Magazine article Variety

Local Laffers Fight Force with COMIC CHOPS

Magazine article Variety

Local Laffers Fight Force with COMIC CHOPS

Article excerpt

As "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" conquers the world, European producers can take comfort in the fact that their local comedies have the firepower to strike back.

Hitting a cultural nerve with moviegoers, local laffers such as "Quo Vado?," which spoofs government jobs in Italy; "Spanish Affair 2," which handles ethnic tension with a light touch; and "Look Who's Back," which imagines Hitler starting out in today's Germany, raked in coin regionally, despite the dominance of Hollywood films. The downside? These films rarely do well beyond their own borders, although digital streaming services and sales of remake rights may offer an ancillary boost.

"Quo Vado?," starring comic actor Checco Zalone as a Southern Italian slacker determined to hold onto his government job even after being transferred to the North Pole, pulled in a supersonic $24 million in its release over the Jan. 1-3 weekend. By comparison, "The Force Awakens" earned $28 million in five weeks of release in Italy.

At $67 million in its third week, "Quo Vado?" - a play on the Latin question "Quo Vadis?" - is gunning to overtake "Avatar" ($71 million) as Italy's all-time top grosser.

" 'Vado' really (held up) a mirror to Italians," says producer Pietro Valsecchi. "It's the story of an average Italian - and Italians identify with his flaws; they laugh about themselves."

Valsecchi is readying the release of another comedy with Everyman roots: "The Pills - Still Better Than Working," about a group of young Italians who have vowed to each other never to take a job. It's the debut feature of the Pills, a group of young YouTube comics.

In Spain, "Spanish Affair 2," the sequel to the country's all-time biggest homegrown hit, which hauled in more than $60 million in 2014, pokes fun at the nation's deeply rooted regional divides. In the original, an Andalusian stud falls for a Basque babe who, in the sequel, becomes enamored with a Catalonian guy. Released in November by Universal, and produced by Lazona Films for Telecinco Cinema, the new film has pulled in $39 million, and is still charting on the country's top 10 alongside "The Force Awakens," which has scored $33 million so far.

Notably, Spain's Film Factory Entertainment has made some international sales on the "Affair" titles.

New distribution platforms also are providing opportunities. Netflix will give a global launch to "Look Who's Back," based on the best-selling novel, in which Hitler wakes up in present-day Berlin, and becomes a TV personality. …

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