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LONDON — Feelgood tuner “Mamma Mia!” finally arrives in Italy this weekend, hoping to sing up more whammo biz at the European box office, where trade is dominated by expansions and local openers.

In the U.K., two local pics are the biggest openers. Simon Pegg laffer “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” opens alongside Ben Whishaw starring Brit-lit adaptation “Brideshead Revisited” in what promises to be a competitive frame.

Of the holdovers, Liam Neeson starring abduction thriller “Taken” is expected to show good traction in its soph sesh, thanks to strong word of mouth, as is box office phenom “Mamma Mia!,” which is still showing little sign of fading, despite entering its 13th frame. Amazingly, advance tickets sales are rising, according to a Vue spokesperson.

Bookers expect “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People” to open top with around $3 million, thanks to the popularity of Brit thesp Pegg and a strong campaign from Paramount. The U.S.-set romantic comedy, based on limey hack Toby Young’s misadventures at a New York glossy mag world, premiered in London on Sept. 24.

Reviews have been mostly con or mixed. “As a satire on the modern obsession with celebrity, it’s paltry stuff, and as a romantic comedy it’s virtually a non-starter, but Pegg has a charm that compensates for Young’s bumptious persona, and he nails the occasional funny lines with an expert’s comic timing,” wrote Andy Gill in the Independent.

Commercial expectations for “Brideshead Revisited” (Disney) are modest, with most exhibs expecting an opening haul of $2 million tops. Pic has mostly been dismissed by the Brit crix, who compare it unfavorably with the well-loved 1981 TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s beloved novel.

“It feels fatally slow, boring and devoid of action,” sniped Chris Tookey in the Daily Mail.

Italy is finally getting “Mamma Mia!,” crooning in on 400 via Universal amid molto buzz and high expectations, despite the fact that musicals don’t click often with Italo auds.

La Repubblica is praising “Mamma,” crowning Meryl Streep its “unquestionable queen.” Italo exhibs are upbeat, also because the main competish are Spike Lee’s “Miracle at St. Anna,” which has sparked local indignation, and “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” likely to draw local youth auds, but lacking crossover potential.

“Miracle at St. Anna,” which goes out on 265 via co-producer RAI Cinema’s 01 Distribuzione, has raised historical hackles in Italy because it depicts a local resistance fighter as a Nazi collaborator. Raging controversy may work in pic’s favor, though reviews are scathing. Corriere della Sera said that Lee has “lost his bearings.”

“Zohan” is launching in Italy on 219 via Sony, boosted by local crix, with La Repubblica calling its “frank and vulgar” humor “infectious.”

Also launching in Italo hardtops are Argentine toon “El Arka,” helmer/producer Juan Pablo Buscarini’s take on the Noah’s Ark tale, out on 250 via Eagle Pictures, and Alejandre Aja chiller “Mirrors,” toplining Kiefer Sutherland, which could scare up decent biz off 185 via Fox.

In Germany, the combination of a holiday weekend and expected poor weather should see theaters busy, but there are no clear-cut challengers to last week’s box office champs “Wall-E” and “The Baader Meinhof Complex.”

That said, the Coen Brothers’ “Burn After Reading” (Tobis) looks set to make a strong entry. Previous Coen Bros.’ release “No Country for Old Men” was well received in Germany and “Burn After Reading” has garnered uniformly good press. Tagesspiegel praised it as their “biggest lark since ‘The Big Lebowski’,” with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung noting, “It glows with a deadpan humor… filling the entire theater with laughter.”

Star power of Pitt and Clooney should pull in female auds and make it the top date movie option.

Mike Meyer’s much derided comedy “The Love Guru” (Kinowelt) isn’t generating much excitement from local bookers even though brainless fare such as like “Meet the Spartans” has worked recently in Germany.

“Lemon Tree” from Arsenal looks set to click with art house auds and is a good bet for a high per-screen return that could give it shot at a low top 10. Israeli director Eran Riklis’ follow-up to his much praised “Syrian Bride” scooped the audience award at the Berlin Film Festival and has been well received by local crix — Tagesspiegel described it as “an enchanting story of courage and resistance.”

Another niche film set to score a decent average from a limited release is “Berlin Calling” (Movienet), a drama set in the Berlin techno scene and starring one of Germany’s biggest DJs — Paul Kalkbrenner. The high profile of both the German techno scene and the star could bring out the young crowd.

Despite the presence of German mega-star Til Schweiger, Fox actioner “Far Cry,” which is based on a popular vidgame, got surprisingly little attention from the conventional press. On the Internet, however, it was panned as “a megabomb, below the level of direct-to-DVD garbage” (Filmstarts.de). However, interest from vidgame fanboys could deliver it an acceptable bow.

In Spain, three local pics bow this weekend in a busy frame packed with newbies.

Best hopes are for Fox’s softcore horror “Mirrors,” which bows on 300. Although only tepidly welcomed by crix and audience at the Sitges film fest opening ceremony on Friday, bookers are confident it can nail the top spot as a result of Fox’ bullish campaign.

“After several weeks with no hit genre pics, I think audiences will turn out for ‘Mirrors’,” forecast a booker.

Sony’s “Righteous Kill” opens on a bold 315. Bookers hope the appeal of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino will ride roughshod over weak reviews.

Paul Anderson’s “Death Race” bows amid modest expectations via Universal on 252.

As for homegrown product, Alta’s “Sangre de mayo” is the biggest release. The epic drama about Madrid’s uprising before the French invasion of 1808 is helmed by 1982 Oscar-winning director Jose Luis Garci (“To Begin Again”) and debuts on 244.

OnPictures releases “Don’t Ask Me to Kiss You Because I Will” on 100. “Ask” is a tender comedy, written, directed and starring up-and-coming star Albert Espinosa.

From another Catalan helmer, Jaime Rosales, comes “Bullet in the Head.” In a pioneer move, Wanda Vision releases it simultaneously in theaters, online and at Reina Sofia, the national museum of contemporary art.

The other local bow — ETA terrorist portrait “Bullet” — has divided local crix. However, pic received the Fipresci (Intl. Critics’ Assn.) prize at the San Sebastian Film Fest.

In France, “Go Fast” did just that on opening day, taking a swift $473,100 on 286 for EuropaCorp. Belgian helmer Olivier Van Hoofstadt’s gritty drama about cops infiltrating a brutal drug gang got some good ink. “It counterbalances certain cliches inherent to police action films with some extremely realistic sequences,” said film and music mag Brazil.

“Cliente” (Client), toplining Nathalie Baye as a middle-aged woman relying on gigolos for most forms of human contact, made $313,150 on 367 for Gaumont.

“Lakeview Terrace” bowed at $149,100 on 189 for Sony. Helmer Neil LaBute’s tale of a black cop victimizing a mixed race couple next-door did not wow all the crix.

“An excellent and solid psychological thriller based on ordinary racism,” thought Le Parisien.

“A nice enough little crime film,” shrugged Ouest France.

“Appaloosa” opened indifferently for Metropolitan at $105,550 on 127.

“Seraphine,” based on the tragic life of servant girl, turned acclaimed painter Seraphine de Senlis, got off to a so-so start for Diaphana with $87,700 on 161.

“We wanted better, but it’s not a catastrophe,” said Diaphana marketing chief Olivier Geflin.

Additional reporting by Andrew Horn (Germany), David H
ayhurst (France), Emilio Mayorga (Spain) and Nick Vivarelli (Italy).