Europe awash with so-so fare

Arrivals unlikely to set the house on fire

LONDON — A typical early fall session at the European box office sees lots of product with modest commercial prospects touch down in major markets this weekend but nothing capable of gangbuster biz.

“Hairspray” is Italy’s widest opener in a crowded frame, which sees Travolta in drag going against the bows of “Evan Almighty,” “The Brave One,” “Planet Terror” and “28 Weeks Later.”

Despite good reviews, exhibbers are hesitant about “Hairspray,” which Moviemax is releasing on 320, because musicals have a tendency not to click in Italy.

“Evan Almighty” is going out on 300 via Universal, amid some skepticism that the biblical laffer will be able to lure in Italians. “Almighty” has so far proved a tough sell overseas.

Warner Bros. is bowing “The Brave One” on 252 with La Repubblica wondering why Jodie Foster accepted the offer to play a Charles Bronson-like vigilante role, which makes her a harder sell.

In a chiller-filled weekend, Robert Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” — the second half of “Grindhouse” — is going out via Medusa on 210, while “28 Weeks Later,” toplining Robert Carlyle, is being outed on 120 by Fox, both nourished by positive reviews.

On the arthouse front, Ken Loach’s “It’s a Free World” debuts in Italy on 61 via BIM after preeming in Venice where it took the screenplay nod. Julie Delpy’s cross-cultural comedy “Two Days in Paris” goes out on 20 via DNC.

A massive 17 new releases hit U.K. theaters this weekend but few have much commercial potential, according to local bookers, who are predicting a flat frame.

Rob Zombie’s horror remake “Halloween” is expected to prove the best of the fresh fare with a modest $2 million.

George Clooney starrer “Michael Clayton” arrives in Blighty a week before it is released Stateside and is boosted by very strong reviews from the Brit crix. The Evening Standard hailed it as an “excellent thriller” and the Financial Times declared “a potentially corny plot is stylishly executed.” Bookers predict an opening of just over $1 million for Pathe.

“Across the Universe,” Julie Taymor’s jukebox tuner based on 33 Beatles songs, is not generating much buzz in the U.K. and bookers aren’t expecting it to open strongly. Reviews have been negative: “This is like watching a car-crash in slow motion,” sniped Anthony Quinn in the Independent. “Universe” should play well with nostalgic auds in Liverpool.

Stuntman comedy “Hot Rod” (Paramount) and “The Brave One” (Warner Bros.) are expected to flop.

Brit holdover biz should be more impressive with local laffer “Run, Fat Boy, Run” and period romancer “Atonement” expected to continue to show good legs.

In Spain, “The Brave One” is expected to fare better. Bowing on 305 via Warner Bros., it is local exhibs’ and distribs’ tip for top spot.

“Jodie Foster is a good bet and a bit of action will attract auds,” said a booker.

“If we focus strictly on the formal thriller aspects, ‘Brave’ is splendid and Jodie Foster is great,” said newspaper ABC.

Brett Ratner’s “Rush Hour 3,” going out on a similar copy spread of 325 via Tripictures, is expected to land second spot. “Rush Hour 2” took a cume of $4.3 million in Spain six years ago.

Iciar Bollain’s San Sebastian contender “Mataharis” goes out on 120 via Fox. Bookers are looking for a bow between $400,000 and $500,000.

Lasse Hallstrom’s Clifford Irving biopic “The Hoax” bows on 178 via Aurum and bookers have reasonably high hopes for it after it caused a buzz at the San Sebastian fest.

In terms of homegrown fare, all eyes are on Juan Antonio Bayona’s chiller “The Orphanage,” Spain’s candidate for the Academy Awards, which bows Oct. 11.

In Gaul, Pathe’s “99F” by controversial helmer Jan Kounen got lots of pre-release buzz but did not do particularly boffo biz. The send-up of the advertising world, toplined by the increasingly popular Jean Dujardin, took a first-day $661,000 at 407 prints.

“The Brave One” bowed at $169,000 on 277 for Warners. Gallic crix dismissed the Neil Jordan pic. “The most nauseating film of Jodie Foster’s career,” blasted Telerama. “Jordan and his star wallow with delight in vengeance fantasies,” said Le Monde.

UGC Ph was much happier with the critical and commercial reaction to “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.” The heist-gone-wrong thriller starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke bowed at $215,000 on 118. “Aged 83, Sidney Lumet hits hard again with a thrilling drama,” said Tele 7 Jours.

In Germany, another slew of releases swamp the market.

The inflation of new releases bemoaned by many bookers of late is reaching a new peak this frame. Six new starts opened Thursday and there are five more scheduled for subsequent days.

“This planning policy is a plain disaster,” says one multiplex booker. “You totally lose track of what’s coming up now.”

Studio fare starting on Thursday includes Adam Sandler laffer “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” (Universal Pictures Intl.), which “could easily make 1.5 or 2 million tickets, but in this jungle, it will be lucky to reach 1 million,” according to one exhib. Also bowing is “The Brave One,” (Warner Bros). “Jodie Foster is really a magnet in Germany, but the theme of self-justice could be tricky,” says another local exhib.

Three-quel “Resident Evil: Extinction” (Constantin) gets its first outing in a major European market and is unlikely to leave much of a mark, according to industryites.

Dutch pic “Crusade in Jeans” (MFA) and local comedy “Leroy” (X-Verleih/Warner Bros.), both go after the slippery teenage audience profile.

“Leroy,” a German comedy about a black 16 year old boy falling in love with a blonde girl who has five skinhead brothers has been generating some buzz.

“In Hamburg, we staged an initiative showing it in schools with the director and actors because it’s the type of film that may get youths back to theaters,” said a booker, adding that “It’s films like that we need, but we need to clear screens of other junk that’s contracted.”

On the arthouse front comes Turkish marriage drama “Climates” (Sanartfilm) and Fatih Akin’s German-Turkish pic “The Edge of Heaven,” which is likely to have a good run after being submitted for the foreign-language Oscar.

Sunday biz in Germany is likely to be dominated by “Ratatouille” previews (it opens proper next Thursday).

Other pics opening on irregular days are “Planet Terror” (Senator) on Sunday, “Becoming Jane” (Concorde Filmverleih) on Monday, and “Suberbad“ (Sony) and local laffer “Stellungswechsel” (“Change of Position”) (Fox) on Tuesday. Pics look to make the most of the Wednesday Oct. 3 national holiday in Germany.

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

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