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‘Spider-Man’ carries Sony’s summer fate Comedy, sequels, action among slate

LOS ANGELES, March 28, (RTRS): Sony Pictures presented a varied slate for 2014 of comedy, drama and action at the CinemaCon convention on Wednesday, relying on only one tentpole picture, the upcoming “Amazing Spider-Man 2,” to drive big box office. The studio’s offerings reflected the eclectic approach to moviemaking that has become its hallmark, with comedies dominating the summer including a new “22 Jump Street” starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, “Sex Tape” starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel as a married couple whose homemade porno tape gets uploaded to the cloud and “The Interview,” starring James Franco and Seth Rogen as TV journalists invited to interview North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

That last movie may stir up some political discussion, as the plot involves the CIA soliciting the journalists to assassinate the not-fictional Korean leader. In addition, there was a Screen Gems horror movie in “Deliver Us From Evil”; an inspirational football tale in “When the Game Stands Tall,” based on a true story; and an African-American comedy sequel starring Kevin Hart “Think Like a Man 2,” set in Las Vegas. But the slate was bare of anything like a tentpole except for the new reboot of “Spider-Man” which opens in early May. Still, that franchise and the low cost — high profit comedies could propel the studio to a better summer than its lackluster 2013.

Sony’s worldwide distribution president Rory Bruer called the slate one of the strongest in years, saying, “We’re as proud of this slate this year as ever.” The studio’s hope for a holiday hit lies largely in a reboot of the beloved musical”Annie,” starring Quvenzhane Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) in the title role, with Jamie Foxx as Daddy Warbucks. Diaz, a studio favorite, plays the evil Miss Hannigan. And the studio may hope for an awards season run with “Fury,” an intense World War Two drama written and directed by David Ayer (“End of Watch”). The movie stars Brad Pitt as a tank commander leading a group of soldiers including Shia LaBeouf and Logan Lerman in the final days of the war. For adults there is “The Equalizer,” a revenge thriller that finds Denzel Washington doing unspeakable things to Russian mobsters with a corkscrew and shot glass. Neither is for the faint of heart.

The studio has in the past year undergone severe staff reductions and an overhaul of its marketing and communications division, along with hiring a new production co-president in Mike DeLuca. In related story, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” swings into theaters this May, carrying with it the fate of Sony Pictures’ summer. “It’s the biggest and best ‘Spider-Man’ to date,” Rory Bruer, Sony’s president of worldwide distribution, promised a crowd of exhibitors at CinemaCon on Wednesday night.

To back it up, Sony showed 30-minutes of intense action for the sequel that has both humor and lots of Spidey swinging through the skyscraper canyons of Manhattan. The footage included a high-speed battle that found the hero, played by Andrew Garfield, battling a Russian accented, machine gun-wielding Paul Giamatti, while desperately trying to attend his high school graduation. Giamatti will later devolve into Rhino, an armored super villain briefly glimpsed in the sequences Sony screened.

Then there was an emo-tinged sequence, with Spidey’s alter-ego Peter Parker going for a romantic walk with Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone). Their relationship difficulties call to mind director Marc Webb’s earlier efforts on “500 Days of Summer” before he abandoned indie romance for comic book sagas. But it wasn’t just heartache and puppy dog stares. The young couple is interrupted by the arrival of a pulsating Electro (Jamie Foxx), who responds to being cornered by the NYPD by laying waste to a wide swath of Times Square.

Finally, the footage concluded with Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, looking much like the young Leonardo DiCaprio) freeing Electro from a high-tech prison and promising the freak of science a chance to exact revenge on Spider-Man. Osborn is the privileged young man who later morphs into the Green Goblin. “The film is about the choices we all have to make as we become adults,” Bruer said. It’s more than just a coming-of-age story. It’s also a chance for Sony to take a page from Marvel and expand the world of Spider-Man. The studio has already begun work on a spin-off featuring Venom. Just as “Iron Man” and “Captain America” led into “The Avengers,” Sony thinks “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” can launch a broader universe of superheroes and adversaries. Hence all the villains. After a punishing year that saw the firings of several high-level executives and a devastating fight with major investor Daniel Loeb, who accused the studio leadership with fielding too many flops, Sony hopes to show theater owners that the superhero flick will change its fortunes.

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