Never have so many people worked so hard to turn a line of movie dialogue into a national catchphrase. In the coming attractions for Clint Eastwood's In the Line of Fire, out July 9, psycho assassin John Malkovich phones Secret Service agent Eastwood and tells him that he's going to kill the President. Eastwood then turns directly to the audience and says in his best gravelly voice, ''That's not gonna happen.''
Although preview audiences have been giggling at this heavy-handed attempt to infiltrate the American psyche, Columbia Pictures is thrilled by the reaction. The studio spent thousands to reshoot the scene for the trailer and to enhance its sound quality. The cost is nothing compared with the possible payoff: If a film phrase becomes part of the vernacular like Eastwood's ''make my day'' line from Sudden Impact it can generate millions at the box office. ''It's something to shoot for,'' says one industry marketing source. ''It's the equivalent of a TV ad.''
That's what happened last year with Tom Hanks' ''There's no crying in baseball!'' line from Columbia's $107 million-grosser A League of Their Own. But that cinematic mantra didn't start tripping off tongues until the film became a summer blockbuster.
''That's not gonna happen,'' by comparison, has already made several media appearances, most notably on a post-Oscars Today show segment on Eastwood. General awareness of the phrase is so high that Jove Books, which is producing the Line of Fire novelization, due out in August, has printed ''That's not gonna happen'' on the book's back cover.
''The goal,'' a Columbia executive says with a laugh, ''is to get it on The Tonight Show.'' Wanna bet that's gonna happen real soon?