European summer in full swing

'Mamma Mia,' 'Kung Fu' kick off season

LONDON — Summer is in full swing at the European box office as this weekend sees “Mamma Mia” dance into Blighty, “Kung Fu Panda” high-kick into France and Spain, and powerful Will Smith vehicle “Hancock” hold and expand across the continent.

Overall Euro biz should be strong, other than in Italy, where locals are making a beeline for the beaches not the multiplexes.

In the U.K., Abba musical “Mamma Mia” goes into the weekend on a high, having already played successfully at the Odeon, Leicester Square, for a week. Pic pulled $233,519 up to Wednesday from just three daily screenings. Demonstrating its nationwide appeal, the film pulled $2.4 million on Thursday, its first day on general release.

Universal release “Mamma Mia” has had lots of press, largely thanks to the star-studded June 30 world premiere in London, attended by Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth. Reviews have been largely positive. “A guilty pleasure powerful enough to turn the stoniest heads,” declared the London Times.

Impressive Odeon and day one biz has bookers steadily upgrading their already upbeat projections. Current conventional wisdom is a four-day bow of $12 million and a final cume between $50 million and $60 million.

Other notable openers are 3-D action adventure “Journey to the Center of the Earth” (Entertainment) and Jet Li/Jackie Chan starrer “The Forbidden Kingdom” (Lionsgate U.K.) Both should do solid biz but neither is generating tremendous excitement or is expected to best the soph sesh of holdover “Hancock.” Overall weekend cinema trade is likely to be bumper thanks to the “Mamma Mia” bow and forecasts of rainy weather.

“Hancock” blasted out of the gate in Gaul. A first-day take of $2.8 million on 739 for Sony makes it the best bow for a Hollywood product in France so far this year. A monster Wednesday at French wickets also saw Paramount’s “Kung Fu Panda” score $1.8 million on 728.

“It’s a record opening for a DreamWorks non-sequel in France,” said Paramount France prexy Camille Trumer. “It opened 70% better than the first ‘Shrek.’ ”

The critics were overwhelmingly wowed. “The combat scenes are worthy of ‘Kill Bill’ or the big Hong Kong productions,” said Metro.

Other bows were a mite more modest. Laffer “Le Voyage aux Pyrenees” (Journey to the Pyrenees), featuring Jean-Pierre Darroussin trying to help wife Sabine Azema cope with a nymphomania crisis by holing up in the mountains, took in $92,125 on 179 for Diaphana. Scottish psycho-thriller “Hallam Foe” managed $28,500 on 41 for Pretty Pictures. Helmer Marco Tullio Giordana’s “Wild Blood” — a bloody account of political score-settling in 1945 Italy toplining Monica Bellucci — earned Ocean $22,970 on 80.

In Germany, Will Smith looks certain to dominate the German box office once again as he fends off “The Incredible Hulk” and tries to keep “Kung Fu Panda” at bay.

The latest incarnation of Marvel’s gamma-green behemoth is unlikely to smash “Hancock,” which is benefiting from Smith’s huge Teuton popularity. In addition, German auds have traditionally displayed far less interest in comic book adaptations than Stateside fans, with the exception of cynical send-ups of the genre.

Nevertheless, “The Incredible Hulk” is sure to appeal to action movie-addicts. While local critics were less than impressed, many were taken with the pic’s high adrenaline exploits. “It’s not a good film, but it is a classic ‘Hulk,’” wrote trade magazine Blickpunkt:Film. Ang Lee’s 2003 version garnered a $2.3 million opening and went on to cume $5.8 million.

Also opening is Francis Ford Coppola’s “Youth Without Youth,” going out via Sony, which could generate strong interest among arthouse aficionados thanks to largely stellar reviews and its cast, which reunites local favorites Bruno Ganz and Alexandra Maria Lara of “Downfall” fame.

Spanish B.O. should finally get its mojo back this weekend now that the Euro 2008 soccer tourney and Wimbledon, both of which were won by Spanish athletes, are over.

The film expected to pack the plexes this weekend is opener “Kung Fu Panda,” which goes out on 580 copies. Expectations are high ($20 million plus cume) as there hasn’t been a decent toon released in Spain for some time. As elsewhere in Europe, “Panda” reviews have been strong. “It’s excellently crafted rather than original. This is the secret of its charm,” said El Pais. “Adults and children will warm to the film,” promised ABC.

Other releases include romantic comedy “P.S. I Love You,” out on 227 via Filmax, and local laffer “Gente de mala calidad,” opening on 111 via Manga. Juan Cavestany’s first solo feature “Gente” has received mixed notices. Additionally, Tripictures bows teen stoner-friendly comedy “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay” on 108.

In Italy, which is holding off on “Hancock,” the top opener is “Get Smart,” out on 324 in a thin frame giving the 60s TV spoof an easy shot at the numero uno slot as Italo auds hit the beaches en masse. Warner’s Anne Hathaway and Steve Carell starrer has a rave Corriere della Sera review going for it. “Carell and Hathaway play like a viola and a violin, alternating dramatic situations to verbal virtuoso (lines) worthy of the best sophisticated comedies,” enthused the Milan daily.

The second-biggest Italo opener is Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” redo, out on 205 via Lucky Red, which La Repubblica is calling “one of the most interesting, but also disturbing and anguishing, films of the year.” However, exhibs are saying that despite star pull of Tim Roth, Naomi Watts and Michael Pitt, “Games” is too dark for mainstream auds.

Two other horror flicks, these on micro-release, Sony’s “Prom Night,” on 11, and Fox’s “Joshua,” on 10, complete anemic Italo outings, typical of Italy’s still out-of-synch summer release patterns.

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

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