Film Previews

By Luke Y. Thompson and Gregory Weinkauf

JUNE

Around the World in 80 Days

STARRING: Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, Cécile De France, Jim Broadbent

DIRECTOR: Frank Coraci

WRITERS: David Goldstein, David Benullo, Michael Weiss . . . and Jules Verne

PREMISE: Chan and Coogan take to the skies in the umpteenth remake of this classic novel.

OUTLOOK: Looks like good, old-fashioned fun -- if any market for such a risk still exists. Coogan (star of British TV hit I'm Alan Partridge) and Chan are both geniuses of their craft, and the stunt casting -- including the Gropenator as a polygamist in a fugged-up wig -- seems amusing. In the case of director Coraci (The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy), this appears to be evidence that if you survive Adam Sandler, you are allowed to make a cool movie.

(Disney, June 16)

The Chronicles of Riddick

STARRING: Vin Diesel, Colm Feore, Alexa Davelos, Judi Dench

WRITER/DIRECTOR: David Twohy

PREMISE: That bald brute from the supercool Pitch Black returns, perchance to save the universe.

OUTLOOK: Looks like a very heavy-handed allegory for the European Crusades, writ science-fictiony in the 26th century. Dench may be seeing Alec Guinness potential as the mystical guide of the nice-guy Elementals, whom Richard Dick B. Riddick (Diesel) assists in battling the probably-not-nice Necromongers, led by Feore. Pitch Black was an Alien knockoff done right, but this may be the beginning of an action trilogy done silly.

(Universal, June 11)

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

STARRING: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Christine Taylor, Rip Torn

WRITER/DIRECTOR: Rawson Marshall Thurber (the short film/commercial Terry Tate, Office Linebacker)

PREMISE: Another month, another Stiller-in-a-wig movie. Does the man never sleep? Anyhow, the film's title says it all, except that the movie isn't really based on a true story.

OUTLOOK: Didn't that one episode of South Park already exhaust every possible gag to be wrung from the notion of a dodgeball world championship? Here's a bold prediction: Dollars to doughnuts there'll be more than one scene of a man getting hit in the crotch.

(Fox, June 18)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

STARRING: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman

DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuarn

WRITER: Steven Kloves, based on the J.K. Rowling book

PREMISE: Boy wizard and friends must confront a scary spell-caster.

OUTLOOK: Probably another strong installment in a quality series. Michael Gambon's a good choice to replace woefully departed Richard Harris as Dumbledore. Whether the charm of director Chris Columbus can be replaced by the rough edges of Cuarn (the teen sex exposé Y Tu Mamá También) remains to be seen, but the odds are now greater that Harry and Ron will masturbate together on diving boards at the Hogwarts pool.

(Warner Bros., June 4)

Spider-Man 2

STARRING: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, James Franco

DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi

WRITERS: Michael Chabon, several others

PREMISE: Sony spends and recoups another shitload of money.

OUTLOOK: Seems like a winner, reuniting the forces that capably succeeded the first time out -- although it would have been cool if Dunst replaced onscreen sweetheart Maguire with the more intriguing Jake Gyllenhaal, as in real life. Molina takes over villain's duties as tentacle-thrashing Doctor Octopus. More of the cheeseball humor of Raimi (the Evil Dead movies) would be welcome, but perhaps screenwriter Chabon (Pulitzer Prize winner for his novel Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) will add some weird literary pedigree to this pricey pulp.

(Sony, June 30)

The Stepford Wives

STARRING: Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick, Christopher Walken

DIRECTOR: Frank Oz (Miss Piggy)

WRITERS: Paul Rudnick (In & Out), Ira Levin (original novel)

PREMISE: Dark-comedic remake of paranoid-sexist 1970s sci-fi movie about suburban horror and systematic wife-replacement.

OUTLOOK: The producers pulled a bait-and-switch on Kidman, luring her with promises of fanciful co-star John Cusack, then ironically replacing him with middle-aged Ferris Bueller. Entire production sounds similarly confused, and after The Score it's impossible to trust Yoda-Piggy in the director's chair anymore. Theme is ridiculously threadbare, too: Ask your female boss to phone you from her Escalade to tell you how the movie's oppression relates to her.

(Paramount-DreamWorks, June 11)

The Terminal

STARRING: Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Chi McBride

DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg

WRITERS: Sacha Gervasi (The Big Tease), Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can)

PREMISE: Realizing that they don't yet have all the money in the world, Hanks and Spielberg decide to team up and make another movie together. Spielberg has an entire airport terminal built on a sound stage, and Hanks does a funny accent. Or something like that.

OUTLOOK: It's Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. What part of that don't you get? It's probably critic-proof, but frankly the concept -- of a guy living in an airport because he can't go back to his fictional foreign country or enter the U.S. -- sounds kinda painful, as does Hanks' Boris Badenov voice.

(DreamWorks, June 18)

JULY

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

STARRING: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Steve Carell, Raul Rudd

DIRECTOR: Adam McKay

WRITERS: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay

PREMISE: Will Ferrell mugs a lot as a sexist San Diego newscaster in 1973.

OUTLOOK: The trailer suggests easy summer retro laughs with no surprises whatsoever.

(DreamWorks, July 9)

Before Sunset

STARRING: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

DIRECTOR: Richard Linklater

WRITERS: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke

PREMISE: The romantic Yank and Frog from the 1995 film Before Sunrise reunite nine years later.

OUTLOOK: From Slacker to School of Rock, Linklater throws his heart into his work. This quickie sequel (shot in 15 days) may deliver the same offhand charm and believable characters as its predecessor. This time Hawke pretends that he's an author -- an obvious case of art reflecting life.

(Warner Independent Pictures, July 2)

The Bourne Supremacy

STARRING: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Joan Allen, Brian Cox

DIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass

WRITERS: Tony Gilroy, Brian Helgeland, novelist Robert Ludlum

PREMISE: This time Jason Bourne (or whatever his name is) must clear his name following brutal assassinations.

OUTLOOK: The first one proved a pleasant surprise, and this sequel promises lots of dark intrigue all over Germany, Russia and India. In particular, the work of Greengrass holds appeal, as his documentary-style Northern Ireland riot reenactment Bloody Sunday was truly stunning. Production here was apparently rushed, but whatever its flaws, at least it don't feature no Affleck.

(Universal, July 23)

Catwoman

STARRING: Halle Berry, Sharon Stone, Benjamin Bratt, and that French dude from the Matrix sequels

DIRECTOR: Pitof (One word, like Madonna. He's a former effects guy for Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro.)

WRITERS: John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris (Terminator 3)

PREMISE: Jettisoning the Batman connection altogether, Halle Berry dons a Mouseketeer-meets-Matrix stripper outfit as Patience Philips, a graphic designer who gains some kind of super cat-powers.

OUTLOOK: Had this film come out in 1993, starred Michelle Pfeiffer, and been directed by Tim Burton, we'd be talking mega-hit. As is, Berry's costume looks stupid (can't wait for the inevitable drag-queen version, though), the trailer's lame (she likes sushi!), and Mattel recently canceled plans for a Barbie tie-in. Expect Gigli comparisons before the year is out, as well as endless puns like Cat-astrophe. Sadly, this will probably cancel out any chance of the real Catwoman character appearing in the new Christian Bale Batman franchise.

(Warner Bros., July 23)

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle

STARRING: John Cho, Kal Penn

DIRECTOR: Danny Leiner (Dude, Where's My Car?)

WRITERS: John Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg

PREMISE: Stoner Indian student and stoner Korean student quest for burgers.

OUTLOOK: Sometimes the title says enough.

(New Line, July 30)

She Hate Me

STARRING: Anthony Mackie, Monica Bellucci, John Turturro, Chiwetel Ejiofor

WRITER/DIRECTOR: Spike Lee

PREMISE: A corporate whistle-blower (8 Mile's Mackie) loses his job on Wall Street and winds up selling his sperm to rich childless lesbians who pay big bucks to get impregnated the old-fashioned way. Yes, it's a comedy.

OUTLOOK: Lee is often on shaky ground when it comes to comedies, and it'll be ironic if vocal minority groups (lesbians, in this case) start protesting him.

(Sony Classics, July 30)

The Village

STARRING: Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver

WRITER/DIRECTOR: M. Night Shyamalan

PREMISE: A 19th-century Pennsylvania village, hermetically sealed from the rest of civilization, is disturbed by an outside menace.

OUTLOOK: Shyamalan's a ding-dong. While The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable smartly mixed dank moodiness with semi-unpredictable twist endings, the flailing Signs dumbed things down into eye-rolling territory. This project appears to follow suit, with nice production values and cast but a lame, sub-sub-Twilight Zone twist even Webheads have long since sussed. If you can't figure it out from the red paint marks on the villagers' doors, you are exactly the designated audience for this movie. Catch it in an Amish town for extra fun.

(Buena Vista, July 30)

AUGUST

Alien vs. Predator

STARRING: Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova, and some big, ugly meanies from outer space

DIRECTOR: Paul W.S. Anderson

WRITERS: Paul W.S. Anderson, Shane Salerno, Peter Briggs

PREMISE: Titular franchise thingies battle each other in Antarctica while humans stupidly interfere.

OUTLOOK: After two pointless place-holder sequels, at least the Aliens finally get to do something on Earth. Their interactions with the Predator species are sure to fuel many a comic-geek debate, but whoever wins, the human actors are brave to participate. Note: Director Anderson did Resident Evil (and its star, Milla Jovovich) and is not that Magnolia guy.

(Fox, August 13)

Cellular

STARRING: Chris Evans, Kim Basinger, Jason Statham, Jessica Biel

DIRECTOR: David Ellis (Final Destination 2)

WRITERS: Larry Cohen (Phone Booth), J. Mackeye Gruber and Eric Bress (The Butterfly Effect), Chris Morgan

PREMISE: A young man (Evans) gets a random cell-phone call from a woman (Basinger) who has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom. Her phone battery is dying, and he's her only hope.

OUTLOOK: Looks like the cell-phone propaganda lobby is at it again! Just as all manner of businesses start to ban loud cell-phone conversations, those Hollywood liberals conspire to indoctrinate us with positive images of the inexpensive communication devices saving lives, damn them! Of course, any movie that cell-phone users can relate to is likely to make heaps of cash.

(New Line, August 20)

Code 46

STARRING: Tim Robbins, Samantha Morton

DIRECTOR: Michael Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo, In This World)

WRITER: Frank Cottrell Boyce (24 Hour Party People)

PREMISE: A love story set in a near-future where travel is restricted to residents of cities, and even then only those who purchase a special type of insurance. Outside the cities, the world has become a desert filled with shanty towns and illegal immigrants.

OUTLOOK: Combining cautionary global politics with character-based drama is a Winterbottom trademark, but the sci-fi hook may garner him a new audience. And if that's not enough, the film's R rating descriptive also promises brief graphic nudity.

(MGM, August 6)

Collateral

STARRING: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo

DIRECTOR: Michael Mann

WRITERS: Michael Mann, Frank Darabont, Stuart Beattie (contributor to Pirates of the Caribbean)

PREMISE: Foxx plays an L.A. cabbie forced into service by killer Cruise.

OUTLOOK: Frankly, this sounds less like a movie than a template for a screenwriting workshop. Mann's affection for L.A.'s mean streets (Heat, TV's Robbery Homicide Division) may score him another hit, but -- baddie or otherwise -- isn't the entire world completely sick of Tom Cruise by now?

(DreamWorks-Paramount, August 6)

Exorcist: The Beginning

STARRING: Stellan Skarsgård, James D'Arcy, Isabella Scorupco

DIRECTOR: John Frankenheimer . . . no, wait, Paul Schrader . . . oops, make that Renny Harlin

WRITERS: William Wisher (The 13th Warrior), Caleb Carr (The Warlord: Battle for the Galaxy), Alexi Hawley

PREMISE: Skarsgård plays the younger version of Max von Sydow's Father Merrin character, tangling with the devil in mid-20th-century Africa.

OUTLOOK: Frankenheimer died before filming had started. Then Schrader directed the film as a psychological thriller. Once the studio saw his cut, it decided it wanted more of a head-turning and green-puking kind of horror flick, so it recast most of the major roles and hired Harlin (Schrader's version will still apparently come out on DVD). This level of creative differences usually doesn't bode well for a film's quality, not to mention the fact that no Exorcist sequel to date has exactly been an aesthetic or commercial triumph.

(Warner Bros., August 20)

Open Water

STARRING: Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis

WRITER/DIRECTOR: Chris Kentis (1997's Grind, not to be confused with the recent skateboarding flick of the same name)

PREMISE: A vacationing couple goes on a scuba-diving trip and is accidentally left out to sea, surrounded by sharks. Based on a true story.

OUTLOOK: The filmmakers used real sharks. Real. No one's gonna be bitching about how fake they look, like they did with all the Jaws movies. Audiences jaded by mega-budget computer-generated stuff who want a good water-based scare are gonna eat it up like Jaws at a beach party.

(Lions Gate, August 6)

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