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CinemaCon 2015: Johnny Depp goes gangster for 'Black Mass,' Channing Tatum (almost) strips

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Claire Folger

Fittingly enough for a studio angling to release as many as 11 movies this summer—a distribution deluge at a time of relative studio austerity—Warner Bros. turned its CinemaCon presentation Tuesday night into an overwhelming display of cinematic shock and awe, rolling out A-list star after A-list star on the Caesars Palace Coliseum stage in Las Vegas.

Among those on hand to dazzle movie exhibitors (as well as a scattering of movie reporters) gathered for the fifth annual CinemaCon—an industry showcase where Hollywood tries to put its most commercial face forward for the movie theater owners and operators who are ultimately responsible for hawking its wares—were Mad Max: Fury Road’s Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy and Nicolas Hoult; San Andreas stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Carla Gugino; Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan from Creed; Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon of Hot Pursuit; Magic Mike XXL star-writer-producer Channing Tatum (with four ripped-ab members of the movie’s supporting cast); The Man from U.N.C.L.E. top-liners Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer; and Vacation stars Christina Applegate and Ed Helms.

With so many titles—the Entourage movie, Pan, The Intern, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were also represented—and famous people floating around, there was certainly plenty of hype but only a few stand-out moments.

The Need for Creed

Acclaimed Fruitvale Station writer-director Ryan Coogler approached Sylvester Stallone with a novel pitch: what if the Italian Stallion’s former nemesis Apollo Creed (who died in the ring at the hands of Ivan Drago) had an adult son (Jordan) who coaxed the former ring king Rocky Balboa (Stallone) into being his corner man? That’s the premise for the sports drama Creed (Nov. 25) a freshly cut trailer for which played like gangbusters, striking the right notes of underdog triumphalism and unabashed nostalgia. “This isn’t Rocky 7,” Stallone said from the stage. “It’s an incredible idea—an insane idea.”

Holiday Road

In an ordinary year, the trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice would garner the lion’s share of hype and probably merit its own CinemaCon blog post. But with the clip’s leak online last week, the trailer functioned as an after-thought, just one arrow in WB’s quiver. More noteworthy was the effortless comedic chemistry between Helms and Applegate, who star in Vacation (Jul. 31) as Rusty and Debbie Griswold. Yes, Helms’ character is the grown-up version of Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold character’s son—played originally by Anthony Michael Hall in the 1983 hit—and the trailer drew big laughs. “Wow, Las Vegas, I’ve never been here before!” Helms said from the stage, just a few dozen yards from a bank of The Hangover slot machines tinkling on the casino floor with his likeness splayed all over them.

Like the original, the new Vacation follows the Griswold family’s tortured journey to the Wally World theme park; hijinks such as mistaking a raw sewage pit for a holistic mud bath ensue. (Chris Hemsworth steals scenes as Rusty’s brother-in-law, vamping in his underwear with the outline of what appears to be a gigantic prosthetic penis visible through his underwear.)  Helms went on to reminisce how he saved his money to go see the original at the movie theater. Applegate’s history with the movie, however, was a little different. “I was already really famous back then,” she said. “I called them up and had it sent to me. I watched it in my screening room with Molly Ringwald.”

“I watched it with my mom!” Helms said exasperatedly.

Critical Mass

Portraying Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger in director Scott Cooper’s biopic Black Mass (Sept. 18), Johnny Depp is almost unrecognizable—dangerous yet charismatic and seemingly capable of violence—wearing corn-flower blue contact lenses with his hair died grey and molded into male-pattern baldness. Cooper described the star’s turn in the film as “a performance for the ages” and indeed, Depp was riveting in the new footage shown at the convention: a scene in which Bulger cajoles a friend (David Harbour) into telling him a closely held family recipe, then guilt-tripping and threatening the man for betraying his own confidence.

To hear it from Cooper, the true-life story unfolds from the ’70s to the ’90s on the “mean streets of South Massachusetts,” tracing the inter-linking stories of mobster/FBI informant Bulger, his politician brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch) and their childhood friend who is an FBI agent.

Vegas Strip

Touting the trailer for Magic Mike XXL (Jul. 1), the sequel to 2012’s surprise hit male stripper dramedy, writer-star Channing Tatum bounded onto the stage with co-stars Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, and Adam Rodriguez. The actors initially made as though they were going to remove their shirts, sending a ripple of titillation through the crowd. But no. “Rule No. 1 of being a stripper, never give away for free what people are willing to pay for,” Manganiello teased from the stage.

Point taken

Toward the end of the presentation, footage from director Ericson Core’s remake of Point Break (Christmas) provided a visceral jolt. In the update to director Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 crime drama, Keanu Reeves’ undercover FBI agent, Johnny Utah, and Patrick Swayze’s bank-robbing surfer, Bodhi, have been effectively replaced by Aussie actor Luke Bracey and Edgar Ramirez. But the earlier film’s surfing also has been updated with a tableau of action sports: base jumping, motocross and rock climbing, as well as big wave surfing. At CinemaCon, an extended 3-D sequence featuring the criminal adventure seekers leaping off a cliff in wingsuits drew audible gasps. A quartet of stunt professionals are shown soaring through a narrow mountain gorge in tandem, swooping and maneuvering like giant flying squirrels past rock formations and grassy outcroppings. It’s jaw-dropping footage.

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