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Dramatic upheaval: Universal Pictures to focus on comedies, event films [Updated]

June 5, 2009 | 10:41 am

Movie studios like to operate in their comfort zones. Hey, who doesn't? So, Universal Pictures, which is betting on three high-profile comedies this summer, is going to focus heavily on comedies and "event" movies when putting together its release schedule for next year. Indeed, given the recent lackluster box office for such adult dramas as "State of Play" and "Frost/Nixon," it's not a big surprise that executives at the General Electric-owned studio reevaluated their plans and halted development of some acclaimed dramatic projects, as my colleague John Horn recently reported.

"The mantra at the moment is to focus on what we know we do well," says Donna Langley, talking the other day in her office on the studio lot in Universal City. "We know we do really well with comedy and our event movies."

Universal is developing several projects with filmmaker Judd Apatow, to whom the studio gave a development fund to incubate ideas with his stable of talent that includes actor Jonah Hill and "Saturday Night Live" comedians Kristen Wigg and Will Forte. Hill will star in "Get Him to the Greek" as a record company intern who has two days to drag an uncooperative rock star to Hollywood for a comeback concert. Hill also brought Universal a project that he will star in and produce called "The Adventurer's Handbook," about four twentysomething pals who encounter bad guys on their globe-trotting adventure. The film, to be directed by Akiva Schaffer [We originally wrote it was Nick Stoller, but he's directing "Get Him To The Greek"], will start production next March.

British comedian Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty in Paramount's blockbuster "Star Trek," and Nick Frost co-wrote and will star in "Paul," about two sci-fi geeks who go on the road only to find an alien (a computer-generated character voiced by Seth Rogen) in the backseat of their RV. The movie, which also stars Kristen Wigg and Jason Bateman, starts shooting in a few weeks.

On the franchise front, Langley said the studio is "deep in development" on sequels to "Bourne Identity," "Fast & Furious" and "Wanted," the stylized action picture starring Angelina Jolie that was a big hit last year. 

Also, Universal just announced this week plans to make "Stretch Armstrong," the first film to come out of the studio's six-year deal with toymaker Hasbro. Producer Brian Grazer and writer Steve Oedekerk are on board to adapt the action figure into a movie that the studio expects to shoot the first quarter of next year. Universal has already staked out a release date of April 15, 2011.

Other Hasbro properties that Universal plans to adapt into movies include the board games Monopoly, Battleship, Clue and Candy Land, a framed artist rendering of which adorns Langely's office.

— Claudia Eller

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