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Sony packs a punch

Studio reels in ShoWesters with Ali, 'Patriot'

LAS VEGAS — Sony brought applauding exhibs to their feet Wednesday at ShoWest with a product reel and presentation that ignited interest in two summer tentpoles: “The Patriot” and a mid-2001 Muhammad Ali biopic.

Appearances by Ali, subject of the Will Smith starrer to be directed by Michael Mann, and “Patriot” topliner Mel Gibson drew hearty cheers from the crowded ballroom at Paris Las Vegas. Guffaws greeted a flurry of satiric barbs from Bill Murray, co-star of Thanksgiving’s “Charlie’s Angels.” Production prexy Amy Pascal served as emcee — and a foil for Murray.

“Amy, with your hair pulled back like that, you fucking rock, girl!” the comedian said. “Sorry folks, those who know me know I don’t usually work blue. But this is Vegas, damn it. And better you hear it than some poor impressionable teenager out at the crap tables.”

Gibson nearly rivaled Murray in his sardonic approach. He called making “The Patriot” “the most fun I’ve ever had standing up” and asked exhibs: “Are you half-smashed yet?”

In all, Sony’s reel featured 17 pics set for 2000 release, plus another dozen due in 2001 and beyond.

“On a ShoWest curve, the response we got was especially high,” said studio distrib guru Jeff Blake after the nearly three-hour luncheon.

Indeed, event gave conventioneers something to buzz about before the confab closes today. “Just about everything they put up there looked gorgeous,” gushed one.

With 40% of a typical year’s grosses taken home between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Sony has a good shot at bettering last year’s crop, which yielded only the hit “Big Daddy.”

Joining “The Patriot” during the key span are “Loser,” director Amy Heckerling’s latest youth foray starring Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari; “Hollow Man,” an effects thriller starring Kevin Bacon and Elisabeth Shue; and “Vertical Limit,” a mountain-climbing actioner with Chris O’Donnell.

Next to “The Patriot,” most plaudits greeted the nail-biting trailer for “Vertical Limit.”

Elsewhere on the slate, exhibs applauded Arnold Schwarzenegger starrer “The Sixth Day” and period oater “All the Pretty Horses,” which director Billy Bob Thornton fondly described as “an old-fashioned film.”

The 2001 portion of the reel offered a few snippets, but mostly filled the crowd in on what’s shooting or in pre-production. Notable titles include “The Wedding Planner” with Jennifer Lopez and “Spider-Man,” which Sam Raimi just signed on to direct. Some eyebrows arched when a short title card promised “Memoirs of a Geisha” from Steven Spielberg. Pascal said the director will likely helm “Minority Report” before “Geisha” but Sony just wanted to remind exhibs it’s still on the long-term slate.

Though ribaldry abounded at the event, Ali’s surprise appearance prompted a standing ovation and, soon after, near-silence.

“I’m the greatest of all time,” Ali whispered, his words slowed from the effects of Parkinson’s Disease. “Some guy named Will Smith is trying to play me? Impossible.”

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