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Paramount's 'Downsizing' shrinks Matt Damon but gets biggest buzz at Cinemacon

Paramount Pictures knows who butters its bread. So when it came time for the studio to show off its most bankable film to theater owners at CinemaCon on Tuesday, the company spotlighted the franchise that has collected $3.8 billion at the box office: “Transformers.”

Directed by Michael Bay in native 3-D, the fifth installment is set to hit the multiplex this June. And the studio is clearly hoping the sequel, “Transformers: The Last Knight,” will help its bottom line. Paramount played a lengthy amount of scenes from the movie, in addition to bringing out seven members of the cast and crew for a Q&A.

Bay talked about how the film felt like a “brand new look into ‘Transformers,’” noting that he hired 14 screenwriters and put them in a writers room for a month to come up with the script. Anthony Hopkins (who plays character Sir Edmund Burton, a new addition to the franchise) told a story about how the film’s replica of Stonehenge rivaled the real thing. And there was a lot of talk about how cool the 3-D will be, because it didn’t require any additional conversion technology.

Despite the “Transformers” push, however, it was the studio’s mid-budget titles that left exhibitors itching for more — namely Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing.” The audience got to see about 10 minutes of the film, which stars Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig as adults who live in a world that has become so overpopulated humans are opting to shrink down to 5 inches tall to maximize their lifestyles. In the movie — which isn’t scheduled to come out until December — those who opt to get downsized suddenly have the opportunity to live in large mansions and spend $83 for two months’ worth of groceries.

In the scene teased for the crowd, Damon’s character decides he wants to go through with the procedure and turns up with his wife at a sterile waiting room. In a bleak-looking clinic, he and dozens of other men are put on gurneys, shaved of all their body hair, given new teeth and injected with a mysterious solution that allows them to shrink. The film looks to have a darkly comic tone: When Damon awakes from his transformation, the nurse arrives, asking if he’d like a post-op snack. She brings in a saltine that’s almost as big as his body.

“Isn’t that cute?” she says with a chuckle. “People just love that! I’ll bring you a real snack in a moment.”

Meanwhile, the new sci-fi thriller from “Ex Machina” director Alex Garland, “Annihilation,” also generated excitement among the audience. The film stars Natalie Portman as a woman who is grieving her husband (Oscar Isaac) when he suddenly returns home. She’s shocked by his return, and quickly realizes something bad has happened to him while he was away on a covert mission that he refuses to talk about.

He starts spitting up blood, so she calls an ambulance, but on the way to the hospital, a group of armed guards steal the couple away. Soon, Portman’s character learns her husband was sent to investigate an extraterrestrial event and has returned with internal bleeding and organ failure. In order to find out what happened to him, she decides to cross into the same dangerous environmental disaster zone where he fell ill.

The studio didn’t announce a release date for the creepy flick. But in “Downsizing” and possibly “Suburbicon,” George Clooney’s latest directorial effort, it has awards hopes. “Suburbicon” stars Damon (again) and Julianne Moore and is set around a murder plot in the suburbs.

“Paramount has given us a date of November 3, which we’re very proud of,” Clooney told the crowd. “Also because it pits us against another superhero film: ‘Thor!’”

“Good date for us,” Damon said, shaking his head woefully.

The studio also gave a nod to its “Inconvenient Truth” sequel, bringing out Al Gore to talk about his global warming documentary on the very day President Trump scaled back President Obama’s climate change initiatives.

“All of us who’ve been involved with this film hope that the sequel will be a tool for galvanizing action in our communities,” said Gore, who walked onto the stage as Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” played. “As I’ve traveled around the world, I’ve found that communities are embracing the readily available solutions and transcending politics and race, ethnicity, orientation and class in order to provide a cleaner, safer and healthier future for our children and grandchildren.”

The trailer for the film — which features Trump saying he doesn’t buy into global warming — marked a stark difference from the movie that opened the presentation: “Baywatch.”

The film version of the 1990s television series got a huge introduction, as dozens of models dressed in the iconic red bathing suits bounded on stage next to Dwayne Johnson. “The Rock,” who had appeared at CinemaCon the day before for Sony’s presentation, brought out costars Zac Efron and Priyanka Chopra to introduce what they called a “fuschia-band trailer” — using an expletive to describe “a … unbelievable” trailer with “pervasive hotness, comedy and action” that may “cause pissing in pants to excessive laughter.”

The cast does appear to be scantily clad at all times in the film, and it looks like it will push the envelope in other ways too. In one scene, the crew gets stuck in a morgue and Johnson forces Efron to examine a cadaver’s penis.

Can you even wait for May 26 now?

amy.kaufman@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter @AmyKinLA

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