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Fox hopes to turn Stiller's 'Walter Mitty' into 'Pi'-sized success

LAS VEGAS -- When 20th Century Fox unveiled footage of "Life of Pi" at CinemaCon last year, studio executives compared director Ang Lee to Oscar-winning filmmaker James Cameron.

This time around, Fox devoted most of its presentation to its latest year-end awards hopeful, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," directed by and starring Ben Stiller. And when the studio's co-chairman, Jim Gianopulos, introduced Stiller to the crowd, this time he compared the star to Lee -- an association even Stiller seemed to find a bit over the top.

"Yes, Ben Stiller and Ang Lee -- the two of us are constantly being compared," the filmmaker said as he walked on stage. "I think it started when Ang made 'Sense and Sensibility' and I made 'The Cable Guy.' Plus, we're both Asian and were bar mitzvah-ed in Israel."

PHOTOS: Movies Sneaks 2013

"Mitty," set for release this Christmas, stars Stiller as a Life magazine photo editor who forces himself out of his comfort zone as he traverses the globe in search of a missing negative. The $90-million production traveled from New York to Iceland to Greenland, and the beautiful scenery was one of the highlights of the footage shown to movie theater owners at the CinemaCon gathering on Thursday. 

"I think we all want love and adventure and excitement in our lives. That's why we're all here in Vegas, right?" Stiller kidded on stage, where he was joined by costar Kristen Wiig. "I hope it's funny but it's also serious, and it's epic and it's also small in places and it's kinda realistic but it's also sort of a fairy tale."

That's a lot to wish for, but exhibitors indeed seemed pleased with the roughly 15 minutes of footage shown, gushing over how fantastic the film looked as they exited the Caesars Palace Colosseum.

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They were probably also on a bit of a high after seeing "The Heat" stars Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock bantering. 

"We're thrilled to be hosting CinemaCon," Bullock cracked.

"I have always been a big fan of 'cinnamon,' " McCarthy followed. The two comic actresses then launched into a bit in which they compared themselves to famous on-screen pairings -- Robert Redford and Paul Newman, Bert and Ernie -- even Tom Hanks and his volleyball Wilson in "Cast Away."

"I had never cared for anyone I've worked with," said McCarthy, "and at first on [this movie] I thought, 'Nope, nothing different here.' But two-thirds of the ways in I said, 'You're not terrible. You're not the worst.' "

The actresses' buddy cop comedy played through the roof to exhibitors here Tuesday evening, indicating it could be McCarthy's second box-office hit of the year (following "Identity Thief") when it hits theaters in June.  

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‘Pacific Rim’: Is Guillermo del Toro’s film the new ‘Transformers’?

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amy.kaufman@latimes.com

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