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Hollywood posse rides into Europe

'Hancock,' 'Panda,' 'Wanted,' 'Caspian' arrive

ROME — The European box office is expected to resuscitate this weekend with Euro 2008 soccer finally over, paving the way for Hollywood blockbusters “Hancock,” “Kung Fu Panda,” “Wanted” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” to kick off a full-force overseas summer onslaught.

Biz in Blighty hots up this weekend as Paramount sends “Kung Fu Panda” into battle and Sony launch Will Smith superhero actioner “Hancock.”

“Hancock” entered the marketplace on Wednesday and has already pocketed almost $6 million. Opening day of $3.4 million was inflated by Orange’s two-for-one Orange Wednesdays cinema promotion.

Box office success so far underlines the massive appeal of topliner Smith to Brit auds who flocked to “I Am Legend.” Smith energetically tub thumped for the pic at the hyped U.K. premiere at London’s Leicester Square.

Brit critics, like their U.S. counterparts, savaged “Hancock.”

“A special-effects extravaganza that’s very boring indeed, and doesn’t quite deafen us to the inadequacies of the script,” sniped Anthony Quinn in the Independent.

“Kung Fu Panda” goes into the weekend with $3.4 million already taken in previews (June 28 and 29). Reviews have been largely mixed with a few raves. “Forget ‘Shrek,’ ‘Kung Fu Panda’ is DreamWorks’ finest animated movie,” raved Wendy Ide in the Times. “Hardly a knockout, but bright and cheesy fun,” wrote Christopher Tookey in the Daily Mail.

The German box office looks ready to recover after soccer and sunny skies spelled doom for theaters, resulting in a 50% drop in ticket sales in the year’s second quarter.

With Sony’s “Hancock” taking on “Kung Fu Panda,” released in the territory by Universal, and rain expected throughout most of the country, the comatose Teutonic exhib sector looks set for a major adrenaline boost as crowds flock back to movies.

Smith’s popularity among German auds knows no bounds, all but ensuring “Hancock’s” success at the box office, despite negative-to-mixed reviews:

“The film suffers from the same dilemma as its hero: it doesn’t fulfill the expectations that it arouses,” said newspaper Stuttgarter Zeitung.

Munich broadsheet Abendzeitung wrote: “The humor is straightforward and politically incorrect; the action scenes are not superfluous; and the emotional palette of the film goes well beyond that of regular entertainment effects.”

Mike Leigh’s Berlinale highlight “Happy-Go-Lucky,” which goes out via Tobis, looks set for plenty of traction on the arthouse front, while Senator is hoping to attract B-movie genre fans with “Grindhouse” in its original double-feature version. The distrib released “Death Proof” and “Planet Terror” separately last year to mixed results.

Also hitting screens is Celine Sciamma’s French teen drama “Water Lillies,” going out via Pro-Fun.

In Italy, “Wanted” is touching down on 400 with killer prospects for the Angelina Jolie-James McAvoy actioner, which has a clear field.

Universal’s graphic novel adaptation, being muscularly marketed, is boosted by largely positive reviews. “The story lacks heart and brains, but you can still have a great time,” enthused Corriere della Sera.

Italy’s second-biggest opener is Jeff Betancourt-helmed horror sequel “Boogeyman 2,” bowing on 190 via Eagle Pictures amid modest exhib expectations, due to its having a similar target demographic to “Wanted.”

In the arthouse arena, Japanese manga pic “Fist of the North Star: New Savior Legend,” helmed by Takahiro Imamura, is going out on 35 via Mikado with Italo anime genre aficionados likely to be lured.

In Spain, “Prince Caspian” opened Wednesday on 625, nabbing a first two-day $1.7 million take for BVI. “That’s good, though not great. We’ll have to wait for the weekend to get big visibility,” said one exhib.

“Narnia” notices were tepid. For El Pais, its direction was prosaic rather than poetic.

Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” redo, being released by WB on 105, at least stirred Spanish critics from their summer slumber. “One of the cruelest and most aggressive features in the past 20 years,” said La Razon. “I can’t forget this movie, but the discomfort exceeded its hypnotic power,” was El Pais’ take.

In the more specialized trenches of Spain’s arthouse arena, Aurum releases on 55 screens local helmer Xavi Puebla’s “Welcome to Farewell-Gutmann,” a gripping fable set in a pharmaceutical multinational. Other bows are Kim Ki-Duk’s “Breath” (Golem), Andres Baiz’ “Satanas” (Alta), Elie Elie Chouraqui’s “O Jerusalem” (Notro) and Christopher N. Rowley’s “Bonneville,” from new distrib Wide Pictures.

In Gaul, Wednesday was a pretty low-key day for launches, with distribs in the capital forced to compete with the Festival Paris Cinema and local titles lording it.

That said, “Mes Amis, mes amours” (London Mon Amour) got off to a decent start for Pathe. Helmer Lorraine Levy’s romantic comedy about two divorced pals coping with singledom in the overseas French colony of South Kensington, London, raked in $527,200 on 349 prints.

While Le Parisien felt “Mes Amis” had a “goofy charm,” most other critics were less impressed. “Smooth and transparent, and forgotten about as fast as it is taken in,” said Ouest France.

Laffer “Par Suite d’un arret de travail,” toplining Charles Berling and Patrick Timsit, took in $85,125 for Wild Bunch on 210. The two thesps “are part of the great tradition of French comedy duos,” raved Paris Match.

Another local comedy “Made in Italy” earned Pyramide $76,550 on 102. “We’re fairly happy with the opening, considering the competition from the Festival Paris Cinema,” said general manager Eric Lagesse. “The film’s comic treatment of stereotypical French attitudes toward Italy seems to be going down well.”

Among the minor bows, Israeli-French co-production “Shiva,” a drama showing simmering family tensions boiling over during a week of mourning, made $47,700 on 53 for Les Films du Losange.

Additional reporting by Archie Thomas (U.K.), Ed Meza (Germany), Emilio Mayorga (Spain), and David Hayhurst (France).

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