The good, bad and ugly of CinemaCon

A typical movie theater sound system operates at around 4,000 watts.

For four days this week, the Colosseum at Caesars Palace trembled under the power of a spleen-shimmying 495,000 watts.

The temporary addition of the immersive Dolby Atmos technology — and its accompanying barrage of speakers — was just a small perk of CinemaCon, the yearly gathering that’s part pep rally, part peace offering from movie studios trying to smooth over their often-contentious relationship with theater owners through good old-fashioned showmanship.

Accompanied by blaring trumpeters, Adam Sandler, Kevin James, David Spade and Salma Hayek were carried onto the Colosseum stage, Cleopatra-style, to promote “Grown Ups 2.”

Johnny Depp, along with co-star Armie Hammer, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski, showed off quite a bit of “The Lone Ranger.”

And when Brad Pitt made a surprise appearance to introduce three extended scenes from his zombie epic “World War Z,” you could hear a woman two rows over start to ovulate.

For sheer numbers, it was hard to beat the “Fast & Furious 6” team of Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Sun Kang and Gina Carano, or the “Star Trek Into Darkness” contingent of Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, John Cho, Alice Eve and writer-producer Damon Lindelof.

Among the other stars shilling for their upcoming movies: Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy (“The Heat”); Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig (“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”); Morgan Freeman and Isla Fisher (the Vegas-centric “Now You See Me”); Liam Hemsworth and Elizabeth Banks (“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”); Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld and Asa Butterfield (“Ender’s Game”) and Kevin Hart, who several times joked that if theater owners didn’t book his concert film, “Let Me Explain,” they were racist.

Plenty of behind-the-scenes talent took to the Colosseum stage as well, including writer-director Guillermo del Toro (“Pacific Rim”), writer-director Todd Phillips (“The Hangover Part III”), director Michael Bay (“Pain & Gain”), director Zack Snyder (“Man of Steel”) and geek god Joss Whedon, who dryly boasted that, following last year’s “The Avengers,” he’s back with “the summer tentpole movie of 2013” — his black-and-white take on Shakepseare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” that Whedon shot in 12 days at his house.

But enough stargazing. What really matters is the movies.

WHAT LOOKED GOOD

Pitt said he joined “World War Z” because he wanted to make something cool that his boys, the oldest of whom is 11, could see. Questionable parenting aside, the move paid off. “WWZ” could breathe new life, so to speak, into the increasingly tired zombie genre.

Last year, Fox closed its session with Ang Lee presenting key scenes from his work-in-progress “Life of Pi.” Hoping to replicate that success, the studio ended this year’s event with Stiller showcasing early “Walter Mitty” footage. “Ben Stiller and Ang Lee. The two of us are constantly being compared,” the director joked. But while “Walter Mitty” is far more substantial than it sounds, “The Great Gatsby,” which unveiled more of its breathtaking 3-D footage, seems destined to be this year’s “Pi.”

“White House Down” looks like a blast, especially the scenes in which the president, played by Jamie Foxx, grabs his beloved Air Jordans, then fires a rocket launcher from the backseat of his limo.

“Kick-Ass 2” and “Fast & Furious 6” should live up to their names, with the latter showing off its big midmovie action sequence in which muscle cars and motorcycles chase a speeding tank the wrong way down a freeway.

Sci-fi fans should be satisfied this summer based on 18 minutes of lens-flaring “Star Trek” footage and a longer look at Matt Damon in “Elysium,” from “District 9” writer-director Neill Blomkamp.

“Man of Steel” won over plenty of skeptics. “R.I.P.D.” could be this decade’s “Men in Black.” And the raunchy comedy of “This Is the End” and “We’re the Millers” should play well.

But CinemaCon isn’t just about popcorn movies. The studios also offered early looks at prestige pictures, including Tom Hanks in “Captain Phillips,” the all-star cast of director George Clooney’s “The Monuments Men,” the “Silver Linings Playbook” reunion of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” and “The Counselor,” written by Cormac McCarthy, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Cameron Diaz.

And, on the technical side, 4DX demonstrated the sensory-overloading experience it’s hoping to bring to U.S. theaters. Similar to 4-D theme park rides but using Hollywood blockbusters, 4DX seats pitch left and right, tilt back and forth and bounce up and down while emitting eight scents and an optional watery mist. The technology also allows for wind, rain, lightning, smoke and fog along with the more curious choice of bubbles. The only thing missing, aside from a seat belt, is a boxing glove to punch moviegoers in the face during fight scenes.

WHAT DIDN’T

Be on the lookout for plenty of sequels few people clamored for, including “The Smurfs 2,” “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2,” “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters” and “Grown Ups 2,” which features Sandler getting peed on by a moose.

“Lost’s” Josh Holloway coaches a b-boy crew in the odd-looking “Battle of the Year 3D.” On the plus side, the footage showed co-star Chris Brown getting punched in the face.

The Vince Vaughn-Owen Wilson reunion “The Internship” looks a little bland. And the scenes of Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg’s “2 Guns” were only mildly coherent. But, hey! Denzel and Marky Mark!

For all the sense it made to adults, the 3-D documentary “One Direction: This Is Us” might as well have been shot upside down and in Esperanto.

M. Night Shyamalan’s “After Earth,” starring Will Smith and Jaden Smith, looks to have a tough road ahead of it.

“The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” feels even more ridiculous than most of the recent glut of wannabe franchises based on young adult novels.

And it was more than a little awkward seeing Regal Entertainment Group CEO Amy Miles accept the Marquee Award, recognizing “outstanding achievement, commitment and service to the movie industry,” from her colleagues hours after her company made headlines for slashing employees’ workweeks so it could deny them health benefits.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@
reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567.

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