Argentine pics look to familiar brands

Local titles hope to erase homegrown slump

BUENOS AIRES — The Argentine film biz is hopeful that a Spanish-singing “High School Musical,” wrestling and bionic secret agents will be enough to attract moviegoers to local pics as well as Hollywood blockbusters in the next few months after a slow first half of the year.

Overall attendance fell 8.2% to 16.7 million in the first half compared with the same 2007 period as 25% annual inflation, a slowing economy and a widespread conflict between farmers and the government deterred consumer spending.

Homegrown films took 5.8% of ticket sales in the first half, down from 9% in 2007 and 18% in 2000, while Hollywood held on to its 80%-85% share.

“Inflation is hitting attendance hard,” says Alejandro Gruz, executive producer of “100% Lucha” (100% Wrestle), a wrestling adventure pic that will hit the theaters July 24 in Buenos Aires on 80-90 screens.

Even so, he says admissions are not expected to decline by “an alarming amount” during the winter holidays, traditionally the biggest box office sesh of the year. The break runs July 28 to Aug. 11 in Buenos Aires city and province, home to a third of Argentina’s 36 million people and most of its 1,000 screens.

“Parents will take the kids out every day so this will increase movie attendance,” he says.

“100% Wrestle,” produced by Adart Produccions and distributed by Primer Plano Film Group, is about pro wrestlers fighting to save a Mafia takeover of the tournament. It stars the grapplers of a TV program of the same name that has been posting strong audience results on Telefe, a leading broadcaster, for three years.

“Television is a big help for a film. Just look at ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Sex and the City,’ ” says Gruz. “Many kids know the characters from ‘100% Lucha’ so we expect that they will want to see them on the bigscreen in adventures away from the ring.”

“Titanes en el ring” (Titans in the Ring), the predecessor of “100% Wrestle,” spawned hit films in 1973 and 1984.

The most anticipated film is a local version of Disney Channel’s “High School Musical,” which opened July 17 on 150 screens.

“High School Musical: el desafio” (HSM: The Challenge), with a $2 million budget, is directed by Jorge Nisco of hit TV series like “Epitafios” and “Sin codigo” and swindler film “Comodines” (Cops) and produced by Disney-backed Patagonik Film Group, the biggest production company in Latin America musical. Buena Vista Intl. is distributing.

Another title with blockbuster potential is “Los superagentes, la nueva generacion” (The Super Agents: The New Generation) from Telefe Cine and Argentina Sono Film. They are producers of recent hits like “Baneros III, todospoderosos” (Bathers III, Superpowers), which sold 1.16 million admissions in 2006 to lead the local pack at the box office and come in sixth overall that year.

Distributed by Argentina Sono Film, the $1.2 million “Super Agents” builds on an 11-film franchise that follows three agents with bionic powers on adventures. Comedian Fabian Gianola and TV celebs Christian Sancho and Dario Lopilato topline as the new agents in the action comedy.

“Super Agents” will hit the theaters July 24 on 80-90 screens with “100% Lucha” and toon pic “Valentina,” on the same number of screens with Pachamama Cine distributing.

“We have high expectations” for “Valentina,” says Gaston Cami, head of international relations at the pic’s producer Illusion Studios.

Targeted at 6- to 14-year-old girls, pic is based on brand of clothes, school products and toys that sells more than Hello Kitty and Barbie combined in Argentina.

The four pics are facing off against “Kung Fu Panda,” which posted the strongest opening of the year on July 3, “Wall-E” and “The Dark Knight,” “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.”

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