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MGM takes ‘Croc’ on wild side with exhibs

Studio's ShoWest presentation decidedly low-key

LAS VEGAS — Celebrating its heritage as the home of James Bond, MGM unspooled a 2002 product reel at ShoWest that emphasized titles both familiar and fresh.

Attendees arrived for Tuesday’s luncheon through a dense cloud of smoke as Bond banners waved and theme songs blared. While this year’s spy installment anchored the presentation, little new footage was available from the still-untitled November release.

The prospect of another turnstyle-turning holiday actioner nonetheless drew polite applause from exhibs. Other titles that seemed to spur interest were “Windtalkers,” helmer John Woo’s long-delayed WWII tale, and “Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course.”

Only five pics were designated for 2002. Other titles classified as in production or in development included “A Guy Thing,” “Barbershop,” “Bulletproof Monk,” “Out of Time” and sequels to “Legally Blonde” and “Jeepers Creepers.”

The event was co-sponsored by Technicolor, whose digital equipment was used to screen “Windtalkers” earlier that morning.

“Crocodile Hunter” wound up dominating the afternoon, but it certainly needs a push given its David status against summer’s Goliaths; its June 28 release slot positions it between “Minority Report” and “Men In Black II.”

To raise the film’s profile, MGM brought in star Steve Irwin, already a household name to viewers of cable TV’s “Animal Planet” series. As guests cut into their steaks, the khaki-clad Irwin rhapsodized in his trademark Aussie accent about making the film, all the while toying with a rattlesnake, cobra and alligator.

(Actual quote: “Crikey! Who would have thought I’d make it to ShoWest? Easy, mate. That’s one big honkin’ snake.”)

At a press conference before the luncheon, “Crocodile” helmer John Stainton explained that the film blends a typical Irwin foray with an elaborate spy story. “It is a documentary within a movie,” he said.

The event was an unusual approach for a ShoWest audience accustomed to pyrotechnics and star-filled stages. Aside from Irwin and MGM marketing chief Bob Levin, the only name to appear was Bruce Willis, who helped develop “Crocodile” along with manager Arnold Rifkin.

Looking business-like in a dark suit, Willis eyed Irwin’s reptilian entourage and quipped, “The only snakes I deal with in Hollywood are the two-legged kind.” In the silence that followed, he added, “I’ll be here all week, folks.”

(Barbara Scherzer contributed to this report.)

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