CinemaCon: Universal offers wild ride of movie previews

Updated April 3, 2019 - 9:01 pm

A rabbit defecated on Kevin Hart, and Jennifer Hudson belted out notes that could turn your insides to jelly.

They really should sell tickets to this thing.

Perhaps stealing a page from its theme park division, Universal took attendees on a wild ride, bookended by that duo, during its CinemaCon presentation Wednesday at Caesars Palace.

Hart, who voices the bunny Snowball in “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” freaked out — “This is my nightmare!” — when the rabbit he was holding tried to crawl over his shoulder and escape.

Hudson, who stars as Grizabella in the upcoming “Cats,” stunned the Colosseum audience with a haunting version of “Memory.”

In between, producer Seth Rogen offered blindfolds and noise-canceling headphones to the young stars of “Good Boys” before showing footage from their ultra-raunchy comedy about sixth-graders.

The studio played up the refined elegance of the first trailer for its “Downton Abbey” movie.

And Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, the stars of “Fast &Furious Presents: Hobbs &Shaw,” traded smack talk that inadvertently ended up being even more awkward than their spinoff’s title. After allowing his co-star to mouth off for a bit, Statham quipped, “He’s a lot quieter when he’s with me alone.” Johnson allowed the line to hang there for a bit, before confirming the obvious: “That just got weird.”

Universal’s whiplash-inducing look at its upcoming movies during the event, the annual convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners, was a tough act to follow.

Disney barely even tried.

The studio may be Hollywood’s 800-pound gorilla, accounting for a whopping 26 percent of last year’s domestic box office, but the glance it offered later Wednesday at its future films was brief and to the point.

“Star Wars: Episode IX” was only mentioned while informing audience members that they wouldn’t see any footage.

The studio did share two scenes from “Avengers: Endgame,” one of which explained where Captain Marvel had been all those years. “There are a lot of other planets in the universe,” she tells the remaining Avengers. “And, unfortunately, they didn’t have you guys.”

Aside from that, Disney showed a few moments from its live-action remakes/spinoffs “The Lion King,” “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” and “Aladdin,” including the “Friend Like Me” number.

The first 17 minutes of “Toy Story 4” and an early look at Matt Damon and Christian Bale in “Ford v. Ferrari,” a prestige pic it acquired in its takeover of Fox, also were on the bill. And attendees saw a bit of “Dark Phoenix,” the final installment in the X-Men franchise — at least until its new corporate overlords at Disney reboot it.

Back to that bananas Universal presentation, though.

The crowd was treated to the dry wit of Emma Thompson, who wrote and co-stars in the Emilia Clarke-Henry Golding romance “Last Christmas,” which looks promising despite somehow being based on that Wham! song.

“The Help” Oscar winner Octavia Spencer and Tate Taylor, that movie’s writer-director, spoke about playing wildly against type with their freaky thriller “Ma.”

And Johnson and Statham introduced new scenes from “Hobbs &Shaw” that may include the franchise’s most bonkers action scenes yet. At one point, Johnson’s Hobbs appeared to be towing a helicopter in flight, along with the three large vehicles linked to it, with nothing more than his biceps and a chain.

Hart, though, proved impossible to top.

The actor seemed genuinely afraid of that rabbit — not “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”-level fright, but close — during its raucous attempt to make a hop for it.

The animal wasn’t entirely comfortable, either, as Hart announced while it was “dropping pellets.”

Between that encounter and Jordan Peele’s “Us,” which Universal released just two weeks ago, Easter may not get here soon enough to rehabilitate the bunny’s reputation, which has morphed from cute and cuddly to downright terrifying.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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