Projections 2002

Cinema's magic lantern lights up another year, sort of

It's a good thing you've found your way here, because not only will you be informed of much to anticipate in the cinematic year ahead, you'll be kept safe from those nincompoop mainstream critics who have already pre-mailed their annual comment cards to the studios, arbitrarily checking off words like "triumph," "masterpiece" and "yowza." Relax and return here often, as your discerning taste will be relatively well nurtured.

If you squint, you'll see this year looks almost exactly like last year, and the year before that. Time's funny that way. There will be good guys (Spider-Man, Jackie Chan) battling bad guys (Jason Voorhees, Adam Sandler). There will be lovers making a mess of things (as in Arliss Howard's Big Bad Love and Cameron Diaz discovering The Sweetest Thing). There will be sequel after blessed sequel. And there will be loads of movies held back until the human race is finally prepared for them, such as John McTiernan's remake of Rollerball, Andrew Davis' mercifully delayed Collateral Damage (featuring Hollywood's coolest unsung talent, Cliff Curtis) and the summer-camp fracas Happy Campers, which marks the directorial debut of utterly brill Heathers scribe Daniel Waters. Just hold on.

In the interest of cutting right to the most vital of matters, we should address the topic of Scooby-Doo, which opens in June. Recently, this intrepid critic decided to go tactical and crash a marketing presentation for the movie, aimed at fostering corporate tie-ins. (Studio executives and PR reps love this sort of behavior. Ask one!) Anyway, the scoop is that the effects house called Rhythm & Hues has done a bang-up job on that zany Great Dane, and believe you me we witnessed several tests of the mutt shaking his moneymaker. Topping this marvel, however, Matthew Lillard (who plays the stoner Shaggy) wheezed, "Scooby and I actually get into a farting contest! Your kids are gonna love this!" Even more peculiar is the fact that Freddie Prinze Jr. plays the very Scandinavian-looking Fred -- a casting stunt akin to Dolph Lundgren portraying Sancho Panza. Whatever. If you're up for screenwriter James Gunn's (The Specials) cheeky amalgamation of Charlie's Angels and KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, AOL Time Warner will humbly accept your donations. Zoinks.

Time and again: In a year that promises to play out on the screen like a nasty episode of déjà vu, DreamWorks' The Time Machine will seem all too fitting.
Andrew Cooper
Time and again: In a year that promises to play out on the screen like a nasty episode of déjà vu, DreamWorks' The Time Machine will seem all too fitting.

Before summer strikes, however, bestowing upon us its Men in Black and Stuart Little sequels (both of which promise to distract you while their makers vacation in Fiji), we have a few months of film to sift through. Early on, we'll witness veteran funnymen Chevy Chase and Harold Ramis passing their sputtering torches to Jack Black and Tom Hanks' son Colin in Orange County, directed by Lawrence Kasdan's son Jake. (Nepotism? In the movies? Preposterous!) We'll also behold Jodie Foster -- who passed on the chance to redeem Hannibal -- evading meanies in a high-tech apartment in Panic Room, directed by David "Darkness Is Scary" Fincher. There's also something approaching involving Cuba Gooding Jr. and some huskies, but after Rat Race, you should sort that one out on your own.

Also filling up early 2002 will be a grab bag of potential delights, including the ever-so-slightly famous Nicole Kidman starring as a feisty Russian mail-order bride opposite Ben Chaplin's repressed nerd in Jez Butterworth's Birthday Girl. (Considering Miramax's consistently impressive output last year, from Blow Dry to In the Bedroom, the Weinstein label is worth watching.) Disney will also return us to Neverland, sans Michael and Bubbles, in its animated Peter Pan sequel, one of several offerings from the studio, including Lilo & Stitch (about a little Hawaiian girl who accidentally adopts a dangerous interstellar criminal) and The Country Bears, which apparently involves an all-star cast (including Christopher Walken) scuffling with America's favorite animatronic redneck caricatures. There's also a highly anticipated new version of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine soon to arrive, directed -- mostly, as word has it he collapsed a few times -- by Wells' great-grandson, Simon.

Speaking of Amblin and DreamWorks products, if you're curious about why some rather cheap-looking E.T. toys have appeared on the shelves of your local retailer, you can thank Steven Spielberg, who has sleekified his 20-year-old cash cow for a new generation, reportedly digitally enhancing the silly puppet and transforming the CIA's guns into extremely threatening walkie-talkies. I know it's supposed to be heartwarming and wonderful, but for two decades, I have maintained: Cosmic botanist or otherwise, if that creepy little rubberhead invaded my home, I'd bust out the tennis racket first and ask questions later.

And speaking of busting heads -- droid heads, Jedi heads, hopefully Jar Jar's head -- the other King of All Media, George Lucas, will unveil his new Star Wars movie in the spring. Of course, after The Phantom Menace, it's all too easy to fire at the exhaust port of the Force-ful one. Heck, given character names like Elian Sleazebaggano (no joke) and Christopher Lee's Count Dooku (alas, still no joke) plus the title itself -- Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones -- one might question the teetering sanity of the great Empire builder. But have you noticed that Phantom Menace got a lot better on video, nudging the imagination and dazzling the eyes with high-tech wizardry? Perhaps millions of voices crying out in cynicism will be suddenly silenced. Fingers are loosely crossed.

There will be no shortage of epic entertainments in 2002, no doubt ranging wildly in quality and hosting massive opening weekends. Two will emerge from ersatz Egyptian mythology, as the late Aaliyah stars in Michael Rymer's The Queen of the Damned, based on Anne Rice's third vampire novel and featuring Stuart Townsend (About Adam) as the rockin' vampire Lestat. And then the . . . um . . . People's Eyebrow known as The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) portrays The Scorpion King, based on Stephen Sommers' Mummy franchise, but handed off to first-time helmer Chuck Russell. Also, if you enjoy déjà vu, later in the year we'll get the next installments to Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids, Chris Columbus' Harry Potter and Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings, so you'd better mark your calendars now, because no one else will remind you.

And will the year yield unexpected pleasures? We can hope. There are looming doubts around Mark Pellington's UFO package The Mothman Prophecies, starring Richard Gere, and it's hard to know what to make of Danny (Trainspotting) Boyle's post-The Beach effort, 28 Days Later, which has nothing to do with Sandra Bullock but, rather, a deadly virus (then again . . .). Guy Jenkin's The Sleeping Dictionary looks exquisite, and spirits may be raised by the return of Pedro Almodóvar (Talk to Her), Martin Scorsese (Gangs of New York), and Hoosiersand Rudydirector David Anspaugh (Wisegirls). We'll see.

What would be best, however -- and this is a plea to the powers that be -- is if we could simply get wide distribution for cool and unusual films that slip through the cracks. In 2002, I'd like to see the marquee sporting titles like Mike Binder's The Search for John Gissing or Alan Rudolph's weird and fascinating Investigating Sex. You there, behind the desks: Bring out the sublime stuff and surprise us. We'll be watching.

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