Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Looks like Universal Pictures smells a summer hit in Savages, the Oliver Stone-directed adaptation of the bestselling Don Winslow novel. After screening a cut late last week, the studio has moved the film up to a July 6 slot. It had been scheduled to be released September 28. That puts it right in the heat of the summer with a shot at counter-programming against the tentpoles. Sony opens The Amazing Spider-Man on July 4 and Fox’s Ice Age sequel opens July 13 (along with the Universal-distributed Seth MacFarlane-directed comedy Ted). The Dark Knight Rises follows on July 17.

Scripted by Shane Salerno & Winslow & Stone, the film focuses on Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), two pot growers who refuse to knuckle under to a Mexican cartel and then have to find a way out after the cartel kidnaps the free-spirited girl they share (Blake Lively), who’ll be killed if the pot growers don’t capitulate and pay a huge ransom. They do it by ripping off the cartel’s shipments, a most dangerous game. The film also stars Benicio Del Toro, freshly Oscar-nominated Demian Bichir, John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Emile Hirsch, Twilight Saga‘s Mia Maestro and Salma Hayek. Simon & Schuster recently announced it would publish a prequel novel by Winslow to coincide with the film’s fall release, and it will be interesting to see if the publisher moves up the book to summer. Moritz Borman and Eric Kopeloff are producing and Salerno is exec producer.

The move gives Universal two summer films starring former Friday Night Lights star Kitsch, who opens in Battleship on May 18. He opens in Disney’s John Carter on March 9.

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