‘Horton’ hopes for another big bow

Family pic opens wide in Italy

LONDON — Italy is the most competitive market at the European box office this weekend as gambling thriller “21,” animated “Horton Hears a Who!” and dance sequel “Step Up 2 The Streets” hit wickets all having previously proved popular with Euro auds.

Local fare is expected to go best on home turf in Germany where teen romance “Sommer” (‘Summer’) and 1980s-set comedy “Fleisch ist mein Gemuese” (‘Meat is my Vegetable’) open.

Italy sees a trio of hot Hollywood pics bowing a bit tardy with “Horton Hears a Who!” the widest opener, segued by “Step Up 2 The Streets” and “21.”

Fox’s Doctor Seuss pic is going out on 550 Italo screens with fairly high expectations for the family toon, praised by La Repubblica for its “courage to transpose abstract ideas into images.”

That said, Doctor Seuss books are not well known by Italian kids, which is making the pic somewhat of a hard sell.

“Step Up 2 the Streets” is hip-hopping out on 305 via local distribbery Moviemax with prospects of luring the Italo teen crowd in the absence of local romancers.

“21″ is launching on 251 via Sony with only so-so buzz. La Repubblica says it’s too long and Kevin Spacey is not a huge Italo draw.

On the European front, hot Gallic noir “MR 73” looks set to punch its weight on 165 via Medusa with all Italo crix raving about star Daniel Auteuil’s perf as a Mephistophelean Marseilles cop.

Tyro Italo helmer Stefano Chiantini’s drama “L’Amore non basta” (‘Love is Not Enough’) is bowing on 80 via Mediafilm with modest prospects. Hot lead Giovanna Mezzogiorno is not considered enough to drive this doomed romance saga.

In the arthouse arena, Aussie laffer “Introducing the Dwights,” toplining Brenda Blethyn, is launching on a lively 70 via Lucky Red. Morgan Freeman comedy “10 Items or Less” is outing on a mere 35 via local distribbery DNC.

In Germany, Disney’s teen romance “Sommer” (‘Summer’) and comedy “Fleisch ist mein Gemuese” (‘Meat is my Vegetable’) look certain to attract plenty of moviegoers.

“Sommer,” from Munich-based SamFilm, the company behind Disney’s hugely popular “Wild Soccer Bunch” franchise, is a beach-blanket romp starring teen heartthrob Jimi Blue Ochsenknecht of “Wild Soccer Bunch” fame. Local exhibs expect Ochsenknecht’s popularity with young teens will go a long way to dominating the charts.

Universal is targeting older and more sophisticated auds with Christian Goerlitz’s quirky “Fleisch ist mein Gemuese,” starring Maxim Mehmet (‘The Red Baron’) as a young saxophone player whose new gig with a local band helps him find much needed self confidence and escape from his depressive mother and suicidal neighbor.

Fox’s L.A. cop drama “Street Kings,” starring Keanu Reeves and Forest Whitaker, may be too sullen and, with its focus on corruption in the L.A.P.D., a tad too specialized for Teutonic auds, according to one exhib.

Likely to do well on the arthouse circuit is Oezguer Yildirim’s critically acclaimed Berlinale screener “Chiko,” about young delinquents trying to get ahead by embarking on a life of crime, which goes out via Falcom, and Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth’s Mongolian drama “Khadak,” a magical-realist fable about a young nomad in the process of discovering his destiny as a shaman. Pic goes out via Farbfilm Verleih.

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s “Actresses” is getting plenty of press, much of it revolving around the fact that the multi-hyphenate helmer is the older sister of French first lady Carla Bruni, a fact that is unlikely to abnormally boost prospects for Piffl’s French comedy-drama.

Despite poor reviews, romantic comedy “Fool’s Gold” is expected to open top in the U.K. in a flattish frame. Rainy weather is forecast over the weekend (good cinemagoing weather in Blighty) which should lift biz.

“Gold,” which reunites the “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” pairing of Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson, is expected by local exhibs to pull just shy of $2 million. “It is bright and sunny and marketable,” said a London-based exhibber.

Colin Farrell starrer “In Bruges” hits U.K. wickets with the wind in its sails following a very strong performance on the Emerald Isle, where pic has been on release for six weeks and banked $4.4 million via Universal. The Belgium-set actioner goes out at 260 theaters with bookers predicting an upbeat bow of around $1.5 million. Reviews have been largely positive. “Colin Farrell is a revelation as a contract killer holed up in Belgium in a film that succeeds on every level,” praised Tim Robey in the Daily Telegraph.

Daniel Craig starrer “Flashbacks of a Fool” world premiered in London on April 13 but bookers do not believe Disney will be able to transform the celeb-page buzz into box office biz. “Poor advances suggest it will go tit’s up,” sniped an exhib, predicting a $600,000 opening from its 272 theater launch.

The other significant new release is cop actioner “Street Kings,” out on 354 via Fox. Expectations are modest – around $500,000.

In the arthouse arena, revered Brit helmer Mike Leigh’s latest offering, “Happy Go-Lucky” goes out on 77 via Momentum Pictures buoyed by excellent reviews from local crix. “In the factory-farmed blandness of the movies, ‘Happy-Go-Lucky’ has a strong, real taste,” praised Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian. Effervescent comedy “Lucky” hits a lighter note than most of Leigh’s previous works such as “Vera Drake” and industryites are undecided as to whether this mellower pic will connect with auds reared on Leigh’s edgy realist fare.

“The Spiderwick Chronicles” bowed very strongly for Paramount as the school holidays continued in Gaul. Wednesday saw a take of $480,250 on 435. “With the holidays starting in the Paris region, we’re looking forward to a good weekend and have strong hopes for the next two weeks,” said Paramount Pictures France topper Camille Trumer.

Thesp Jean-Paul Rouve’s helming debut “Without Weapon, Hatred, or Violence” (‘Sans arme, ni haine, ni violence’), in which he also stars as Albert Spaggiari, the brains behind Gaul’s bank heist of the century in 1976, got off to a decent start. It made Mars $365,000 on 284 opening day.

Reviews were generally positive. “A magisterial and touching directing debut,” thought Studio. But Le Monde felt it was “let down by a hesitant screenplay.”

Local helmer Tonie Marshall’s “Passe-passe,” a comedy of errors toplining Edouard Baer and Nathalie Baye, opened respectably for Warners with $241,000 on 278. Critical reception was mixed. Ouest France felt it “never finds its own rhythm or style.”

Chopsocky “Never Back Down” managed a humble bow of $100,000 on 102 for SND. “Shine a Light,” Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Stones concert pic took in $56,750 on 39 for Wild Bunch.

There probably won’t be a winner by a knockout at the Spanish box office this weekend.

Openers offer a wide range in genres and go out on low-to medium copy spreads.

The awaited “Elegy,” directed by Catalan Isabel Coixet (“My Life Without Me,” “The Secret Life of Words”), bows on a limited 127 via On Pictures.

“This U.S. production has for Spaniards the appeal of seeing their most international thesp – Penelope Cruz – acting alongside Sir Ben Kingsley,” said a booker.

Pic has harvested upbeat notices. Some critics think “Elegy” is Coixet’s best movie so far. “Pic breathes authenticity,” said Barcelona Time Out.

But exhibitors’ forecast “Elegy” will be pipped for the top spot by UPI’s “The Ruins” or TriPictures’ “Rendition.”

“Ruins” goes out on 200. “A small and gratifying surprise,” said El Pais. “My God, another horror pic!” complained an exhibitor. “It will probably place first,” he added.

Political thriller “Rendition” bows on 222. “A good movie, but above all, a necessary movie,” said the liberal El Pais.

Aurum puts out boxing movie “Never Back Down” on a similar copy run of 202.

“It’s not a new story, but it is very well made and targets a young demo, which hasn’t got much goin
g for it this weekend,” said a booker.

Helmed by Spanish first-timers Peris Romano and Rodrigo Sorogoyen, romcom “Ocho citas,” released on 172 by Alta, has some critical support behind it. Newspaper ABC underscored its freshness of tone and bracing repartee.

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

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