Old Faithful

For the 2004 summer season, Hollywood sticks with what it knows

Premise: Last time around, she found out she was a princess. Now our heroine learns that she has 30 days to find herself a prince or give up the throne. There's something like seven of these books already in print, so this cinematic series has only just begun.

Outlook: The first Princess Diaries was surprisingly appealing, and all the same people are back, including Heather Matarazzo as the less-attractive best friend. John Rhys-Davies joins the cast on this outing, and he knows a thing or two about picking franchise projects.

(Buena Vista, August 11)

Spider-Man 2 Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, James Franco

Director: Sam Raimi

Writers: Michael Chabon, several others

Premise: Sony spends and recoups another shitload of money.

Outlook: Seems like a winner, reuniting the forces that capably succeeded the first time out -- although it would have been cool if Dunst replaced on-screen sweetheart Maguire with the more intriguing Jake Gyllenhaal, as in real life. Molina takes over villain's duties as tentacle-thrashing Doctor Octopus. More of the cheeseball humor of Raimi (the Evil Dead movies) would be welcome, but perhaps screenwriter Chabon (Pulitzer Prize winner for his novel Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) will add some weird literary pedigree to this pricey pulp.

(Sony, June 16)

The Stepford Wives Starring: Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick, Christopher Walken

Director: Frank Oz (Miss Piggy)

Writers: Paul Rudnick (In & Out), Ira Levin (original novel)

Premise: Dark-comedic remake of paranoid-sexist, 1970s, sci-fi movie about suburban horror and systematic wife-replacement.

Outlook: The producers pulled a bait-and-switch on Kidman, luring her with promises of fanciful costar John Cusack, then ironically replacing him with middle-aged Ferris Bueller. Entire production sounds similarly confused, and after The Score, it's impossible to trust Yoda-Piggy in the director's chair anymore. Theme is ridiculously threadbare too: Ask your female boss to phone you from her Escalade to tell you how the movie's oppression relates to her.

(Paramount-DreamWorks, June 11)

Thunderbirds Starring: Ben Kingsley, Bill Paxton, Anthony Edwards, Sophia Myles, and some big, colorful spaceships

Director: Jonathan Frakes

Writers: Peter Hewitt (Thunderpants), William Osbourne (Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot), Michael McCullers (both Austin Powers sequels)

Premise: Live-action rendition of the 1960s U.K. "Supermarionation" sci-fi show in which wooden string puppets saved the day from danger in, yes, some big, colorful spaceships. It remains to be seen which is creepier -- a vintage marionette or Bill Paxton.

Outlook: Likely to do well in the U.K., but here? Frakes' track record is questionable: Other than Star Trek movies, the erstwhile Cmdr. Riker is best-known for directing the horrible kiddie sci-fi movie Clockstoppers.

(Universal, July 30)

-- Luke Y. Thompson and Gregory Weinkauf

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