Following this bit of studio back-patting were some remarks by MPAA president Jack Valenti, who was introduced without the slightest hint of irony or sarcasm as "a friend to everyone in this room and the industry." As he took off his glasses and put them back on more times within the space of 15 minutes than Sigourney Weaver did in the entirety of Copycat, Valenti dispensed his usual condescending and sanctimonious prattle, bragging about how 81% of all parents with children under 13 approve of the current ratings system, and criticized the MP3-swapping community Napster and its ilk for not only violating copyright, but also for "corrupting the moral fabric" of the nation. Whatever.
John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, then addressed the crowd with more valuable thoughts, defending the theatre-building boom of the mid-to-late-'90s as necessary, and commended his constituents for enforcing the ratings policy. Following his address, Paramount Pictures' Wayne Llewellyn presented Raymond and Joseph Syufy of Century Theatres with the convention's top award for exhibitors, ShoWesters of the Year.
Ten minutes after the end of the speeches, MGM made a grand return to ShoWest after a six-year absence. Prior to screening its likely spring hit (if even by only modest standards) Heartbreakers, the studio unveiled previews of its most extensive slate in years. The more noteworthy clips:
Bandits: Barry Levinson is one of the more inconsistent name directors, but if this early assemblage of footage is any indication, this caper comedy could be one his "on" projects. Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton play escaped cons who go on a bank robbing spree, along the way taking Cate Blanchett hostage--and ultimately as a Patty Hearst-like partner. The film looks formulaic but promising, and if anything it'll be another opportunity to marvel at Blanchett's chameleonic versatility.
Jeepers Creepers: For some reason, MGM's art division, United Artists, is releasing this Francis Ford Coppola-produced chiller, which looks like another formulaic youth slasher picture timed for the Halloween season. The scariest thing about this film so far is a fact not divulged by the trailer--it's directed by Victor Salva, the man who perpetrated the incredibly unsettling albino-seeks-acceptance tale, Powder.
Legally Blonde: Reese Witherspoon as a dumb blonde who goes to Harvard Law to pursue the guy of her dreams. I'm sure MGM would like this one to be called "Clueless meets Felicity goes to law school," but the trailer mostly just runs with obvious airhead jokes.
Rollerball: As with most teasers for summer action films, the trailer for John McTiernan's remake of Norman Jewison's sci-fi sports film showcases a lot of quick-cut rollerball mayhem with no hint at a plot.
What's the Worst That Could Happen?: With Martin Lawrence and Danny DeVito facing off as a thief and a rich man, respectively, this broad comedy looks like it could be a solid summer performer.
Windtalkers: Far and away the most buzzed-about MGM clip of the bunch (with its buzz only to grow stronger the next day, thanks to an unrelated presentation) was for John Woo's WWII epic starring Nicolas Cage. Set for a fall release, the clip not only has all the bloodshed and flying bodies that are typically associated with Woo's work but also the operatic quality that characterizes his best and most resonant work. Watching this teaser, I was more than reminded of Woo's previous war film, the wrenching Bullet in the Head--definitely a good thing.
Other films whose trailers were featured were UA's '50s street gang drama Deuces Wild, starring Stephen Dorff and Brad Renfro; and the oft-delayed Antonio Banderas/Angelina Jolie erotic drama Original Sin. Some disorganized footage was also presented from Killing Me Softly, starring Heather Graham and Joseph Fiennes; Beneath the Banyan Tree, directed by and starring Matt Dillon; and the 2002 release Hart's War, starring Bruce Willis and Colin Farrell (whose name was curiously misspelled as "Farrel" in the clip). Rounding out the reel were some generic teases for a couple of still-gestating projects, the next James Bond film and the troubled Basic Instinct sequel.
The screening of Heartbreakers ended just in time for lunch and the annual "Schmooze-a-Rama" luncheon, which was the sole ShoWest outlet for most of the major studios, who set up booths in the middle of a large dining area in the Paris Ballroom. A rundown:
Artisan: A pretty plain set-up featuring only posters of their upcoming films, such as the aforementioned Made. There was no studio rep on hand to distribute release schedule information.
Buena Vista: The Disney folks' area had posters for a number of their upcoming releases, such as summer tentpoles Pearl Harbor and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. In addition to a press package of release info, boxes of Milk Duds were also handed out.
Columbia TriStar: Their barebones set up featured a PlayStation console where one could play the video game that inspired their eagerly anticipated computer animated feature, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, posters for which were hung all around.
DreamWorks: A photo-op with a Shrek standee was the main drawing card of the SKG's space.
Fox: Fox was the clear winner of the unofficial Schmooze-a-Rama booth contest, boasting the most creative promo tool: games for swag. Throw darts at balloons, get a Moulin Rouge T-shirt. Play Whack-a-Mole, get a Doctor Dolittle 2 canteen. Try your hand at the love meter, get a giant foam Freddy Got Fingered finger. Show off your brute strength at one of those hammer/bell things, get a box of Kiss of the Dragon fortune cookies (the box--and the in-cookie fortunes--all curiously reading "Kiss the Dragon"). And just for fun, you could get a tarot card reading and play roulette with non-value chips.
Miramax: As part of an obvious promo for their screenings later that night, the 'Max's booth featured costumes and props from Spy Kids. The House the Weinsteins Built does win the award for best release information package, however.
New Line: A pretty basic set-up with Lord of the Rings posters, but their main attraction was served up in plastic glasses bearing the logo of the troubled Warren Beatty project Town & Country: free bubbly.
Universal: Rob Cohen's street racing opus The Fast and the Furious was the focus, with one of the actual cars from the film on display in all its glory.
Warner Bros.: It was all about Harry Potter as visitors lined up for a chance to take a picture with a statue of the child wizard.
In association with Boeing, Miramax screened their Dimension division's family franchise-starter Spy Kids using the aerospace company's satellite digital projection system. The two screenings of the film at the Paris Théâtre des Arts were preceded by an in-person introduction by writer/director/just about everything else Robert Rodriguez, who was joined by stars Carla Gugino, Alexa Vega, and Daryl Sabara.
Instead of presenting a formal product reel, Miramax showed just two trailers prior to the feature presentation: one for Bridget Jones's Diary, the adaptation of Helen Fielding's beloved book, starring Renée Zellweger and Hugh Grant (early impression: looks cute); and one for the suspenseful and darkly funny French thriller With a Friend Like Harry... (Harry, un Ami Qui Vous Veut du Bien).
As with the indie films the previous night, Spy Kids was screened twice, with a party in between shows. Of course, this affair was far more elaborate, with women dancing in silhouette behind backlit screens, another woman dangling from the ceiling, and the truly peculiar sight of a man in full Samuel L. Jackson/Richard Roundtree trenchcoat-and-shades regalia dancing atop a rubber ball to a techno-fied version of Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft." Rodriguez hit the nail on the head when he explained away the entire excessive affair to me thusly: "It's Vegas."