Staying on Target

Aiming for a familiar audience, the films of summer hope for more hits than misses

Maybe some of the smaller comedies will save the day and provide the delight people hope for when they go to the movies. After only acting in Saving Private Ryan and 15 Minutes, Edward Burns (The Brothers McMullen) returns to directing with the romantic comedy Sidewalks of New York. America's longest-running comedy auteur, Woody Allen, has The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, a period film noir spoof; it sounds like Woody going strictly for laughs, which is always promising. Writer, director, and actor Kevin Smith shows up with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, apparently the final chapter in the series that started with Clerks and continued with Mallrats and Chasing Amy. And John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale try to recapture lost love in Serendipity, from the extremely eccentric director Peter Chelsom (Town and Country).

The dearth of G-rated films is baffling and may be troubling for parents. In addition to the two family films mentioned above, there are a number of animated features almost all of which have PG ratings -- even though the genre is usually directed at children. DreamWorks' computer-animated Shrek, which opened May 18, will soon be followed by Disney's nonmusical action cartoon Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Cats & Dogs (not yet rated) is a droll-looking animated/live-action hybrid from Warner Bros. Sony will release Japanese director Hironobu Sakaguchi's Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (PG-13), adapted from his own series of video games. And Warner shows up with a second animated/live-action feature, the Farrelly brothers' Osmosis Jones, with Chris Rock, David Hyde Pierce, and Laurence Fishburne providing the voices for a white blood cell and a cold capsule and the lethal virus they're battling within the body of a flesh-and-blood Bill Murray.

The rest of the summer schedule is dominated even more than usual by action of every stripe. There's car action ( The Fast and the Furious), caper action (Swordfish and The Score), and even arty British caper action (Sexy Beast, with a truly terrifying performance from Ben Kingsley.) Sci-fi action shows up in two late entries: Rollerball, a futuristic Roller Derby picture with Chris Klein, Jean Reno, and LL Cool J, and John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars, which has Natasha Henstridge and Ice Cube on Mars, circa 2025. The late August dates for these two suggest a lack of studio confidence, but you can't rule a movie out until you've actually seen it for yourself. Also on the sci-fi front is Evolution, a hybrid comedy-action film with David Duchovny and Orlando Jones.

Planet of the Apes
Planet of the Apes

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Want more? Check out our Summer Movie Guide

Advance word is that Tomb Raider, with Angelina Jolie as video-game heroine Lara Croft, is an Indiana Jones knockoff filled with the same sort of over-the-top, Hong Kong-style stunt work that helped make Charlie's Angels a hit. A similar type of action -- though presumably a little more realistic -- will doubtless be in evidence in two vehicles for transplanted Hong Kong stars. In Kiss of the Dragon, Jet Li kicks butt as a Chinese spy on the run. Then, a few weeks later, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker return in Rush Hour 2, with Crouching Tiger cutie Zhang Ziyi added to the mix. A different sort of foreign action can be sampled in Brother, the first English-language production of Japanese hard-boiled auteur Takeshi Kitano, who stars as a yakuza trying to set up a new life of crime in Los Angeles.

Finally, there is always one absolutely weird, impossible-to-call shot in the lineup, and this year it's Moulin Rouge, set in Paris circa 1900 and featuring the great pop songs of the 20th Century, from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Lennon and McCartney, from Sting to Elton John, Dolly Parton to David Bowie. (See "Short Cuts.") Moulin Rouge sounds so strange that -- just maybe, possibly -- it could work.

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