunk of gothic ham; carnal, crass and indigestible,” declared reviewer Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times.

“Red Dragon,” the last installment in the franchise, bowed to $6.2 million in 2002.

Fox’s “Epic Movie” also was dismissed by the Brit crix but proved to have multiplex appeal nonetheless, raking in $2.7 million at 326 for Fox. One exhib said the success of the pic demonstrates the enduring popularity of “lowest common denominator comedies at a time when there is lots of quality fare flooding the marketplace.” “Date Movie” did $2.5 million on its opening weekend in February last year.

Contrary to exhibbers’ expectations, “Hannibal Rising” did not oust “Night at the Museum” from the top spot in Italy where the Ben Stiller laffer held on to the top spot in its soph sesh, pulling $3.2 million at 463, down 36% for a $9.5 million cume, according to national box office compiler Cinetel.

But “Hannibal” had plenty to chew on, opening on $2.9 million on 364 for a boffo $7,800 screen average, better than the $6,800 average for “Museum.”

Nancy Meyers romancer “The Holiday” opened strongly in third place with $2 million on 316 through Universal, while Luc Besson’s “Arthur and the Invisibles,” as expected, bowed a bit flat at $1 million on 345.

Local laffer “Manual of Love 2” is still going strong, coming in fourth in its fourth frame, pulling $1.2 million on 277 for a boffo $24 million cume to date via Filmauro. The result sets an early 2007 benchmark that will be hard to beat for other upcoming homegrown pics.

Pupi Avati comic romancer “La cena per farli conoscere” also is holding well, sliding from fourth to fifth spot for $940,000 on 260 in its soph sesh. The Medusa release is proving popular with auds as it stars hot actresses Francesca Neri, Violante Placido and Vanessa Incontrada.

German auds proved a sucker for “Rocky Balboa,” which punched its way to the top of the charts with $3.5 million at 547 for a $6,480 screen average. There were no other openers in the German top 10.

“Rocky” knocked local laffer “The Wild Soccer Bunch 4” into second spot in its second outing. The latest sequel from BVI about a rowdy little league soccer team dipped 33% for an $8.3 million running cume.

Another local German pic — “Schwere jungs” — is holding well on home turf; it dipped just 17% in its fourth frame to inch past the $3 million mark.

Hollywood fare dominates box office biz in Gaul with the opening of “Night at the Museum” and second frame of “Blood Diamond” landing the top two spots.

Multiplying the admissions figures by the average ticket price of $7.66, “Museum” banked $4.4 million at 676 in its first five days. The big bow helped the Fox pic regain its position as the weekend’s top international grosser; a position it held for five weeks before handing over to “The Pursuit of Happyness” for one weekend.

As in Italy, “Hannibal Rising” opened solidly in France, taking $2 million at 367 via Quinta. Gallic thesp Gaspard Ulliel in the lead role helped drive box office biz in France.

The best homegrown performer was Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt’s opener “Odette toutlemonde,” which took fourth spot with $1.96 million at 284 for a chart-topping screen average of $6,906. The Pathe release, which stars top comedienne Catherine Frot, was slammed by the French crix but auds weren’t bothered. Wild Bunch’s Romain Duris-starrer “Moliere” dipped 32% it is soph sesh for a $4.6 running cume.

As in France, U.S. product dominated the top of the charts in Spain, where the top three slots went to “Blood Diamond,” “Night at the Museum” and “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

The “Diamond” Spanish opening of $2.2 million at 350 repped its best overseas performance of the frame.

Disappointingly for local industryites, the Telespan 2000 produced comedy “Cinema Days” failed to make much impact in its bow. The Spanish film released by BVI banked just $422,777 at 250 — only good enough for seventh in the charts. The result is a let down because the pic stars many popular local actors, including Malena Alterio, Fernando Tejero and Alberto San Juan. But reviews were poor.

Additional reporting by Gorka Bilbao (Spain), Christian Koehl (Germany), David Hayhurst (France) and Nick Vivarelli (Italy).

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