With swingers, secret agents and superheroes, this could be a banner year
Are you game for sexy summer fun? If so, grab your whips and Jimmy Choo shoes because Indiana Jones and a dressed-to-the-nines Carrie Bradshaw are coming to town to relieve you of your worries and cash.
They’ll be joined in their machinations by a host of superheroes, silly secret agents and sex-seeking, pot-smoking youths. They’re all part of what could be a record-breaking summer, as increasingly cash-strapped families forgo travel for more cost-effective virtual vacations offering such enticements as riding along with Batman (``The Dark Knight''), learning to shoot (and kill) with Angelina Jolie (``Wanted''), seeing the world through a robot’s eyes (``Wall-E'') and sharing a tiny bedroom with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly (``Step Brothers'').
The two destinations that have everybody buzzing, of course, are the ``Sex and the City'' reunion and the return of the whip-smart, whip-cracking Indiana Jones, back after taking a 19-year hiatus from Nazis, arks and temples of doom to tackle ``The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.''
But lovers beware.
Because the films open a mere eight days apart, they might tear asunder normally happy couples, with arguments ensuing in theater lobbies over which one to see – spats that will likely end with the guys going for Indy and the gals opting for Mr. Big.
I blame this inevitable divide on a heinous conspiracy involving al-Qaida and Gloria Allred. Outlandish suspicions to be sure, but also a perfect segue into one of the season’s potential surprises, the aptly titled ``The X-Files: I Want to Believe.'' It’s been a decade since the last film and six years since the TV series left the airwaves. Does anyone still remember Scully and Mulder?
I’m betting they do and will flock to it in droves hoping to see Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny finally engage in a little undercover leg-lock.
Nothing alien about that. But there is something alien about the little trash compactor at the heart of the latest Pixar ’toon, ``Wall-E,'' and the latest Eddie Murphy comedy, ``Meet Dave.''
And could there be anything more out of this world than Meryl Streep singing and dancing in an ABBA-inspired musical like ``Mamma Mia''? If Meryl’s willing to sing ``Take a Chance on Me,'' who am I to refuse?
Ah, but I digress. So without further ado, here is a rundown of the hottest movies and even hotter stars of summer. As always, dates may change.
IRON MAN: Marvel Comics makes its debut as a producer of its own superhero movies and it couldn’t have asked for a riskier proposition than banking on a star (Robert Downey Jr.) better known for his peccadilloes than his box-office might, and a director (Jon Favreau) more familiar with intimate comedies (``Swingers,'' ``Elf'') than $200 million tentpoles. The presence of seven actors toting Oscar nominations on their resumes should help, but are we really ready to see a quirky, middle-aged Downey play an armor-clad crime-fighter that looks like a flying tin can?
MADE OF HONOR: The producers make no bones about ripping off ``My Best Friend’s Wedding'' with their tale about a free-spirited bachelor who falls for his best pal (Michelle Monaghan) after she asks him to be her bride’s maid, err, man, err ... And frankly the suits don’t care if they’re being unoriginal because they believe (right or wrong) that young women will flock to anything starring Patrick Dempsey, aka TV’s McDreamy. We shall see.
SON OF RAMBOW: Rating a 100 on the adorable scale is this family comedy from Britain about two boys setting out to make their own Super-8 version of ``Rambo'' starring themselves.
REDBELT: In a bit of a departure, playwright David Mamet wrote and directed this story about extreme fighting. Got a problem with that?
SPEED RACER: In their first film since the ``Matrix'' trilogy, the Wachowski brothers have crafted what looks to be the summer’s most aesthetically pleasing film, mixing live action and computer animation into something they hope will do justice to the wildly popular anime TV series from the 1980s on which it is based. Emile Hirsch and Christina Ricci star.
WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS: Let me get this straight: Ashton Kutcher goes to Vegas and wins $3 million AND Cameron Diaz (who marries him after a drunken night on The Strip) and he’s still not happy? Only in Hollywood could such implausibilities occur.
HE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN: The precocious Pevensie kids return to the magical land 12 months (or 1,300 Narnia years) after ``The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'' ended to find a new tyrannical leader, who they attempt to unseat with the help of the title character, played by newcomer Ben Barnes.
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL: Paramount is keeping this one so tightly under wraps that only a select few even know what it’s about. But what matter is plot when you have Indiana Jones up on the marquee? Toss in ``Transformers’'' Shia LaBeouf and Indy’s old squeeze, Karen Allen, and you got the can’t-miss hit of the summer.
SEX AND THE CITY: If you’ve been missing the frank sexual discussions between Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda you’re about to get one big, two-hour fix. The plot is being kept under wraps, but you can bet Mr. Big will be on hand, as well as many of the issues facing women in their 40s, like careers, babies and divorces.
SAVAGE GRACE: Just your everyday story about a father and son in love with the same woman: the kid’s mom, played by the always brave Julianne Moore.
BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER: A documentary that aims to shed new light on the effects of steroids.
KUNG FU PANDA: Dustin Hoffman and Jack Black lead the voice talent in an animated tale about a bear who learns martial arts to defeat a nasty snow leopard. Think a hairier, cuter ``Karate Kid.''
MISS CONCEPTION: Heather Graham worries the last grains of sand are slipping from her biological clock.
MONGOL: Winner of Kazakhstan’s first Oscar-nomination (Sorry, ``Borat'' doesn’t count), it examines the adventurous life of Genghis Kahn.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK: Heeezzz back! And the not-so-jolly green giant has undergone a major makeover in hopes of making amends for the Hulk-ing turkey that was Ang Lee’s misfire five years ago. This one stars Edward Norton as Bruce Banner and it promises to be less cerebral and truer to the popular 1970s TV show.
THE HAPPENING: M. Night Shyamalan all but drowned his credibility with ``Lady in the Water,'' which may make audiences reluctant to grant a reprieve for his latest effort about a deadly, unseen monster (what else is new?) terrorizing a small town populated by Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel among others. Shyamalan is keeping mum on the plot but has said it concerns an ``environmental nightmare.''
GET SMART: Steve Carell tries to fill the phone shoes of Maxwell Smart, aka CONTROL’s bumbling Agent 86, in taking on the fiends at KAOS with the lovely Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway) by his side. Let’s pray there are no arks involved, like Carell’s horrendously awful ``Evan Almighty.''
THE LOVE GURU: Mike Myers hopes to transfer his Austin Powers mojo to this potentially racist send-up of a Hindu Dr. Ruth trying to usurp Deepak Chopra as the world’s foremost expert on human relationships.
WALL-E: The latest Pixar entry follows the exploits of a robotic trash compactor trying to woo another droid in the year 2805. Sounds out of this world, but will audiences go for such an offbeat story? Not to worry. Just say ``Pixar,'' and the masses will come.
WANTED: Angelina Jolie, overrated and underwhelming in last summer’s ``A Mighty Heart,'' returns to what she does best in this intense action flick about a female assassin sent to train a diminutive nerd (James McAvoy) in the ways of professional murder.
FINDING AMANDA: What would summer be without a road picture? In this one Matthew Broderick hits the highway in search of his niece (``Prom Night’s'' Brittany Snow).
HANCOCK: Will Smith plays a reviled alcoholic hero trying to rehabilitate his image with the aid of a PR expert (Jason Bateman) in director Peter Berg’s unconventional action comedy. Charlize Theron co-stars as Bateman’s leggy blonde wife.
KIT KITTREDGE: Abigail Breslin stars in this Depression-era drama based on the American Girl doll series. So don’t toy with her.
GONZO: THE LIFE AND WORK OF HUNTER S. THOMPSON: Director Alex Gibney follows up his Oscar-winning doc ``Taxi to the Dark Side'' with this warts-and-all look at one of the most fascinating – and mysterious – journalists to ever walk the earth.
DIMINISHED CAPACITY: A man (Matthew Broderick) and his uncle (Alan Alda) find themselves knee deep in the muck of the baseball memorabilia trade.
HELLBOY 2: The original ``Hellboy'' did well, but the sequel, coming as it does on the heels of Guillermo Del Toro’s Oscar-winning ``Pan’s Labyrinth,'' is likely to open huge. A sly and witty Ron Perlman returns as the red-tinged antihero hero, as does Selma Blair as his less-than-understanding wife.
MEET DAVE: Eddie Murphy seeks atonement for the rancid ``Norbit'' with this comedy about a pint-sized alien who employs advanced electronics to take full-sized human form. Elizabeth Banks and Ed Helms co-star.
JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH 3D: Brendan Fraser stars as a scientist who sets off along with his nephew on an expedition to the earth’s core to find the youngster’s missing father. Did I just hear Jules Verne rolling over in his grave?
RELIGULOUS: Comedian Bill Maher takes on religion, which he hates, in this funny but highly controversial documentary. Get your picket signs ready now.
THE DARK KNIGHT: Heath Ledger takes his final bow as the demented Joker in Christopher Nolan’s even darker sequel to ``Batman Begins.'' Christian Bale returns as the winged avenger, but thankfully Katie Holmes does not.
MAMMA MIA: One doesn’t usually mention ABBA and Meryl Streep in the same sentence, let alone the same movie, but that’s exactly what we get in the film version of the Broadway smash about a soon-to-be bride trying to determine which of her mother’s exes is her father.
SPACE CHIMPS: An animated tale about three chimps going into space to conquer an evil dictator on a distant planet. No, George Bush did not send them.
THE X-FILES: The Truth is out there, but does anyone still care?
STEP BROTHERS: Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, so great together in ``Talladega Nights,'' reunite for another comedy about dysfunctional dullards. This time they’re middle-aged stepbrothers still living with their parents (Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen). Judd Apatow produces.
THE LONGSHOTS: Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst directs this tale about a girl trying out for the boys’ football team. Ice Cube stars.
AMERICAN TEEN: The most popular documentary at last winter’s Sundance Film Festival follows four Indiana teenagers over a long period, chronicling their joys and tragedies with an unflinching eye.
BRIDESHEAD REVISITED: Director Jullian Jarrold, who scored a modest hit with last summer’s ``Becoming Jane,'' tackles another period drama with Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 classic that had an earlier incarnation as a PBS miniseries.
THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR Is anyone really excited to hear that Hollywood decided to unwrap this relic? Didn’t think so. And neither did Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz. She’s wisely sitting this one out. But Brendan Fraser (in his second big action pic in less than a month) was more than game to return as a poor man’s Indiana Jones searching for artifacts and finding nothing but trouble (and bad scripts). This time the adventure takes him to China along with Maria Bello (replacing Weisz) and Luke Ford, playing the mummy boy’s 21-year-old son. Martial arts star Jet Li plays one of the mummies. You could say he’s alive and kicking.
THE ROCKER: Rainn Wilson (``The Office'') plays a washed-up drummer from an ’80s hair band who finds redemption 20 years later when he joins his teenaged nephew’s rock group. Christina Applegate co-stars.
CHOKE: Sam Rockwell plays a historical re-enactor who develops a nasty habit of visiting restaurants and pretending to gag on his meal. Safe to say, this is one of those quirky movies that you either swallow or you don’t.
SWING VOTE: Kevin Costner glams it down considerably to play the kind of country rube even Larry the Cable Guy and Britney Spears would look down on. Just the kind of guy you’d want to break a tie in a deadlocked presidential election. Call it ``Dancing With Sloughs.''
PINEAPPLE EXPRESS: Judd Apatow productions have become the most august of August movies, and this one starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as stoners on the run from a killer cop is practically guaranteed to follow in the lofty footsteps of ``The 40-Year-Old Virgin'' and ``Superbad.'' But I’m a little puzzled over the decision to entrust the story to director David Gordon Green, whose previous four movies have been shoe-gazing downers. Does he even know what comedy is?
THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS 2: Same four girls, same old magical pants and more of the same mix of family drama and wayward romances. The only difference is that they’re no longer girls, and two of them, Blake Lively and America Ferrera are now the ones with the hit TV shows and Alexis Bledel and Amber Tamblyn are the ones scrounging for Hollywood’s scraps.
TRANSSIBERIAN: North Shore native Brad Anderson returns to the rails in hopes of repeating the success of his Blue Line-set ``Next Stop Wonderland.'' This time, though, he’s ventured far from the MBTA to the Siberian Express, as it journeys from Beijing to Moscow. Aboard is an unsuspecting couple, Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer, who have no idea what an evil Ben Kingsley has in store for them.
TROPIC THUNDER: Ben Stiller directs and stars in a comedy about actors playing soldiers who accidentally get caught up in a real war. The movie is already raising controversy for Robert Downey Jr.’s black-face performance.
TOWELHEAD: Word is that young Summer Bishil makes an outstanding debut as a 13-year-old Muslim girl who learns to get on with her life after being raped by her redneck neighbor (Aaron Eckhart). Toni Collette and Maria Bello co-star and Alan Ball (creator of ``Six Feet Under'' and writer of ``American Beauty'') directs.
STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS: An animated ``Star Wars'' spinoff, details of which are being kept deeply undercover at Skywalker Ranch.
CROSSING OVER: An impressive cast including Sean Penn, Harrison Ford, Ray Liotta and Ashley Judd lend star power, but the subject matter (illegal immigration) may be problematic considering America’s reluctance to see ``issue'' movies.
THE ACCIDENTAL HUSBAND: Uma Thurman plays a Dr. Phil-like talk show host who becomes a target for revenge after she persuades a bride to dump her fiancé. Colin Firth co-stars.
WILD CHILD: Emma Roberts plays a spoiled-rich teen from a dysfunctional L.A. family shipped off to a British boarding school to straighten out her act (hello, Britney) and suffer a bit of comeuppance from her European classmates.
THE HOUSE BUNNY: Anna Faris and ``Superbad’s'' Emma Stone team up for a comedy about a disgraced Playboy Playmate (Faris) who becomes a housemother to a wild bunch of sorority girls, including Stone.
FLY ME TO THE MOON: An animated tale about three flies, yes, FLIES, stowing away on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. This film definitely has buzz, but I’m afraid it’s not the kind the producers are hoping to hear.
VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA: Woody Allen keeps plugging away in his adopted home of Europe, where he’s still greatly loved and admired. But unless he comes up with another ``Match Point,'' his favor may wane even there. This one has promise, though, especially with Oscar-winner Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Allen’s latest muse, Scarlett Johansson, pumping life into a romantic comedy about a philandering painter (Bardem), his two young American lovers (Johansson and Rebecca Hall) and the royally ticked wife (Cruz) who threatens to make life hell for them all.
BABYLON AD: In what sounds like a dumbed-down version of ``Children of Men,'' Vin Diesel helps escort a woman with a secret through an apocalyptic landscape.
TRAITOR: Funnyman Steve Martin coined the story outline for this espionage thriller starring Don Cheadle as a CIA agent who goes undercover with suspected terrorists and encounters something he never saw coming: understanding.
Reach Al Alexander at firstname.lastname@example.org.