Hollywood lines up Euro feast

Several titles vie for festive returns

ROME — Hollywood is poised to reap richly from Europe’s fat pre-Christmas frame even though Yank heavyweights including “I Am Legend,” “National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” “Enchanted,” and “Bee Movie” are vying against strong local titles in some territories.

In Italy, homegrown holdovers “Natale in Crociera” (Christmas on a Cruiseship) and “Una Donna Bellissima” (A Very Beautiful Wife) are expected to retain the top two spots, after opening strong last week.

Still, exhibs say the arrival of “Bee Movie,” out on 450 via Universal, and “National Treasure” bowing on 370 via Buena Vista International, will extract a nice chunk of the Italo holiday honey.

The third biggest opener in Italian cinemas is “Love in the Time of Cholera,” toplining local star Giovanna Mezzogiorno, out on 207 via 01 Distribution. But negative writeups — La Repubblica called it “a multinational mess” — aren’t expected to yield lovely returns for the Mike Newell-helmed Gabriel Garcia Marquez adaptation.

Hollywood stars play prominently in Italy’s Christmas arthouse offerings. Redford, Cruise, Streep starrer “Lions for Lambs” is bowing on 145 via Fox, while Brad Pitt Western “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” goes out on 80 via Mikado.

As for more exotic arty fare, Lebanese dramedy “Caramel,” set in a Beirut beauty salon, is bowing in some 20 locations via Lady Film.

In France, where in past weeks the B.O. has been frigid following some strike mayhem, Will Smith starrer “I Am Legend” has opened strongly at $1.6 million on 607 via Warner Bros., despite tepid reviews.

“Too many dull special effects contribute to degrading a narrative that has neither much edge nor any real surprises,” lamented Le Monde.

Meanwhile, Gallic helmer Luc Jacquet’s “March of the Penguins” followup, “The Fox and the Child,” is pleasing Buena Vista, taking more than $4.2 million in two frames and looks to have good legs.

Fox’s animal toon “Alvin and the Chipmunks” doesn’t seem be clicking with Gallic auds, having opened at a flat $263,000 on 377. “Musically, it’s amusing for about five minutes. The rest is agonizing,” winced Les Inrockuptibles.

The rest of the Gallic openers seem to be struggling in the wake of the much bigger offerings.

Cop drama “La Clef,” starring Guillaume Canet, pulled a paltry $102,100 on 193 for SND, despite mainly positive reviews.

“I think it’s really mainly a case of too much product on the market at the same time” said SND business director Henry Hamelle.

In Germany, Disney’s “Enchanted” will be bowing against Teutonic chick-flick “Keinohrhasen” (Little Bunnies), with the latter tipped as the bigger draw.

Toplining local megastar Til Schweiger, who also helmed, opposite hot former MTV VJ Nora Tschirner, “Bunnies” is hopping into Teutonic theaters via Warner Bros.

As for holdovers, “The Golden Compass” is expected to retain its number three slot, in its third frame, while the bow of “Alvin and the Chipmunks” looks likely to be vying with “Bee Movie” for number four in its second weekend.

In Spain, the crowded frame sees “I Am Legend” and “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” facing off for the top slot.

“I Am Legend” bowed on Wednesday Dec. 19, taking a $1 million two-day take off 443 for Warner Bros.

Exhibs predict a first five-day $4 million haul for “Legend,” compared with $6.5 million for the first weekend of “I Robot” in 2004.

Meanwhile, exhibs are also upbeat about Jon Turteltaub’s new “National Treasure” instalment, which opens Friday on 433 copy spread via Buena Vista International.

In Spain, the first “National Treasure” cumed $19.7 million.

The problem for all these big Hollywood pics is the onslaught of Christmas bows, with 13 titles debuting.

“There are too many pics opening in a period where several movies are performing nicely in their second and third frames,” said one distrib.

These include “The Golden Compass,” on which consensus is its done pretty well so far, grossing $11.4 million after 16 days. That compares with $13.9 million for “The Chronicles of Narnia” after 14 days.

Spanish exhibs are also upbeat on “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” which bows on 345 via Fox.

“It’s a great movie; I think is going to have excellent results, especially when word-of-mouth starts to kick in,” predicted one booker.

Additional reporting by Andrew Horn (Germany), David Hayhurst (France), and Emilio Mayorga (Spain).

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