Summer is the season of high expectations and profound disappointments. That suntan looks more like sunburn, your beer stays ice cold till the moment it's opened, and fat guys are the only ones hanging by the pool in bikini briefs. So it goes with summer movies: Sequels to beloved faves have all the flavor of week-old popcorn, blockbusters make pennies on their many dollars, and somewhere there's Adam Sandler pouring sour lemonade when you were craving something more refreshing. Maybe there's more hope this year, if only because last summer was such a bummer; Monster-in-Law, Stealth, or Dukes of Hazzard, anyone? Thought not.
There is certainly more promise to the 2006 lineup. Film freaks and fanboys find it hard not to get a little worked up over the returns of Superman, Crockett and Tubbs, Jack Sparrow, and Dante and Randal (well... ). A Prairie Home Companion, with its all-star cast and NPR roots, promises to be this year's Cinderella Man: a great movie nobody sees, because the crowds will be too busy huffing Freon with Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, and Vince Vaughn again. Much of what you'll find below feels like yesterday's movies reheated like someone went to Blockbuster and cut-and-pasted everything on the comedy shelf. But they'll all need a prayer to hold their own against The DaVinci Code. Here's $20 right now that says only the pope won't see it. Though even he may get around to it, once he's checked out Snakes on a Plane. Robert Wilonsky
The following previews were written by Luke Y. Thompson, Jordan Harper, Melissa Levine, and Robert Wilonsky. Scheduled openings can and probably will change.
Summer movie previews
Starring: Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, and a freaky evil kid that isn't Dakota Fanning for once
Directed by: John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines)
Written by: Dan McDermott
What it's about: A prominent ambassador (Schreiber) adopts a little boy who turns out to be the son of Satan. They already made this movie a bunch of times, but June 6 will be 6-6-06, which seems reason enough for another half-baked remake.
Why you should see it: The 1976 Richard Donner movie didn't exactly cry out for a do-over, but at least this one has a high standard to aim for.
Why you should not: Compelling remakes of '70s horror movies come around about, oh, never.
A Prairie Home Companion
Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, and Garrison Keillor
Directed by: Robert Altman
Written by: Garrison Keillor
What it's about: Set behind the scenes of Keillor's beloved National Public Radio show, the movie chronicles a fictional finale in which the St. Paul station that airs the show has been sold to a Texas conglomerate.
Why you should see it: It is a great movie a two-hour good-time grin with some surprising moments of heartbreak.
Why you should not: Fact is, even if you don't love Keillor's show or Altman's movies, this sucker packs some profound magic. Perhaps that's not your thing either?
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
Starring: Lucas Black (Jarhead), Bow Wow, and Zachary Ty Bryan
Directed by: Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow)
Written by: Alfredo Botello, Chris Morgan (Cellular), and Kario Salem (The Score)
What it's about: Brightly colored cars in illegal street races... this time in Japan. The bad news is that efforts to bring back Vin Diesel fell through. The good news is Paul Walker's gone too.
Why you should see it: Better Luck Tomorrow showed that Justin Lin had the chops to direct an edgy youth movie...
Why you should not:... but Annapolis proved he's capable of much worse.
Starring: Jack Black and Efren Ramirez
Directed by: Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite)
Written by: Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess, and Mike White
What it's about: Black (Nacho) plays a Mexican cook who stuffs his face into a wrestler's mask to save his financially strapped orphanage.
Why you should see it: Mike White wrote the best part Jack Black's ever been given, as Dewey Finn in School of Rock.
Why you should not: Because Napoleon Dynamite was a great four-minute movie that went on just a little too long.
Starring: Adam Sandler, Christopher Walken, and David Hasselhoff
Directed by: Frank Coraci (The Waterboy)
Written by: Jack Giarraputo, Tim Herlihy (almost every Sandler movie to date), Steve Koren and Mark O'Keefe (Bruce Almighty), and Sandler
What it's about: Sandler obtains a magic universal remote control that can control the universe! Pausing, rewinding, and slow-motion-replaying the world around him is a lot of fun... until the remote gets stuck in fast-forward.
Why you should see it: Whatever you may think of Sandler, a movie that brings Walken and Hasselhoff together cannot be all bad.
Why you should not: Seems like a good premise, but so did The Benchwarmers at one point.
The Devil Wears Prada
Starring: Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, and Adrien Grenier
Directed by: David Frankel (Entourage, Sex and the City)
Written by: Aline Brosh McKenna (Laws of Attraction) and Don Roos (The Opposite of Sex), based on a novel by Lauren Weisberger
What it's about: Big-screen adaptation of Weisberger's thinly disguised "fiction" book about working as assistant to Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour (Streep).
Why you should see it: Streep rarely chooses unredeemable projects.
Why you should not: Do we care how hard it is to work for a fashion magazine?
Starring: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, and Kevin Spacey
Directed by: Bryan Singer ( X-Men, X-2)
Written by: Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris
What it's about: Set five years after Superman II, more or less, Superman returns from self-imposed exile to find Lois Lane with a kid and Lex Luthor out of prison, with yet another plan for world domination.
Why you should see it: Singer made the X-Men movies into something accessible to mainstream audiences without sacrificing its comic-book roots; he made superheroes human.
Why you should not: Look, it can't be any worse than Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, and Keira Knightley
Directed by: Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl)
Written by: Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (Shrek), based on a Disneyland ride
What it's about: Bill Nighy joins the fun as supernatural part-man/part-octopus villain Davey Jones, out to collect the soul of Capt. Jack Sparrow (Depp) just in time to ruin the marriage plans of Will (Bloom) and Elizabeth (Knightley).
Why you should see it: Depp's Jack Sparrow is one of the most entertaining characters in cinematic history.
Why you should not: Bloom's still a stiff. And Chow Yun-Fat is in part three, not this one.
Starring: Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, and Rosario Dawson
Written and directed by: Kevin Smith (Clerks)
What it's about: Dante (O'Halloran) and Randal (Anderson) are still slacking away their lives, except their 20s have turned into their 30s, and both work at fast-food joint Mooby's. In other words, this is what Smith does when his attempt at maturity (Jersey Girl) tanks and he's left going back to the well. Again. And again.
Why you should see it: Because it's just like Clerks. With a Jason Lee cameo.
Why you should not: It really is just like Clerks.
Lady in the Water
Starring: Paul Giamatti (Sideways, Cinderella Man), Bryce Dallas Howard (Manderlay), and Freddy Rodriguez
Written and directed by: M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Village)
What it's about: A lonely apartment building superintendent (Giamatti) discovers a beautiful woman (Howard), who turns out to be a mermaid, in the building's swimming pool. And there are other supernatural creatures after her...
Why you should see it: Advance word says there's no gratuitous twist ending this time. Shyamalan's a good director when he doesn't paint himself into a corner; even The Village had its moments until that terrible "surprise" finish.
Why you should not: This film's been labeled a "bedtime story." What does that even mean?
Starring: Uma Thurman, Luke Wilson, and Anna Faris
Directed by: Ivan Reitman (Old School)
Written by: Don Payne (The Simpsons)
What it's about: Wilson plays a normal dude who dumps the superneedy, superhottie G-Girl (Thurman), who proves hell hath no fury like a superwoman scorned. In other words, what if Lois Lane broke up with Superman, and he didn't take it well? At all.
Why you should see it: Ivan Reitman directed Ghostbusters, Stripes, and Meatballs.
Why you should not: Ivan Reitman directed Six Days Seven Nights, Father's Day, and Evolution.
Starring: Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, and Gong Li
Written and directed by: Michael Mann (Ali, The Insider )
What it's about: Gee, lessee. Crockett and Tubbs. Drug dealers. Speed boats. Guns. Flashy suits. Bad accents. Expensive cars. Hot chicks. That about covers it.
Why you should see it: See above.
Why you should not: See above. And no Jan Hammer theme song. Rip. Off.
Starring: Jet Li, Nakamura Shidou, and Betty Sun
Directed by: Ronny Yu (Freddy vs. Jason)
Written by: There doesn't seem to be a credited screenwriter. But Yuen Woo-ping is the fight choreographer, which is what matters most.
What it's about: Jet Li kicks some ass. Then a tragedy happens, and he doesn't want to kick any further ass, so he goes into seclusion, where he learns the true way of the warrior. The claim is that this will be Li's last martial-arts epic.
Why you should see it: Sigh. If you know your Hong Kong films, you'd have no doubt that Li and Yu and Woo-ping teaming up can only be awesome.
Why you should not: Steer clear if action isn't your thing.
Starring: Justin Long (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story), Adam Herschman, and Jonah Hill
Directed by: First-timer Steve Pink
Written by: Bill Collage, Adam Cooper, and Mark Perez
What it's about: A slack senior (Long) finds out that he's failed to get into college. So, of course, he and his similarly unmotivated pals fool their parents by inventing their own fraud of a university, which suddenly becomes crowded with similar rejects. Hey, it couldn't be any more worthless than your liberal arts degree, right?
Why you should see it: If a fake frat was funny (as it was in Old School), an entire fake university has to be a knee-slapper, right?
Why you should not: Of course not. Old School was funny only because it had Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn in it. No similar heavyweights present here.
World Trade Center
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Michael Peña, and Maggie Gyllenhaal
Directed by: Oliver Stone (J.F.K. , The Doors)
Written by: Andrea Berloff
What it's about: Cage and Peña play real-life Port Authority cops who made it out of the World Trade Center alive after the terror attack of September 11, 2001. Word is this isn't the work of a paranoid Ollie Stone but is instead a sober, down-to-the-details docudramatization of the events of the day, already seen this year in United 93.
Why you should see it: Cage is at his best when playing an Everyman stuck in a horrific, real-life situation (his portrayal of an EMT in Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead remains among his career highlights, even if no one saw it).
Why you should not: Stone's a real hit-or-miss moviemaker; pray this is closer to Platoon and Salvador than Alexander or Any Given Sunday. Or Natural Born Killers. Or U-Turn. Or Nixon.
Snakes on a Plane
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, some snakes, and a plane
Directed by: David R. Ellis (Final Destination 2)
Written by: John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez (Gothika)
What it's about: The title really says it all here. For full disclosure, it really should be Snakes on a Plane With a Bald-Headed Badass Black Guy Who Yells a Lot. Yes, the snakes deserve to die, and he hopes they burn in hell.
Why you should see it: Pay attention. Snakes. Plane. Samuel L. Jackson. What's not to love?
Why you should not: Sorry, there's just no good excuse not to.
DOA: Dead or Alive
Starring: Jaime Pressly, Holly Valance, and Devon Aoki
Directed by: Corey Yuen (The Transporter, Hero)
Written by: J.F. Lawton (Pretty Woman) and Adam and Seth Gross (Devour), based on the videogame
What it's about: Chicks in bikinis fight guys with swords. It's modeled after a fighting game, and the movie doesn't look like it added a ton of plot or anything, though the fanboys are already up in arms over the fact that the women aren't fighting each other in the trailer.
Why you should see it: It could be as fun as the first Charlie's Angels.
Why you should not: It could be as tedious as Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle.
Starring: André Benjamin (Four Brothers), Antwan Patton (ATL), and Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow)
Written and directed by: First-timer Brian Barber
What it's about: Benjamin and Patton (the real-life duo of Outkast) play a couple of, um, ahead-of-their-time musicians in a 1930s Southern juke joint. Elaborate musical numbers compete for airtime with gangster politics as big bad Howard comes to town to muscle in on the club.
Why you should see it: Musically, Benjamin and Patton are at the top of their game, the concept of injecting their tunes with the flavor of old-school jazz has major promise, and Benjamin has already shown he's got screen skills.
Why you should not: Neither period black gangster films (Harlem Nights) nor musical gangster films (Bugsy Malone) tend to stand the test of time.
Starring: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, and Efren Ramirez (Napoleon Dynamite)
Written and directed by: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (visual effects artists on Biker Boyz)
What it's about: A hit man (Statham) is injected with a new designer drug that will kill him if his adrenaline level drops too low, so in order to find the person responsible and not die, he must remain agitated and excited. That shouldn't be too hard.
Why you should see it: Statham's Transporter movies have been over-the-top junk-food pleasures. Plus, how can you vote against Pedro?
Why you should not: Someone please explain how the effects guys from Biker Boyz have earned the right to direct a major movie.
Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sam Shepard, and Peter O'Brien
Directed by: Asif Kapadia
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Written by: Adam Sussman
What it's about: Gellar plays a young woman whose life gets wacky when she begins to have nightmares about the 25-year-old murder of, yes, a young woman.
Why you should see it: Buffy doing what Buffy does best.
Why you should not: Die, Buffy, die!