May 1, 2005
Discovering your inner moviegoing child is all but mandatory during the peak summer months. After all, summer is the hard-fought domain of "Finding Nemo," "Shrek 2" and other blockbusters designed to gobble up the lucrative preteen movie dollar.
However, this summer — for reasons as mysterious and impenetrable as the American tax code — Hollywood seems to be charting a more adult-oriented course. Production has steered away from diaper-dandy family features (Dreamworks’ "Madagascar" being one of the few exceptions) and toward edgier, darker offerings such as "Batman Begins" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."
Even George Lucas is blazing into PG-13 territory with his prequel-capping "Star Wars: Episode III — The Revenge of the Sith."
Which is great news for teens, horror fans and childless 33-year-old science fiction freaks. For parents of small, restless children, maybe not so good. But fret not — the sheer volume of summer movies is so vast, no child should be left behind.
BLOCKBUSTERS AND MATINEE FARE
Historical epics have taken a beating at the box office in recent years (one Irish-Macedonian conqueror stands out in particular), but none of them enjoyed the distinction of being directed by Ridley Scott ("Gladiator"). In "Kingdom of Heaven" (May 6), the filmmaker tells the story of a young Christian blacksmith (Orlando Bloom) who takes up arms to protect Jerusalem against Muslim liberators during the Crusades of the 12th century. Liam Neeson and rising French actress Eva Green ("The Dreamers") also star.
May continues with a smattering of matinee-type flicks, including "Unleashed" (May 13), starring Jet Li as a feral martial arts goon and Morgan Freeman as the kind piano teacher who redeems him, before Lucas unveils his eagerly awaited "Revenge of the Sith" on May 19. Allegedly the most dire and noirish of the three "Star Wars" prequels, the movie will chronicle Anakin Skywalker’s descent into evil and subsequent transformation into the galaxy’s most infamous trachea-squeezing warlord. Fans can also expect plenty of wookiee sightings. Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor star.
Rival studios have wisely afforded "Revenge of the Sith" a wide berth, but the blockbuster mill gets churning again in mid-June with "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" (June 10), the Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie romantic thriller about a pair of married assassins who get a much-needed spousal spark when they’re hired to kill each other. The always-worthwhile Doug Liman ("Go") directs.
The following week finds Welsh actor Christian Bale ("American Psycho") donning the cowl for "Batman Begins" (June 15), under the moody direction of Christopher Nolan ("Memento"). Michael Caine plays Alfred, and Gary Oldman steps in as Inspector Gordon.
The blockbuster pace picks up considerably in July, starting with purportedly the single most expensive movie ever made: Steven Spielberg’s $200 million adaptation of H.G. Wells’ "War of the Worlds" (June 29). Not coincidentally, it stars the world’s most expensive actor: Tom Cruise, playing a deadbeat dad who uses his minivan-driving skills to save his family from an invasion of three-legged killer machines. Child actress extraordinaire Dakota Fanning co-stars.
One week later, Michael Chiklis covers himself in granite-colored neoprene to play The Thing in Tim Story’s comic book actioner "Fantastic Four" (July 8). The artfully demented Tim Burton swiftly follows with his remake of
"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (July 15), starring 12-year-old Freddie Highmore in the title role and "Finding Neverland" co-star Johnny Depp as reclusive confection mogul Willy Wonka. Finishing off the month are a pair of futuristic goodies: Michael Bay’s "The Island" (July 22), a "Logan’s Run"-style dystopian thriller about fugitive clones (starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson); and "Stealth" (July 29), starring Jamie Foxx as one-third of an elite fighter wing that matches flying skills with a renegade robot aircraft determined to destroy a major American city.
August will witness a predictable downturn in bigbudget franchise movies. Piper Perabo and Morris Chestnut tangle with underground mutants in "The Cave" (Aug. 26).
Dreamworks, the studio behind "Shrek," once again pans for family-movie gold with "Madagascar" (May 27). Featuring the voice talents of Chris Rock, Ben Stiller, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith, it’s an animated talking-animal comedy about a motley assortment of Central Park Zoo animals who go AWOL and hop a ship to Africa.
Fresh on the bloody, sinewstrewn heels of "Sin City," director Robert Rodriguez ("Spy Kids") delivers "The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl in 3-D" (June 10), an allages fantasy about a lonely kid on summer vacation whose imaginary superhero friends come to life for a series of adventures. On the same date, Disney releases "Howl’s Moving Castle," the latest animé sensation from Japanese auteur Hayao Miyazaki.
Disney’s Love Bug goes wheel-to-wheel with NASCAR’s finest in "Herbie: Fully Loaded" (June 24), starring diva-in-waiting Lindsay Lohan. After that, the next bona fide family movie (we’ll discount "The Bad News Bears’’) is Disney’s computeranimated "Valiant" (Aug. 18), about a scrawny but determined bird who becomes a hero for Great Britain’s Royal Homing Pigeon Service in World War II. Ewan McGregor and Ben Kingsley provide voice talent.
Carefree summer audiences always enjoy a good chuckle — they don’t always get it, but they always enjoy it. The theoretical laughs begin with "Monster-in-Law" (May 13), the Jennifer Lopez-Jane Fonda comedy about a hard-luck single gal (Lopez) who meets the man of her dreams, only to see the relationship foiled by his territorial, ex-TV newsbabe mother (Fonda). Also opening on May 13, "Kicking & Screaming" stars Will Ferrell as an issue-prone man-child who tries to iron out his paternal issues by pitting a boys soccer team against one coached by his father (Robert Duvall).
Though blessedly short on sequels, the summer movie schedule features no end of remakes. Adam Sandler and Chris Rock play incarcerated football players in "The Longest Yard" (May 27) opposite Burt Reynolds, who starred in the 1974 original. Soon after, Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Epps and Gabrielle Union star in an urbanized adaptation of "The Honeymooners" (June 10). Not to be outdone in the TV Land department, Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell team up for a postmodern remakewithin-a-remake of "Bewitched" (June 24).
In the midst of a mostly humorless July, Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn star in "Wedding Crashers" (July 15), about a pair of womanizing divorce lawyers who sneak into weddings to score easy hookups, only to find themselves at odds when one of them falls for a toothy bridesmaid (Rachel McAdams). In yet another remake, Billy Bob Thornton plays a harddrinking, rough-mannered baseball coach who tries to turn a motley collection of kids into winners in "The Bad News Bears" (July 22), from director Richard Linklater ("School of Rock").
And that’s not the last comedic retread in the bunch. In "The Pink Panther" (Aug. 5), billed as a prequel to the original 1964 Peter Sellers comedy, Jacques Clouseau (Steve Martin) attempts to solve the murder of a famous soccer coach under the irritated gaze of Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline). For highbrow tastes, Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott play good ol’ boys Bo and Luke Duke in "The Dukes of Hazzard" (Aug. 5) while Rob Schneider takes his dwarf-pimp act across the pond in "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo" (Aug. 12).
ART HOUSE AND MISC.
Not all of the movies coming out this summer are so easy to categorize, and among these are some of the most promising. One-time art house darling Gregg Araki returns with "Mysterious Skin" (release TBA), featuring alien abduction and Elisabeth Shue. Audiences can also catch a glimpse of actor Daniel Craig, recently announced as the new James Bond, in the loopy British crime thriller "Pound Cake" (May 13).
One of the summer’s more prominent oddities is Ron Howard’s real-life boxing drama "Cinderella Man" (June 3) — odd not because of the A-list cast (Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger), but because it looks to be one of the season’s few "serious," Oscargroomed dramas. With Crowe playing heavyweight boxer/ folk hero James J. Braddock, it could be a feel-good drama on the highest order.
The juniors-themed "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" (June 1) — about four tight-knit girlfriends who stay connected through a pair of well-used jeans — is getting a positive buzz, as is "Murderball" (July 22), a documentary about quadriplegics who play full-contact rugby in specially designed wheelchairs.
Terrence Dashon Howard ("The Best Man") and rap star Ludacris — who share a memorably charged scene in the racial drama "Crash" (May 13) — also co-star in the Sundance-feted "Hustle & Flow" (July 15), a caper drama set in the hip-hop music industry from producer John Singleton. Terry Gilliam’s longawaited "The Brothers Grimm" — starring Heath Ledger and Matt Damon as 18th-century Bavarian con men who get a taste of their own black magic — finally hits theaters July 29.
The cinematic dog days of August could be brightened considerably by "3001" (Aug. 5), the latest comedy from "Office Space" director Mike Judge. Starring Luke Wilson as a U.S. Army soldier who volunteers for a top-secret program that whisks him 1,000 years into the future, where the dumbing-down of American culture renders him the smartest man on the planet, this looks to be a rare summer offering that resists easy description — a welcome quality, regardless of the season.