CinemaCon isn't big on surprises. The four-day convention held by the National Assn. of Theatre Owners in Las Vegas is typically pretty predictable: Distribution executives shill their studios' upcoming movies, while exhibitors offer up polite enthusiasm in response to new trailers and footage.
That all changed Monday night, when Sacha Baron Cohen shocked the audience as he strolled into the Caesar's Palace Coliseum during Paramount Pictures' opening night presentation. Dressed as Gen. Adm. Aladeen, the fictional Middle Eastern ruler he plays in the upcoming film "The Dictator," he walked into the auditorium flanked by two soldiers carrying faux guns and two attractive women outfitted in army fatigues.
"How much for your daughter?" he jokingly asked one member of the crowd as he approached the stage.
Referring to CinemaCon as "Cinnabon," he asserted his love for the movies he'd seen in the so-called Republic of Wadiya, his empire: "When Harry Killed Sally," "14-Year-Old Virgin" and the "family comedy 'Planet of the Rapes.' "
But it was his jabs at Hollywood that elicited the biggest gasps from the room. Among his targets? DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg and recently departed Walt Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross.
For Katzenberg, who had just finished his presentation promoting "Madagascar 3" and "Rise of the Guardians," Cohen had this to say: "I thought I was the only dictator speaking tonight. So imagine my surprise when I found out that Jeffrey Katzenberg was speaking. He rules with an iron fist."
He then began threatening the exhibitors to put "The Dictator" in their theaters, or else he said he might detonate imaginary bombs underneath their seats.
"Is that chewing gum underneath your seat? Certainly they are not plastic explosives," he teased. "Trust me, there are bigger bombs than 'John Carter.' Just shoot the executive behind that. Oh -- wait, you did," he said, referring to Ross' recent departure from Disney.
But perhaps the harshest zinger was aimed at Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks. To urge CinemaCon attendees to see a screening of "The Dictator" later Monday evening, Cohen promised free Rolexes, blood diamonds, and young girls -- "or boys, if you are from DreamWorks."
And Ryan Seacrest thought he had it bad.
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--Amy Kaufman in Las Vegas
Photo: Sacha Baron Cohen attends the 2012 Oscars dressed as "The Dictator." Credit: Matt Sayles / Associated Press