By our count, there are but two sequels waiting to have oil rubbed on their backs this summer -- one featuring an evil lord named Vader, the other featuring an evil lord named Schneider -- so the season has that going for it, which is nice.
But in lieu of sequels come comic-book superheroes (Batman, the Fantastic Four) and small-screen retreads (Bewitched, cursed with the worst trailer ever, and The Dukes of Hazzard, which not even General Lee's been waiting for) and big-screen redos (The Pink Panther, The Bad News Bears, The Honeymooners, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and War of the Worlds).
Of the 130-something movies scheduled to play this summer, few will warm the hearts of the most air-conditioned critic. Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers, with Bill Murray and Jessica Lange and Sharon Stone; Ron Howard's Cinderella Man, starring Russell Crowe as boxer Jim Braddock and Paul Giamatti as his trainer; and Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm, with Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, arrive without action figures and Happy Meals -- and bless their sunburned souls for trying to make art during a season of commerce. Perhaps it won't be such a long, hot summer after all. -- Robert Wilonsky
The following previews were written by Luke Y. Thompson, Robert Wilonsky and Bill Gallo.
Opening June 10
Starring: Cécile De France, Mawenn Le Besco and Philippe Nahon
Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Written by: Aja and Grégory Levasseur
What it's about: Two young women on vacation in the French countryside are terrorized by a psychotic killer who wears workman's overalls.
Why it will be fabulous: This no-holds-barred French slasher has already been a horror hit internationally.
Why it will be dreadful: The version being released here has been trimmed for an R rating and dubbed into English.
Starring: Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Epps, Gabrielle Union and Regina Hall
Directed by: John Schultz (Like Mike)
Written by: Danny Jacobson, Saladin Patterson, Barry W. Blaustein, David Sheffield and Don Rhymer
What it's about: Hollywood's latest raid on vintage TV: Cedric puts a new ethnic spin on Jackie Gleason's beloved loudmouth Ralph Kramden.
Why it will be fabulous: Cedric's ability to play blue-collar could send this one to the moon.
Why it will be dreadful: Nobody can channel the spirit of The Great One. Do you get the feeling you'll pine for the murky black-and-white images and canned laughs that once emanated from your old Philco?
Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Starring: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie
Directed by: Doug Limon (The Bourne Identity)
Written by: Simon Kinberg
What it's about: An unhappy married couple who earn their paychecks as assassins learn that they've been hired to kill each other.
Why it will be fabulous: The Pitt-Jolie twosome should be fun to watch under Limon's fast-action framing.
Why it will be dreadful: This promises to be a plot-heavy romp that could easily fire blanks.
Opening June 15
Starring: Christian Bale, Katie Holmes, Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: David Goyer (Blade)
What it's about: This relaunching of the moribund franchise tells how Bruce Wayne (Bale) became the Dark Knight after seeing his parents executed in a Gotham City alley. In this version, Bruce heads to the Himalayas to train (with Neeson, shades of The Phantom Menace) and returns to Gotham to find a bad city run by a good cop, Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), and overrun with creepy villains, chief among them The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy).
Why it will be fabulous: No Joel Schumacher, no Alicia Silverstone, no Batnipples. Did I mention no Joel Schumacher?
Why it will be dreadful: Because origin stories are boring, and because the idea of sitting through one more Liam Neeson "training session" is about as appealing as sliding down the Batpole naked.
Opening June 24
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine
Written and directed by: Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally . . . )
What it's about: A spin-off of the sitcom: A TV producer revives the classic show and inadvertently casts a real witch in the title role. Enter Kidman.
Why it will be fabulous: If the acidic journalist and fictioneer Ephron has put some punch into it, this could prove to be dark fun. The cast is certainly high-octane, and the plot-tinkering sounds interesting.
Why it will be dreadful: The reason the show was canceled is that the one-joke premise grew stale. It's no fresher today.
Herbie: Fully Loaded
Starring: Lindsay Lohan, Matt Dillon, Breckin Meyer and Michael Keaton
Directed by: Angela Robinson
Written by: Thomas Lennon & Ben Garrant and Alfred Gough & Miles Millar
What it's about: Maggie Peyton (Lohan) is the latest owner of the possessed Volkswagen Beetle, which first appeared in 1969's The Love Bug. With her old man (Keaton) cheering her on, and with the competition (Dillon) doing everything he can to sabotage the antique, Maggie enters Herbie in a NASCAR race against the likes of Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Gee, wonder who wins.
Why it will be fabulous: It's written by Lennon and Garrant, creators of Reno 911!, and Gough and Millar, responsible for Smallville and Spider-Man 2 story.
Why it will be dreadful: Written by Lennon and Garrant, who penned The Pacifier and Taxi, and Gough and Millar, responsible for Lethal Weapon 4 and Showtime.
George A. Romero's Land of the Dead
Starring: Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento and ZOMBIES!
Written and directed by: George Romero
What it's about: The creator of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead finally gets to make a new big-budget zombie movie, after the mediocre Dawn remake made a pretty penny. Continuing the Romero Dead saga, the film envisions a postapocalyptic world in which humans live in fortified cities while trying to ignore the fact that every place outside their walls is inhabited by flesh-hungry zombies.
Why it will be fabulous: It's a sequel that's been requested for 20 years -- almost as long as Revenge of the Sith. And Romero is not the kind of director who will go soft.
Why it will be dreadful: John Leguizamo? Why?
Opening June 29
War of the Worlds
Starring: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning and Tim Robbins
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: David Koepp and Josh Friedman, based on the novel by H.G. Wells
What it's about: A family fights for survival amid an invasion of "alien tripod fighting machines."
Why it will be fabulous: Expect lots of special-effects dazzle in the Close Encounters/Jurassic Park style, and more of Spielberg's characteristic empathy for the little guy.
Why it will be dreadful: Tom Cruise.
Opening July 1
Starring: Martin Lawrence, Horatio Sanz, Megan Mullally and Breckin Meyer
Directed by: Steve Carr (Daddy Day Care)
Written by: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
What it's about: A misbehaving college basketball coach (Lawrence) is fired and winds up having to coach a losing middle-school team.
Why it will be fabulous: It could do for Martin Lawrence what School of Rock did for Jack Black. That's clearly the intent, anyway.
Why it will be dreadful: Gee, um . . . Martin Lawrence?
Opening July 8
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Pete Postlethwaite and Ariel Gade
Directed by: Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries)
Written by: Rafael Yglesias (From Hell)
What it's about: American remake of Ringu director Hideo Nakata's other movie about a malevolent drowned girl ghost with hair in her face and the power to manipulate water.
Why it will be fabulous: The original is one of the scariest movies ever, and Salles is no slouch.
Why it will be dreadful: Nakata's original came out three years ago, and since then, audiences may have overdosed on that whole "long black hair covering the face" bit. Also, both of the Hollywood Ring movies and The Eye cribbed liberally from the original already.
Starring: Michael Chiklis, Jessica Alba and Julian McMahon
Directed by: Tim Story
Written by: Michael France, Simon Kinberg and Mark Frost
What it's about: Four astronauts -- Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) and sister Sue (Alba), Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and Ben Grimm (Chiklis) -- are bathed in gamma rays during an outer-space trip and are transformed, respectively, into the Human Torch, Invisible Woman, the stretchy Mr. Fantastic, and the hideous Thing. The superhero team, a 44-year-old Marvel Comics institution, battles its armor-clad nemesis Doctor Doom (McMahon); chaos ensues, duh.
Why it will be fabulous: Because Marvel has managed to do the superhero movie thing right with the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises.
Why it will be dreadful: Then again, The Punisher, Daredevil, Elektra and Hulk were super-awful, and the trailer looks fantastically horrid.
Directed by: Henry-Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro
What it's about: This documentary about quadriplegic rugby players, who manhandle and mangle their opponents from souped-up wheelchairs that look as though they were rescued from a postapocalyptic garbage dump, tells of Team USA's struggle to capture the title at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
Why it will be fabulous: It is fabulous, so much so that when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, the members of Team USA were treated like movie-star royalty at every party they attended. And they attended a lot of them. (These guys love to party.)
Why it will be dreadful: It won't be. Seriously. Don't worry.
Opening July 15
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Starring: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore and Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: John August
What it's about: Charlie Bucket (Highmore, Depp's Finding Neverland co-star) finds one of the golden tickets that allows him to tour the candy factory of demented sweets-maker Willy Wonka (Depp). Also on the treacherous tour are the usual suspects, including Charlie's Grandpa Joe, Veruca Salt, Augustus Gloop, and the Oompa-Loompas.
Why it will be fabulous: There's no music this time, and Burton promises to go deeper and darker than Mel Stuart did in his 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Why it will be dreadful: Because as much as you and I and everyone else loves Johnny Depp, he ain't no Gene Wilder. And because, alas, "Pure Imagination" is a swell song that will be missed.
Starring: Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams and Christopher Walken
Directed by: David Dobkin (Shanghai Knights)
Written by: Steve Faber and Bob Fisher
What it's about: Two wild and crazy guys keep crashing wedding parties in order to score with chicks, but when they hit up the wedding of a presidential candidate's (Walken) daughter, one falls in love while the other meets a psycho obsessive girl.
Why it will be fabulous: Any movie that envisions Christopher Walken as a presidential candidate must ipso facto be fabulous.
Why it will be dreadful: Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson aren't the most picky actors in the world when it comes to scripts.
Opening July 22
The Bad News Bears
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Sammi Kraft and Ridge Canipe
Directed by: Richard Linklater (Before Sunset, Dazed and Confused)
Written by: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, based on the screenplay by Bill Lancaster
What it's about: A broken-down, beer-guzzling Little League coach (Thornton) takes on a diamond full of hopeless-but-feisty kids who start to win and, with that, renew the old man's spirit.
Why it will be fabulous: Thornton has a way of giving an edge to icons. If he can make Santa hip, he can do the same for sandlot ball.
Why it will be dreadful: It's awfully hard to top 1976's original Bears as a baseball movie -- or as an endorsement of redemption. Sorry, unless the kids shoot steroids, this is bound to seem corny.
Opening July 29
The Brothers Grimm
Starring: Matt Damon and Heath Ledger
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Written by: Ehren Kruger
What it's about: A fictionalized fantasy about the German fairy-tale authors, here portrayed as con men who lift fake curses, only to encounter a genuine form of black magic that will force them to deal with things they've only written about.
Why it will be fabulous: After Gilliam's aborted Don Quixote effort, The Brothers Grimm sees him back in fantasy mode, which is what he does best.
Why it will be dreadful: Its release was postponed for a year, as Miramax's Harvey Weinstein tried recutting it. His version then scored lower with test audiences than Gilliam's did.
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Jessica Biel and Josh Lucas
Directed by: Rob Cohen
Written by: Cohen and W.D. Richter (Big Trouble in Little China)
What it's about: After a super-advanced stealth fighter is struck by lightning, the onboard computer takes on a life of its own and decides to initiate the next world war.
Why it will be fabulous: WarGames meets Short Circuit? How could it not be?
Why it will be dreadful: Okay, yeah, it's made by the director of xXx and The Skulls, so it might be pretty bad.
Opening August 5
The Dukes of Hazzard
Starring: Seann William Scott, Johnny Knoxville, Burt Reynolds and Jessica Simpson
Directed by: Jay Chandrasekhar (Club Dread)
Written by: Jonathan Davis, John O'Brien, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Erik Stolhanske and Paul Soter
What it's about: Based on the TV series, in which two lovable good ol' boys tooled around Hazzard County in their bright orange Dodge Charger, finding trouble at every turn.
Why it will be fabulous: Chandrasekhar reportedly keeps the proceedings as delightedly mindless as their boob-tube inspiration.
Why it will be dreadful: Burt as the Duke boys' nemesis Boss Hogg could be the high point of this low-concept fare.
The Pink Panther
Starring: Steve Martin, Kevin Kline, Beyoncé Knowles and Jean Reno
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Written by: Len Blum, Steve Martin, Michael Saltzman and Glen Bloomberg
What it's about: A new take on Peter Sellers' surpassingly incompetent French detective in which Jacques Clouseau (Martin) tackles a case combining a murdered soccer coach, a priceless diamond, and the usual selection of beautiful women.
Why it will be fabulous: It takes les grandes balles for Martin to assail the rich life and high art of Inspector Clouseau.
Why it will be dreadful: Can The Jerk out-bumble Peter the Great? The smart money says non.
Opening August 12
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Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo
Starring: Rob Schneider and Eddie Griffin
Directed by: Mike Bigelow (a newcomer hired purely for his surname, apparently)
Written by: Rob Schneider and David Garrett & Jason Ward (Corky Romano)
What it's about: Sequel to the comedy that introduced the phrase "man-whore" into the wider lexicon. This time, Schneider's hapless Deuce is tricked into prostituting himself in Amsterdam, as more-experienced hookers are being murdered.
Why it will be fabulous: The first one was surprisingly amusing . . .
Why it will be dreadful: Amusing films are a rarity in the Rob Schneider canon.
Starring: André 3000, Tyrese, Mark Wahlberg and Chiwetel Ejiofor
Directed by: John Singleton
Written by: David Elliot (The Watcher) and Paul Lovett
What it's about: Four adopted brothers team up to find out if their mother was murdered, and if so, to get revenge. Inspired by the John Wayne Western The Sons of Katie Elder, and updated to modern-day Detroit.
Why it will be fabulous: Ejiofor and Andr 3000 have shown a lot of promise as actors.
Why it will be dreadful: Aside from Boyz N the Hood, Singleton really isn't all that great.
Opening August 19
Starring: Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Ex-Xena and Buffy scribe Carl Ellsworth
What it's about: An airplane passenger with a fear of flying (McAdams) is blackmailed by her seatmate (Murphy) into becoming his accomplice in a murder plot. She has until the plane lands to try to stop him without endangering her fellow passengers or her father, who's held hostage by Murphy's allies.
Why it will be fabulous: Carl Ellsworth writes well about smart, butt-kicking chicks.
Why it will be dreadful: It already was dreadful back when it was called Turbulence and starred Lauren Holly.