Movies: The stars come out in Vegas to start the summer movie hype
LAS VEGAS - The studios came to ShoWest, the annual convention of movie-theater owners and operators, to wine and dine and to knock exhibitors' socks off with their biggest summer movies.
Even the stars are impressed with the hype.
"Here's what I love about ShoWest: I'm already being told I'm in two of the biggest movies of the summer," Robert Downey Jr. told the press before ShoWest's closing-night award ceremony. "We're kind of being rewarded for something that hasn't happened yet. It's only in Vegas."
Downey received the Male Star of the Year award, advance recognition that he is in two of the summer's more-anticipated (if not, in fact, biggest) movies: The Marvel Comics action flick "Iron Man" and Ben Stiller's Hollywood satire "Tropic Thunder."
Downey was not a passive figure in the ShoWest hype machine, though. He and Stiller showed off clips of "Tropic Thunder," about self-absorbed actors stranded in the jungle while shooting an "Apocalypse Now"-style Vietnam epic, at a party Tuesday night at a restaurant in the Planet Hollywood hotel/casino.
Downey wasn't the only star in Vegas pushing his or her movie. The list, in alphabetical order, included: Jessica Alba, Christian Bale, Alexis Bledel, Kate Bosworth, Abigail Breslin, Steve Carell, Steve Coogan, Cameron Diaz, America Ferrara, Laurence Fishburne, Matthew Fox, Brendan Fraser, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Emile Hirsch, Helen Hunt, George Lucas, David Mamet, Mike Myers, Sarah Jessica Parker, Christina Ricci, Seth Rogen, Kevin Spacey and Jim Sturgess. Most of them made it a point to suck up to the theater owners, the people whose decisions will determine whether a blockbuster plays on 3,000 screens or only 2,000.
And if the stars weren't there, the movies were represented well. ShoWest attendees got to see two movies set in Vegas - the drama "21" and the romantic comedy "What Happens in Vegas" - as well as the unfinished DreamWorks animated tale "Kung Fu Panda," Fox Searchlight's Sundance acquisition "Hamlet 2," the adventure "Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D," and trailers and protracted scenes from more than a dozen movies.
So what looks exciting? Here are a few summer films that, based on the sneak previews shown at ShoWest, could be worth checking out:
* "Wanted" (opens June 27) - Universal unveiled a just-completed chase scene, with Angelina Jolie revving up a red sports car, loading James McAvoy in the passenger seat during a spin-out, then driving like mad through traffic - and, at one point, hanging head-first out of the shot-out windshield firing a shotgun at the bad guys chasing her. Kazakh-born director Timur Bekmambetov (who made the "Night Watch" and "Day Watch" films) is a master at outlandish action, and his American debut promises a lot of it.
* "Speed Racer" (opens May 9) - The Day-Glo colors and hyper-focus visuals make the race scenes of the Wachowski brothers' adaptation of the Japanese cartoon pop off the screen. The casting, notably John Goodman as Speed's dad and Christina Ricci as Trixie, looks perfect. And Emile Hirsch looks right at home in the Mach 5.
* "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" (opens July 25) - Guillermo del Toro returns to his crimson-skinned anti-hero (Ron Perlman), but he seems to have packed half of his "Pan's Labyrinth" characters along for the ride.
* "The Dark Knight" (opens July 18) - Warner Bros. showed the opening few minutes of director Christopher Nolan's second Batman movie, and they are spectacular: An intricately plotted bank robbery scene that ends with the unmasking of The Joker, played by Heath Ledger. (Early prediction: Ledger gets a supporting-actor Oscar nomination next year, and not a sentimental posthumous nod.)
* SEAN P. MEANS writes the daily blog, "The Movie Cricket," at http://blogs.sltrib.com/movies. Send questions or comments to Sean P. Means, movie critic, The Salt Lake Tribune, 90 S. 400 West, Suite 700, Salt Lake City, UT 84101, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.