'Happened' may find home at Magnolia

Robert De Niro among Barry Levinson's ensemble cast

CANNES -- 2929 Prods. is setting a backup plan to distribute what was once hyped as the biggest potential sale of the Sundance Festival, the Cannes closer "What Just Happened?" through its Wagner/Cuban Co.'s sister outfit, Magnolia Pictures.

Barry Levinson's portrait of a movie producer (Robert De Niro) featured such a high-wattage ensemble cast (Bruce Willis, Robin Wright Penn, Stanley Tucci and Cannes jury head Sean Penn) and was so hot at January's Sundance fest that CAA and Cinetic Media argued over who was selling it, with CAA claiming it was a co-rep deal and Cinetic claiming sole sales rights.

But after tepid reviews and audience reaction, the film arrived in Cannes with 2929 International repping rights and around 10 minutes cut for a new version. North American distributor turnout at the Wednesday Cannes buyers screening was sparse.

In an ironic twist, "Happened" received a standing ovation in Cannes this weekend, much like the rapturous reaction to the troubled film-within-a-film of its story line.

With a budget said to be anywhere from $23 million to $30 million, the film would be Magnolia's costliest release ever.

2929 Prods. has been pushing hard for an outside distributor, and there is a slim chance they may come through with one later this week, but the outfit fell on a similar backup plan at last fall's Toronto Film Festival, when interest in its $12 million-range Uma Thurman drama "In Bloom" failed to catch fire. The release went straight to Magnolia, which marketed and distributed it under the title "The Life Before Her Eyes" on April 18. It's grossed $228,149 in its first 36 days of release.

According to IndieWire.com, a more experienced exec may be brought in to ensure "Happened" has a fighting chance of returning its investment, with former New Line Cinema exec Russell Schwartz coming aboard for a tentatively planned fall release.