Arnold Schwarzenegger Steals the Show at Paramount’s CinemaCon Product Preview

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With one less major studio generating feature projects for theaters, the need is stronger than ever for the remaining majors to pick up the slack. After a rocky couple of years, Paramount Pictures under its new chairman, Jim Gianopulos (a longtime Fox veteran), made something of a comeback last year with MIssion: Impossible—Fallout, John Krasinski’s gripping horror film A Quiet Place, and the Transformers spinoff Bumblebee.

Gianopulos’ savvy seems to have righted the ship, based on the surprisingly strong product preview the studio brought to CinemaCon this morning in Las Vegas. The session opened with a genuinely fun filmed opening in which a wacky driver keeps bringing Gianopulos to the wrong convention (SinemaCon, anyone?), followed by a troupe of ’70s-garbed dancers performing to Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing.” The studio then presented an extended look at its John biopic, Rocketman, which got a rousing reception. Director Dexter Fletcher, full of praise for his young star Taron Egerton (who does all his own singing), declared, “We wanted it to be an honest and truthful portrayal of this great man. It’s extremely important to him and to us.” John’s husband, David Furnish, is one of the producers.

Next up was a glimpse of Crawl, the new horror film from Alexandre Aja (High Tension, the 2006 The Hills Have Eyes). Starring Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper, the film has a terrifying high concept that is actually kind of credible in this time of severe climate change: aliigators on the loose during a Category 5 hurricane. Let’s see if it capitalizes on the current horror wave.

Combining the mandate for diversity with a very recognizable TV property, Dora and the Lost City of Gold brings the popular Nickelodeon educational cartoon character to the live-action big screen. Cast members Isabela Moner, Eva Longoria, Michael Peña and Eugenio Derbez were on hand to introduce the trailer. Peña expressed particular pride in the film’s Latin American cast and focus—and even though the movie was shot in Australia, “we made it a Latin neighborhood.”

Like Dora, another pop-culture icon is making its big-screen debut: Sonic the Hedgehog, the ultra-fast Sega video game character, here voiced by Ben Schwartz of “Parks and Recreation.” Schwartz was joined onstage by co-stars James Marsden and Tika Sumpter. The trailer gave a very brief glimpse of Jim Carrey as the unhinged villain Dr. Robotnik, so Carrey immediately emerged with a giant bucket of popcorn (much of which landed in the laps of the front row spectators), did his zany Jim Carrey thing, and introduced a second trailer highlighting the bad doctor.

Also showing promise for Paramount are the comedy Limited Partners, with the dynamic comic trio of Rose Byrne, Tiffany Haddish and Salma Hayek, and the still-shooting Playing with Fire, about a crew of tough firefighters saddled with three mischievous lost children. Star John Cena commandeered the latter presentation.

The award for most entertaining presenter of CinemaCon 2019 goes to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who’s back (as promised) in the “direct sequel” to 1991’s Terminator: Judgment Day, Terminator: Dark Fate. Original co-star Linda Hamilton also returns, along with the originals’ director James Cameron (as producer) for the first time since Judgment Day. Deadpool helmer Tim Miller takes over the directing reins.

Schwarzenegger was downright hilarious talking about his history with the franchise, and all those handy catch phrases he claimed came in handy during his political career: “Terminate climate change!” “Hasta la vista, gerrymandering!”

Hamilton earned cheers from the audience, and Schwarzenegger praised her physical commitment to the new sequel: “All these years later, she’s doing the push-ups and chin-ups again.”

New to the series are Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes and Gabriel Luna, who also appeared onstage with director Miller and the two veterans.

The final film showcased was Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, which again finds the Oscar-winning director breaking technological ground with a present-day Will Smith hunted by a younger version of himself. The footage was screened in 3D, and the high-depth visuals certified this as one of the rare 2019 films that needs to be seen in that format.

“If you’re a director and you get to work with Will Smith, you should consider yourself lucky,” Lee said, “and thanks to new technology, I get two.” But one almost got the impression the director is tired of looking at Smith’s face. “There is so much Will Smith in this movie,” he jokingly lamented.

Among the other Paramount titles quickly listed at the end of the session: a new Spongebob movie, another G.I. Joe adventure; Lovebirds, starring Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani; the return of Clifford the Big Red Dog; Top Gun: Maverick; and the return of Eddie Murphy’s African Prince three decades later in Coming 2 America.

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