Spanish comedies make a come-back

DeAPlaneta takes international on three films

MADRID — Spain’s battling film industry finally has something to laugh at: a local pic revival.

Three Spanish comedies — “Brain Drain,” “Road to Santiago” and “The Friend Zone” — have garnered lively B.O. or fest plaudits, plowing moolah into the coffers of the Hollywood majors that backed them.

Now, in a film by film alliance with the laffers’ co-producer, Antena 3 Films, Spanish mini-major DeAPlaneta has inked international rights on the trio, and will launch a sales drive at Cannes.

Bowing April 24, and distribbed by Fox, “Brain Drain” topped Spanish B.O. charts in its first frame, and dropped just 2% in its second week, cuming a first 10-day Euros2.8 million ($3.7 million) through Sunday off 255 prints.

Put out by Warner Bros. on 216 prints, “Road to Santiago,” directed by Roberto Santiago, has grossed $3.4 million from an April 8 bow.

A third laffer, Borja Cobeaga’s “Pagafantas,” won the Critics’ Prize at April’s Malaga Spanish film fest; “Drain” took its Audience Award.

The hits follow the success of the Sony distributed Spanish sex dramedy “Lies and Fat Girls,” produced by Gerardo Herrero and Francisco Ramos, which also came in numero uno at the Spanish B.O., over March 27-29, punching $5.7 million to date. Latido reps “Girls” at Cannes.

Why the rally?

All the films drink from contempo comedic wells.

Cobeaga said he admires Judd Apatow, as a producer and director. Both “Drain” and “Pagafantas,” in Apatow vein, are geek chic flicks.

” ‘Drain,’ in which a motley crew of friends follow a Spanish student to Oxford, where he hopes to win the girl of his dreams, boasts some Farrelly Brothers-style gross out, such as when a urine bag gets caught in a disco fan, golden showering its dancefloor.

At their heart, however, said Mercedes Gamero, CEO of Antena 3 Films, the trio are all romantic comedies.

“‘Drain’ is more ‘Something About Mary’ than ‘American Pie.’ It plays well with women,” she said.

As such, the comedies are recipes for recession: “They are feel-good movies that don’t pretend to be more than fun entertainment,” Gamero added.

The comedy trio also underscores the crucial role now played by TV in Spain’s new movie-making.

Antena 3 Films parent, broadcast network Antena 3 TV, has marketed the hell out of “Drain” and “Santiago,” to the point where the commentator on the May 2’s crunch Real Madrid-Barcelona soccer match taking time off from the game to sing “Drain’s” praises.

“Santiago,” a situation comedy set on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela, stars Fernando Tejero, who broke out as a TV star; “Drain” toplines Amaia Salamanca, in a slightly larger state of undress than in TV smash hit “Sin tetas no hay paraiso.”

Traditionally, European comedies have difficulties in traveling. That’s now changing somewhat. Gallic B.O. record-breaker “Welcome to the Sticks” made boffo B.O. in Germany. Santiago’s last pic, “Chef’s Special,” a gay chef laffer, sold healthily abroad for sales agent Imagina.

Cobeaga, as DeAPlaneta sales topper Laia Medina points out, was shortlisted for best live-action short at the 2007 Oscars with “One Too Many.” “Drain” takes place in Oxford: It could just as easily be Harvard, she said.

“Spanish cinema has had a bad brand image in Spain. That’s beginning to change,” Medina said.