Excess Hollywood

In the season of sequels and Happy Meals toys, '05 may be a pleasant surprise

By our count, there are but two sequels waiting to have oil rubbed on their backs this summer -- one featuring an evil lord named Vader, the other featuring an evil lord named Schneider -- so the season has that going for it, which is nice.

But in lieu of sequels come comic-book superheroes (Batman, the Fantastic Four), small-screen retreads (Bewitched, cursed with the worst trailer ever, and The Dukes of Hazzard, which not even General Lee's been waiting for), and big-screen redos (The Pink Panther, Bad News Bears, The Longest Yard, The Honeymooners, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and War of the Worlds), which doesn't even take into account Jiminy Glick in Lalawood, which is barely a movie anyway.

Of the 130-something movies scheduled to play this summer, few will warm the hearts of the most air-conditioned critic. Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers, with Bill Murray, Jessica Lange, and Sharon Stone; Ron Howard's Cinderella Man, starring Russell Crowe as boxer Jim Braddock and Paul Giamatti as his trainer; and Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm, with Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, arrive without action figures and Happy Meals -- and bless their sunburned souls for trying to make art during a season of commerce. Perhaps it won't be such a long, hot summer after all. -- Robert Wilonsky

The following previews are written by Luke Y. Thompson, Robert Wilonsky, and Bill Gallo. Scheduled openings can -- and probably will -- change.

May 13Mindhunters Starring: Val Kilmer, LL Cool J, and Christian Slater

Directed by: Renny Harlin

Written by: Wayne Kramer (The Cooler) and Kevin Brodbin (Constantine)

What it's about:A bunch of FBI trainees go to a secret island hideout that's been rigged up like a CSI mystery by their unhinged professor (Kilmer). It's designed as a training simulation, but the place is also loaded with elaborate death traps set to knock them all off one by one.

Why it will be fabulous: The elaborate, Rube Goldberg-style traps are amusingly conceived and suitably gory.

Why it will be dreadful: Filmed in early 2002, this baby's been on the shelf for a long, long time.

May 19Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith Starring: Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Ian McDiarmid, Natalie Portman, and Chewbacca

Directed by: George Lucas

Written by: Lucas, though word is that Tom Stoppard did some ghost writing too.

What it's about: Anakin Skywalker (Christensen) finally turns into Darth Vader and kills a lot of people. Chewbacca shows up. Yoda fights a lightsaber duel with the Emperor (who's also known as Darth Sidious, just for confusion's sake). New baddie General Grievous fights with four lightsabers at once, thereby owning Darth Maul's dead, cut-in-half ass.

Why it will be fabulous: Darth Vader and Chewbacca, people! Plus Jar Jar apparently shows up only in the background and doesn't speak.

Why it will be dreadful: If there's any way to screw up a good story, George Lucas can find it. Also, Jar Jar doesn't die.

June 3Cinderella Man Starring: Russell Crowe, Paul Giamatti, and Renée Zellweger

Directed by: Ron Howard

Written by: Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman

What it's about: Ditched by his ugly sisters, Cinderella Man (Crowe) begs his fairy godmother to make him beautiful so he can go to the ball. Ah, if only. Instead, it's a Depression-era boxing movie, in which Crowe gets paid to punch people in the face.

Why it will be fabulous:Giamatti might get to win that Oscar next year for his strong supporting turn.

Why it will be dreadful: Five words: "A film by Ron Howard."

June 10The Honeymooners

Starring:Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Epps, Gabrielle Union, and Regina Hall

Directed by:John Schultz (Like Mike)

Written by:Danny Jacobson, Saladin Patterson, Barry W. Blaustein, David Sheffield, and Don Rhymer

What it's about:Hollywood's latest raid on vintage TV: Cedric puts a new ethnic spin on Jackie Gleason's beloved loudmouth, Ralph Kramden.

Why it will be fabulous:Cedric's ability to play blue-collar could send this one to the moon.

Why it will be dreadful:Nobody can channel the spirit of "The Great One." Do you get the feeling you'll pine for the murky black-and-white images and canned laughs that once emanated from your old Philco?

June 10Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Starring:Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie

Directed by:Doug Limon (The Bourne Identity)

Written by:Simon Kinberg

What it's about:An unhappy married couple who earn their paychecks as assassins learn that they've been hired to kill each other.

Why it will be fabulous:The Pitt-Jolie twosome should be fun to watch under Limon's fast-action framing.

Why it will be dreadful:This promises to be a plot-heavy romp that could easily fire blanks.

June 15Batman Begins

Starring: Christian Bale, Katie Holmes, Morgan Freeman, and Liam Neeson

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Written by: David Goyer (Blade)

What it's about: This relaunching of the moribund franchise tells how Bruce Wayne (Bale) became the Dark Knight after seeing his parents executed in a Gotham City alley. In this version, Bruce heads to the Himalayas to train (with Neeson, shades of The Phantom Menace) and returns to Gotham to find a bad city run by a good cop, Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), and overrun with creepy villains, chief among them The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy).

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