‘Mamma Mia,’ Hellboy’ heat up Euro BO

'Hancock' set to bow big in Spain

BERLIN — European auds are set to enjoy a summer smorgasbord this weekend, as “Mamma Mia” tantalizes Teutons, “Hellboy: The Golden Army” ignites Italy, “Journey to the Center of the Earth” dazzles France and “Hancock” lands in Spain.

While filmed musicals rarely do well at the German box office, exhibs are expecting “Mama Mia” to buck the trend and draw droves of ABBA lovers to the cinema.

The ABBA cult is alive and well in Germany and the local love of camp, kitsch and 70s pop music, combined with the film’s stellar cast, looks certain to make the Universal pic a surefire success.

“The ABBA hits, interpreted by Meryl Streep and the entire cast, nearly always convincingly, are the best reason to see the film,” wrote trade magazine Blickpunkt:Film, adding that the Greek island idyll and situation comedy guaranteed a feel-good experience and even made it an alternative to a summer holiday.

The film faces little in the way of competition, aside from Warner’s “Get Smart” and Constantin Film’s teen-targeted “Freche Maedchen” (Sassy Girls). The original Don Adams series is little known in Germany so Peter Segal’s big-screen adaptation will have little nostalgic following. Pic has also met with mixed reviews, with many critics complaining that its high action quotient comes at the expense of the comedy, which is sorely lacking.

Constantin may well have another success in its long string of teen dramas with Ute Wieland’s “Freche Maedchen.” Based on a popular series of youth novels, pic already enjoys wide name recognition.

Additionally, a slew of international releases are headed for the arthouse and specialty circuits, including Andrea Arnold’s U.K. drama “Red Road” (Fugu); Cedric Klapisch’s Juliette Binoche starrer “Paris” (Prokino/Fox); and Gus Van Sant’s 1985 feature debut “Mala Noche,” which is getting its first theatrical release in Germany via Alamode/24 Bilder.

Italian exhibs are looking to Universal’s “Hellboy” to fire up the box office.

The Guillermo del Toro-helmed sequel, bowing on 350, was boosted Friday by devilishly good reviews. La Repubblica liked the way it combined action with “wit and irony.”

Dario Piana’s scarer “The Deaths of Ian Stone” goes out on 115. While reviewers are calling the pic derivative, noting shades of horrors past, including “Saw” and “Final Destination,” distrib Medusa is hoping it will lure genre aficionados.

Davis Guggenheim’s family drama “Gracie” goes out on 120 through Moviemax, while Philip G. Atwell’s high-octane romp “War,” with Jet Li and Jason Statham, blasts onto 51 screens with strong appeal for action fans.

Disney is bowing Roger Kumble’s critically panned laffer “College Road Trip” to arthouse numbers with a rollout on just 15 screens.

In France, “Journey to the Center of the Earth” made Metropolitan $352,000 on 363 screens, 40 of which are showing it in digital 3-D.

“We’re very happy with the returns so far, and think it’ll be a great weekend,” said Metropolitan rep Sophie Martin.

On the whole, the critics were won over by the special effects-laden treatment of one of French literature’s most beloved children’s classics. “This unpretentious version pulls the viewer into an extraordinary adventure from the opening minutes,” said Le Journal du Dimanche.

“Nos 18 ans” (When We Were 18) helmer Frederic Berthe’s remake of the 2006 Italian international hit “Night Before the Exams” got off to an adequate $254,600 for TFM on 266.

The tale of high school hijinks before the final-year exams mainly got a so-so reception. “It doesn’t miss a single cliché, but it does manage to come up with a few funny scenes here and there,” felt Premiere.

“Meet the Spartans” bowed at $39,165 on 95 for Fox, while “Fool Moon,” a spoof about top politicos forced to work together in the backwoods of Brittany, made Zelig Films $30,835 on 70.

In Spain, “Hancock” opens on a muscular 585 via Sony. Bookers are counting for succulent returns, given both Will Smith’s strength at the B.O., currently almost unequalled in Spain, and an amusing superhero spoof.

“I Am Legend” took a juicy $20.1 million, bowing late 2007.

“The pic’s tone and Smith’s presence guarantee top placing,” predicted one booker.

Consolidating what could be Spain’s biggest box office bonanza in the whole of 2008, bookers are gung-ho about “Kung-Fu Panda,” now entering its soph sesh.

“Family auds will have a good run at ‘Panda,’ which looks like it could have legs for much of the summer,” another booked enthused.

Also, bloggers are excited about Isidro Ortiz’s “Eskalofrio” (Shiver). Young Spanish auds are eager to discover another “The Orphanage” or “Rec.” BVI releases this horror movie on a bold 200, underscoring the pull of Spanish genre movies.

Surprisingly, crix are also unanimously upbeat towards the rest of the openers.

Of especial interest: Jose Padilha’s action thriller “Elite Squad,” which shows arthouse leader Alta moving into socially-skewed action territory. Alta bows it on 93, backed by good notices: “Squad” was chosen as “Film of the Week” by influential daily “El Pais.”

“You go out of the theatre feeling you have seen the damned truth,” the reviewer swore.

Additional reporting by David Hayhurst (France), Michael Day (Italy) and Emilio Mayorga (Spain)

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