Universal previews summer movies

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LAS VEGAS -- Rallying ShoWest exhibitors to its swimsuit season offerings, Universal on Thursday trumpeted a summer slate boasting two franchise sequels and a third film -- "The Incredible Hulk" -- that is more a do-over than a sequel but sure to benefit from brand awareness.

"The Hulk has been one of the most enduring characters in the Marvel pantheon for more than 50 years," Universal worldwide marketing and distribution president Adam Fogelson said during an energetic slate presentation at the Paris hotel.

Produced by Marvel Entertainment, "Incredible Hulk" was directed by Louis Leterrier ("The Transporter") and stars Edward Norton as the big green guy this time around. Producers include Avi Arad, Gale Anne Hurd and Kevin Feige.

Uni and Marvel are hoping to deep-six memories of 2003's Ang Lee-directed version starring Eric Bana by offering a more heroic take on the title character and a more wholly CGI rendering of the Hulk. Exhibitors attending the slate presentation seemed to respond positively.

"Looks better than the last one," was a typical comment from ShoWesters exiting the presentation.

Of course, the reaction among the film's potential fanboy base will be most telling once the trailer hits theaters this weekend and Internet movie sites.

Simply titled "Hulk," the first film was a $132 million domestic grosser. So though hardly an abject failure, Uni ran into problems largely because of the effects-laden movie's high budget and even higher market expectations.

"Incredible Hulk" will bow June 13 in about a gazillion theaters.

Uni's "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," the studio's latest installment in another comics-based franchise, unspools July 13 with Guillermo del Toro again helming and Ron Perlman reprising the central role. And "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" hits domestic multiplexes Aug. 1, with director Rob Cohen and signature Mummy hunter Brendan Fraser hoping that the franchise's third outing proves as charmed as its first two.

"Mamma Mia!" based on the hit stage musical and ABBA songbook, represents yet another strong Uni tentpole release. Set for July 18, its cast includes Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth.

"Wanted," an Angelina Jolie starrer slotted for June 27, drew perhaps the biggest audience response during the presentation. The fantasy thriller also features James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp, Thomas Kretschmann and Common.

"I want to be him!" Fogelson confessed after a rip-snorting action scene was shown in which McAvoy breaks bad with bad guys and canoodles with Jolie. Uni must have known they had something special on its hands with the film as it ended its presentation with a second extended clip from "Wanted."

In the second screened scene, McAvoy's character has a lot tougher sledding and a distinct lack of romantic upside.

"I still want to be him," Fogelson cracked.

Uni has an arguably summer-like sports film debuting April 4 with "Leatherheads," in which golden boy George Clooney plays a 1920s football hero. No clip from the pigskin pic was included in the presentation, but there was a solid reaction from the audience for an R-rated trailer for "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," a "romantic disaster comedy" produced by Judd Apatow and Shauna Robinson that bows April 18.

Uni recently moved up the bow of "Sarah Marshall" by a month.

Other notable entries on the Uni slate include "Baby Mama," a Tina Fey laugher produced by Lorne Michaels and John Goldwyn (April 25); and "Wild Child," a Working Title comedy starring Emma Roberts ("Nancy Drew"), Natasha Richardson, Shirley Henderson and Aidan Quinn (Aug. 15).
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