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Looks like deja vu all over again 

Will 13 prove a lucky number for Hollywood? That’s the staggering amount of sequels being released this summer season, a hefty amount of in-demand titles that could make this the most lucrative hot-weather period ever.

That baker’s dozen includes Spider-Man 3, which unofficially kicked off the three-month relay race two weekends ago, as well as eagerly anticipated follow-ups featuring gnarly pirates, smelly ogres and boy wizards. And if that’s not enough recycling for you, the season also brings at least one remake (Rob Zombie tackling Halloween), one Broadway adaptation (John Travolta in drag for Hairspray), and one TV spin-off (D’oh!).

Over 50 films are slated for release between now and August 31. In preparation, we’re offering peeks at (in chronological order) the 10 most promising movies, the 10 least promising, and five that fall in the middle. In addition, there’s a checklist of 25 other titles that will be competing for your summer dollars.

All opinions were formed after poring over the press material, checking out the trailers, and noting whether or not the cast includes Larry the Cable Guy. 

 

10 Most Promising 

WAITRESS. I was a fan of Adrienne Shelly back when she was a noteworthy indie actress in the 1990s, so it was heartbreaking to hear that this wife and mother was murdered last year under deeply disturbing circumstances. So it’s a shame that she wasn’t around to enjoy the positive buzz that surrounded Waitress at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Shelly wrote, directed and appears in a supporting role in this comedy-drama about a pregnant waitress (Keri Russell) with a cruel husband (Jeremy Sisto), a sensitive doctor (Nathan Fillion) and a knack for making killer pies. All this, and Andy Griffith, too! (May 25)  

KNOCKED UP. The 40-Year-Old Virgin holds ground as the best stupid-smart/crude-sensitive comedy of the last few years, so yeah, I’m in line for the follow-up picture from writer-director Judd Apatow. Seth Rogen, the most slovenly of Steve Carell’s pals in Virgin, plays a slacker whose one-night stand with a rising TV journalist (Grey’s Anatomy’s Katherine Heigl) results in her pregnancy. Expect both vulgarity and poignancy -- I know I am. (June 1)  

MR. BROOKS. Is this jockeying to become the ultimate career revival flick? William Hurt, Kevin Costner and, to a lesser extent, Demi Moore each ruled a piece of Hollywood in the past but have long since seen their careers evaporate like water left in a boiling kettle too long. Mr. Brooks gathers them all up and thrusts them into a thriller about a businessman (Costner) whose alter ego (manifested as Hurt) orders him to kill, a nasty habit that catches the attention of a homicide detective (Moore). Hard to imagine a middle ground on this one: It will either be bloody good or bloody bad -- and either way suits me. (June 1)  

RATATOUILLE. If the trailer is any indication, the latest from the Pixar factory looks cute but nothing more. Then again, I initially thought the same when seeing the previews for Toy Story ... and The Incredibles ... and Cars ... and, well, it’s safe to say all three soared far beyond “cute.” In other words, let’s not bet against Pixar just yet, shall we? One positive: The director is Brad Bird, who gained notice for The Iron Giant and a Best Animated Feature Oscar for The Incredibles. One negative: It’s a questionable decision to give a children’s flick a moniker that requires an accompanying pronunciation (rat-a-too-ee) in the ads. (June 29).  

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX. I’ve already seen the one summer sequel that interested me (Spider-Man 3), but of the remaining glut, this one’s my pick. The first four pictures in the franchise give me no reason to assume that this one will slack off significantly: Doubtless, the kids (Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint) will remain appealing, the Brit vets (among them Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane and series newcomers Helena Bonham Carter and Imelda Staunton) will lend conviction, and the series will continue to darken and deepen. (July 13)  

THE SIMPSONS MOVIE. “I’ll teach you to laugh at something that’s funny!” Homer Simpson yells at son Bart as he attempts to strangle the lad. Homer better get used to the chortles, since it’s hard to imagine the faithful not responding to the first big-screen outing of the doughnut-loving dork and his brood. Theatrical spin-offs of television series are always a risky proposition -- why pay for something you’re basically used to watching for free? -- but a feature film Simpsons just seems natural -- if a tad late (the show’s been on FOX since 1989). (July 27)  

BECOMING JANE. I feel for Anne Hathaway, the fine young actress who watched all her costars grab the accolades for showier roles in both Brokeback Mountain and The Devil Wears Prada. So it’s encouraging to hear that the early notices claim that this Yankee’s just dandy as British author Jane Austen in a period romance loosely based on a romance in the young Jane’s own life. (August 10)  

A MIGHTY HEART. If done well, this has the opportunity to be another in a long line of exceptional and hard-hitting dramas set in dangerous foreign territories (Missing and Under Fire spring to mind). Certainly, having the no-nonsense Michael Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo) at the helm ensures that there won’t be much in the way of bottled melodrama in this true-life story about Mariane Pearl (Angelina Jolie), the widow of the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and brutally murdered by terrorists back in 2002. I even liked Jolie’s last international thriller, the critically maligned Beyond Borders, so I have high hopes for this one. (No local date set) 

 SICKO. Sicko doesn’t open until June, yet go to the International Movie Database’s message boards for this title and you’ll see approximately 50 discussions (containing hundreds of reader comments) either supporting or praising the film’s theme. Of course, we would expect no less, since Sicko comes from Michael Moore, the man who previously lambasted the evils of profit-hungry CEOs, gun-toting yahoos and an imbecilic president in, respectively, the career-making Roger & Me, the Oscar-winning Bowling for Columbine and the record-breaking Fahrenheit 9/11. Here, Moore tackles this nation’s pathetic health care system and examines the benefits of universal health care. It’s not as “sexy” a subject as his past targets, so box office will be more subdued, but at least those Americans who truly care about this country instead of just paying it lip service will line up. (No local date set)  

TALK TO ME. Too often used in support, Don Cheadle more than proved he could carry a major motion picture (and earn an Oscar nomination in the process) with Hotel Rwanda. Here, he’s center stage in another film based on fact: the story of Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene, a former convict who became a controversial radio DJ during the 1960s. Sample quip from the trailer: “My guest tonight is a pimp that I wouldn’t trust to wash my car, but ya’ll done elected him city official!” (No local date set) 

 

 10 Least Promising 

DELTA FARCE. Back in 1987, Disney sneaked the lowbrow, low-budget Ernest P. Worrell comedy Ernest Goes to Camp into theaters before the real summer blockbusters took hold and ended up with a minor sleeper hit (Premiere Magazine headlined their mention of this feat “While America Slept...”). Lionsgate is apparently trying a similar tactic with this good ole boy romp about three buddies (Larry the Cable Guy, Bill Engvall and DJ Qualls) who believe they’re in Iraq serving their country when they’re really only in Mexico. The trailer offers Larry’s insufferable “Git-r-done!” catchphrase and the sight of Qualls in a dress. I’m laughing already. (May 11)  

HOSTEL: PART II. Alas, I didn’t see Part I. And since I’m certain the plot is so, so terribly complicated and heavy with symbolism -- for example, does the systematic maiming and dismembering of innocent folks stand as some sort of metaphor concerning Dubya’s War On Terror, or is it simply an piercing analysis of people who prefer smooth over crunchy peanut butter? -- I’m just certain I’ll be lost within the first 10 minutes. (June 8)  

SURF’S UP. First March of the Penguins, then Madagascar, then Happy Feet, and now Surf’s Up. Unless it’s The Bloom County Movie starring Opus, enough with the flightless fowl already! And since you’ve heard the one about the misunderstood penguin who likes to tap dance, how about the one about the misunderstood penguin who likes to surf? (June 8)  

NANCY DREW. Hey, I totally understand the need to update in order to snare a history-challenged teen audience that probably believes George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Elvis Presley were all contemporaries. But there’s something about the trailer that’s tres tacky, most likely its blatant lunge to be a new Clueless (right down to the appropriation of “Kids In America” on the soundtrack). (June 15)  

DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE. Originally slated for a stateside release last winter (it’s been playing the rest of the globe since September 2006), this adaptation of the popular video game finally makes it to US theaters. Given the quality of most video game adaptations, something tells me this won’t have been worth the wait. (June 22)  

TRANSFORMERS. Geez, I didn’t even like the Transformers back in their 80s heyday - whether on TV, movie screens or toy store shelves - and knowing that Michael Bay (Pearl Harbor, Armageddon) is at the helm of this live action epic doesn’t exactly warm the cockles of my heart. (July 4)  

I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK & LARRY. Adam Sandler comedies are always full of “gay panic” jokes, and here the actor decides to place them front and center. I know I’m in the minority, but I don’t think that’s especially a good thing. I mean, 100 minutes of Sandler and Kevin James performing supposedly ho-ho-homosexual acts in order to collect their firefighters pension while at the same time trying to assert their manhood whenever possible? Still, it’s gotta be better than Big Daddy, which still managed to gross $163 million (expect comparable loot for this one). (July 20)  

UNDERDOG. Personally, I think people who humiliate their pets by dressing them up in sweaters or hats or whatever should be taken out and shot between the eyes, but I guess spandex tights and a cape aren’t quite as offensive. Still, a live action version of the animated series Underdog? I dunno, this has a slight whiff of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle surrounding it. Then again, at least Robert De Niro isn’t on hand whoring his talents in this one -- his “You talkin’ to me?” Taxi Driver mockery in R&B remains one of this new century’s most depressing movie moments. (August 3)  

DADDY DAY CAMP. Daddy Day Care made a nice bit of change ($104 million, to be exact), but it wasn’t exactly the sort of hit that begged for a sequel, especially not one in which star Eddie Murphy wouldn’t even be involved. So who’s headlining? Why, Murphy’s foil in Norbit, the can’t-a-fellow-get-a-break? Cuba Gooding, Jr. (August 10)  

RUSH HOUR 3. A fun time was had by all (well, by most, including me) with the original Rush Hour, but that sequel was simply painful. And now we get another one a full six years later? I mean, really, is the demand still there? (August 10) 

 

 5 Somewhere In Between 

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END. The trailer is full of sound and fury, but does it signify anything? It certainly signifies that, after the resounding twin flops Elizabethtown and Kingdom of Heaven, Hollywood is taking a wait-and-see approach to Orlando Bloom’s A-list clout: Of the eight movie stills on the Disney website, Bloom appears in none of them, and his trailer time is reduced to looking like a lost puppy dog. At least it’ll be fun watching Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush try to out-eyebrow-arch each other. (May 25)  

SHREK THE THIRD. I enjoyed the first two installments well enough, though I would have hoped that at some point, the DreamWorks animation team would have taken a hint from Pixar and old-school Disney and grasped that toon flicks age better over time when they’re not weighted down by flatulence gags and hit-today-forgotten-tomorrow pop songs. But what do I know? The second Shrek film stands as the third-highest grossing film ever (under Titanic and Star Wars), so this one should see similar bank. At least scene-stealing Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas) is back on board. (May 18)  

FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER. A Fantastic Four movie was decades in the coming, so Marvel fans were understandably perturbed by the piss-poor feature film that appeared on the scene two summers ago. So let’s hope they get it right this time: If nothing else, the trailer at least indicates that this time, more than $19.99 were spent on the visual effects. Too bad no amount of money could improve Jessica Alba’s atrocious line readings. Then again, is Meryl Streep available for voiceover work? Or even Hilary Duff? (June 15)  

HAIRSPRAY. I’m nervous about this one, though not as nervous as the suits at New Line. The Producers went from a hit movie to a Broadway smash musical to ... a motion picture flop. Hairspray hopes to avoid that last designation as it makes its journey from John Waters’ beloved movie to Broadway staple and back again to the silver screen. John Travolta plays the role previously (and more naturally) essayed by Divine (film) and Harvey Fierstein (stage), and costars include Christopher Walken, Michelle Pfeiffer and Queen Latifah. (July 20)  

THE INVASION. Nicole Kidman in a summer popcorn flick, a sci-fi yarn that costars Daniel “007” Craig and was directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall)? Sounds good. But wait. Nicole Kidman in a summer popcorn flick, period? It’s been a while since that career-boosting summer that saw her in The Others and Moulin Rouge; more recently, a Nicole Kidman summer flick has meant Bewitched and The Stepford Wives. I’m cautiously optimistic. (August 17)  

 

 

25 Also On Tap

Zach Braff and Amanda Peet in THE EX (May 11) Jane Fonda and Lindsey Lohan in the drama GEORGIA RULE (May 11) Zombies in the sequel 28 WEEKS LATER (May 11) Ashley Judd in the thriller BUG (May 18) Elisabeth Shue in soccer flick GRACIE (June 1) George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and the rest in OCEAN’S THIRTEEN (June 8) Steve Carell and Morgan Freeman in the sorta sequel to Bruce Almighty, EVAN ALMIGHTY (June 22) Bruce Willis playing cop John McClane for the fourth time in LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (June 27) Robin Williams and Mandy Moore in the comedy LICENSE TO WED (July 4) John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson in the chiller 1408 (July 13) Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart as cute cooks in NO RESERVATIONS (July 27) Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony in the salsa flick EL CANTANTE (August 1) Matt Damon returns for THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (August 3) SNL’s Andy Samberg in the comedy HOT ROD (August 3) A movie based on a doll line ... that would be BRATZ (August 10) Claire Danes and Robert De Niro in the fantasy world of Neil Gaiman’s STARDUST (August 10) Isla Fisher goes from Wedding Crashers to WEDDING DAZE (August 17) David Koechner in the football comedy THE COMEBACKS (August 24) Dane Cook and Jessica Alba in the romantic comedy GOOD LUCK CHUCK (August 24) Malcolm McDowell, Udo Kier and other eccentric actors in the new HALLOWEEN (August 31) Rowan Atkinson bumbling through MR. BEAN’S HOLIDAY (August 31) Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson in the Iraq War drama HOME OF THE BRAVE (No local date set) Singer Edith Piaf’s story is told in LA VIE EN ROSE (No local date set) Werner Herzog directing Christian Bale in the Vietnam saga RESCUE DAWN (No local date set) Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman in the suspense drama THE STRANGERS (No date set).

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