Summer is the season of high expectations and profound disappointments. That suntan looks more like sunburn, your beer stays ice cold 'til the moment it's opened, and fat guys are the only ones hanging by the pool in bikini briefs. So it goes with summer movies: Sequels to beloved faves have all the flavor of week-old popcorn, blockbusters make pennies on their many dollars, and somewhere there's Adam Sandler pouring sour lemonade when you were craving something more refreshing. Maybe there's more hope this year, if only because last summer was such a bummer; Monster-in-Law, Stealth, or The Dukes of Hazzard, anyone? Thought not.
There is certainly more promise to the 2006 lineup. Film freaks and fanboys find it hard not to get a little worked up over the returns of Superman, Crockett and Tubbs, Jack Sparrow, and Dante and Randal (well . . . ). A Prairie Home Companion, with its all-star cast and NPR roots, promises to be this year's Cinderella Man: a great movie nobody sees, because the crowds will be too busy huffing Freon with Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, and Vince Vaughn again. Much of what you'll find below feels like yesterday's movies reheated -- like someone went to Blockbuster and cut-and-pasted everything on the comedy shelf. But they'll all need a prayer to hold their own against The Da Vinci Code. Here's $20 right now that says only the pope won't see it. Though even he may get around to it, once he's checked out Snakes on a Plane. -- Robert Wilonsky
The following previews were written by Luke Y. Thompson, Jordan Harper, Melissa Levine and Robert Wilonsky.
Starring: The voices of Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, and Paul Newman
Written and directed by: John Lasseter (Toy Story, A Bug's Life)
What it's about: Wilson plays hotshot racer Lightning McQueen, who gets stuck in podunk Radiator Springs, where antics and puns ensue, and, shucks, he just might learn a little something about life.
Why you should see it: This is Pixar, people. Its mixture of eye-popping animation, anthropomorphic characters and celebrity voices hasn't yielded a single dud.
Why you should not: Something in the trailers suggests this might be the movie where the Pixar formula goes astray. After the talking toys, fish, monsters, and insects, cars just seem a little pedestrian.
A Prairie Home Companion (Picturehouse)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, and Garrison Keillor
Directed by: Robert Altman
Written by: Garrison Keillor
What it's about: Set behind the scenes of Keillor's beloved National Public Radio show, the movie chronicles a fictional finale in which the St. Paul station that airs the show has been sold to a Texas conglomerate.
Why you should see it: It is a great movie -- a two-hour good-time grin with some surprising moments of heartbreak.
Why you should not: Fact is, even if you don't love Keillor's show or Altman's movies, this sucker packs some profound magic. Perhaps that's not your thing, either?
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (Universal)
Starring: Lucas Black (Jarhead), Bow Wow, and Zachery Ty Bryan
Directed by: Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow)
Written by: Alfredo Botello, Chris Morgan (Cellular), and Kario Salem (The Score)
What it's about: Brightly colored cars in illegal street races . . . this time in Japan. The bad news is that efforts to bring back Vin Diesel fell through. The good news is Paul Walker's gone, too.
Why you should see it: Better Luck Tomorrow showed that Justin Lin had the chops to direct an edgy youth movie . . .
Why you should not: . . . but Annapolis proved he's capable of much worse.
The Lake House (WB)
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, and Shohreh Aghdashloo
Directed by: Alejandro Agresti (Valentin)
Written by: David Auburn (Proof)
What it's about: It's like Speed, but without a bus, bomb, or Dennis Hopper. And with a mailbox that transports love letters through time. A remake of the Korean film Il Mare, in which a man and woman write each other letters, only to discover that they're both living in the same house, but in different time periods two years apart.
Why you should see it: Could Keanu plus time travel equal an excellent adventure?
Why you should not: Every other love story Keanu has ever done. Also, Valentin was cloying, annoying crap.
Nacho Libre (Paramount)
Starring: Jack Black and Efren Ramirez
Directed by: Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite)
Written by: Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess, and Mike White
What it's about: Black (Nacho) plays a Mexican cook who stuffs his face into a wrestler's mask to save his financially strapped orphanage.
Why you should see it: Mike White wrote the best part Jack Black's ever been given, as Dewey Finn in School of Rock.
Why you should not: Because Napoleon Dynamite was a great four-minute movie that went on just a little too long.
Starring: Adam Sandler, Christopher Walken, and David Hasselhoff
Directed by: Frank Coraci (The Waterboy)
Written by: Jack Giarraputo, Tim Herlihy (almost every Sandler movie to date), Steve Koren and Mark O'Keefe (Bruce Almighty), and Adam Sandler
What it's about: Sandler obtains a magic universal remote control that can control the universe! Pausing, rewinding, and slow-motion-replaying the world around him is a lot of fun . . . until the remote gets stuck in fast-forward.
Why you should see it: Whatever you may think of Sandler, a movie that brings Walken and Hasselhoff together cannot be all bad.
Why you should not: Seems like a good premise, but so did The Benchwarmers at one point.
The Devil Wears Prada (Fox)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, and Adrien Grenier
Directed by: David Frankel (Entourage, Sex and the City)
Written by: Aline Brosh McKenna (Laws of Attraction) and Don Roos (The Opposite of Sex), based on the novel by Lauren Weisberger
What it's about: Big-screen adaptation of Weisberger's thinly disguised "fiction" book about working as assistant to Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour (Streep).
Why you should see it: Streep rarely chooses unredeemable projects.
Why you should not: Do we care how hard it is to work for a fashion magazine?
Superman Returns (Warner Bros.)
Starring: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, and Kevin Spacey
Directed by: Bryan Singer (X-Men, X-2)
Written by: Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris
What it's about: Set five years after Superman II, more or less, Superman returns from self-imposed exile to find Lois Lane with a kid and Lex Luthor out of prison, with yet another plan for world domination.
Why you should see it: Singer made the X-Men movies into something accessible to mainstream audiences without sacrificing its comic-book roots; he made superheroes human.
Why you should not: Look, it can't be any worse than Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
Little Man (Sony)
Starring: Marlon Wayans and Shawn Wayans
Directed by: Keenen Ivory Wayans (Scary Movie, Scary Movie 2)
Written by: The Wayans brothers
What it's about: A digitally remastered Shawn Wayans plays a weensy little criminal mistaken for a baby by a wanna-be dad (Marlon).
Why you should see it: Consider it your biennial dose of Wayans charm.
Why you should not: Perhaps you recall White Chicks?
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (Buena Vista)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, and Keira Knightley
Directed by: Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl)
Written by: Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (Shrek), based on the Disneyland ride
What it's about: Bill Nighy joins the fun as supernatural part-man/part-octopus villain Davey Jones, out to collect the soul of Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) just in time to ruin the marriage plans of Will (Bloom) and Elizabeth (Knightley).
Why you should see it: Depp's Jack Sparrow is one of the most entertaining characters in cinematic history.
Why you should not: Bloom's still a stiff. And Chow Yun-Fat is in part three, not this one.
Pulse (Weinstein Company)
Starring: Kristen Bell, Ian Somerhalder (Lost), and Christina Milian
Directed by: First-timer Jim Sonzero
Written by: Stephen Susco, with Wes Craven (Nightmare on Elm Street), Tim Day, Vince Gilligan, and Ray Wright, based on the film by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
What it's about: A remake of the J-horror flick Kairo: When the souls of dead kids start popping up on her server, Kristen Bell needs to seriously think about getting a firewall.
Why you should see it: Bell is fantastic as a teenage private eye on Veronica Mars, so she should be up for teen ghostbuster, too.
Why you should not: If Hollywood is good at anything, it's taking a subtle, moody piece of art (like Kairo) and turning it into one long, steaming, bespangled turd.
Lady in the Water (Warner Bros.)
Starring: Paul Giamatti (Sideways, Cinderella Man), Bryce Dallas Howard (Manderlay), and Freddy Rodriguez
Written and directed by: M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Village)
What it's about: A lonely apartment building superintendent (Giamatti) discovers a beautiful woman (Howard) in the building's swimming pool, who turns out to be a mermaid. And there are other supernatural creatures after her . . .
Why you should see it: Advance word says there's no gratuitous twist ending this time. Shyamalan's a good director when he doesn't paint himself into a corner; even The Village had its moments until that terrible "surprise" finish.
Why you should not: This film's been labeled a "bedtime story." What does that even mean?
Starring: Alison Lohman (Big Fish), Tim McGraw (Friday Night Lights), and Maria Bello (The Sisters)
Directed by: Michael Mayer (A Home at the End of the World)
Written by: Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner, based on the novel by Mary O'Hara
What it's about: A young girl tames wild horse in a heartbreaking attempt to win her father's love.
Why you should see it: Girls, horses, summer, love, magic.
Why you should not: If Mayer's treatment of Flicka is anything like his Home at the End of the World, we're in for a sap fest of personal triumph set to music.
I Could Never Be Your Woman (MGM)
Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Paul Rudd (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), and Tracey Ullmann (I Love You to Death)
Written and directed by: Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Clueless)
What it's about: Pfeiffer plays a lady growing long in the tooth (but still looking like Michelle Pfeiffer) who falls for a younger man (Rudd). Romantic Comedy blooms all around, and Ullmann as Mother Nature gets all up in everybody's business.
Why you should see it: When Heckerling is on, she makes movies like Clueless and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Plus, Rudd is due for a role that pushes him into the big leagues, where he belongs.
Why you should not: When she's not on, Heckerling makes movies like A Night at the Roxbury, Look Who's Talking Too, and European Vacation.
Miami Vice (Universal)
Starring: Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, and Gong Li
Written and directed by: Michael Mann (Ali, The Insider)
What it's about: Gee, lessee. Crockett and Tubbs. Drug dealers. Speed boats. Guns. Flashy suits. Bad accents. Expensive cars. Hot chicks. That about covers it.
Why you should see it: See above.
Why you should not: See above. And no Jan Hammer theme song. Rip. Off.
The Ant Bully (Warner Bros.)
Starring: The voices of Zach Tyler, Julia Roberts, Paul Giamatti, and Nicolas Cage
Written and directed by: John A. Davis (Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius), based on the novel by John Nickel
What it's about: When a little boy (Tyler) takes out his frustrations on the ant hills in his yard, the bugs fight back.
Why you should see it: If you ignore the creepy undertones (to ants, a stomping kid isn't a bully, he's Osama bin Laden), the story's got promise; Cage and Giamatti are A-list voice talent.
Why you should not: Boy, that creepy undertone seems hard to ignore. If all ants have souls and celebrity voices, that means this kid really is a mass murderer.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (Sony)
Starring: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, and Sacha Baron Cohen
Directed by: Adam McKay (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy)
Written by: Will Ferrell and Adam McKay
What it's about: NASCAR champeen Ricky Bobby (Ferrell) finds his title being usurped by a French rival played by Ali G., a'ight?
Why you should see it: Anchorman had some brilliant moments.
Why you should not: Anchorman had some brilliant moments only if you were really, really high.
World Trade Center (Paramount)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Michael Peña, and Maggie Gyllenhaal
Directed by: Oliver Stone (JFK, The Doors)
Written by: Andrea Berloff
What it's about: Cage and Peña play real-life Port Authority cops who made it out of the World Trade Center alive after the terror attack of September 11, 2001. Word is this isn't the work of a paranoid Ollie Stone, but a sober, down-to-the-details docudramatization of the events of the day, already seen this year in United 93.
Why you should see it: Cage is at his best when playing an everyman stuck in a horrific, real-life situation (his portrayal of an EMT in Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead remains among his career highlights, even if no one saw it).
Why you should not: Oliver Stone's a real hit-or-miss moviemaker; pray this is closer to Platoon and Salvador than Alexander or Any Given Sunday. Or Natural Born Killers. Or U-Turn. Or Nixon.
Snakes on a Plane (New Line)
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, some snakes, and a plane
Directed by: David R. Ellis (Final Destination 2)
Written by: John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez (Gothika)
What it's about: The title really says it all here. For full disclosure, it really should be Snakes on a Plane With a Bald-Headed Badass Black Guy Who Yells a Lot. Yes, the snakes deserve to die, and he hopes they burn in hell.
Why you should see it: Pay attention. Snakes. Plane. Samuel L. Jackson. What's not to love?
Why you should not: Sorry, there's just no good excuse not to.
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How to Eat Fried Worms (New Line)
Starring: Luke Benward (Because of Winn-Dixie) and Hallie Kate Eisenberg (The Goodbye Girl)
Written and directed by: Bob Dolman (The Banger Sisters), based on the novel by Thomas Rockwell
What it's about: Fifth-grade kid goes head-to-head with the school bully by accepting a dare to eat 10 worms in a single day.
Why you should see it: The classic children's book brings hope and courage to a new generation of victimized youth. Who don't read books.
Why you should not: How many classic-children's-book adaptations can you name?
Starring: André Benjamin (Four Brothers), Antwan Patton (ATL), and Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow)
Written and directed by: First-timer Brian Barber
What it's about: Benjamin and Patton (the real-life duo of OutKast) play a couple of, um, ahead-of-their-times musicians in a 1930s Southern juke joint. Elaborate musical numbers compete for airtime with gangster politics as big bad Howard comes to town to muscle in on the club.
Why you should see it: Musically, Benjamin and Patton are at the top of their game, the concept of injecting their tunes with the flavor of old-school jazz has major promise, and Benjamin has already shown he's got screen skills.
Why you should not: Neither period black gangster films (Harlem Nights) nor musical gangster films (Bugsy Malone) tend to stand the test of time.
Invincible (Buena Vista)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear, and Michael Rispoli
Directed by: Ericson Core (TV's Family Law)
Written by: Brad Gann (Black Irish)
What it's about: A down-on-his-luck Philadelphia Eagles fan (Wahlberg) decides to attend an open tryout for the team and gets to live out his dream of playing professional football. It's from the producers of The Rookie, is the same basic idea, and is similarly based on true events.
Why you should see it: The Rookie was formulaic, but it worked, and even appealed to people who couldn't care less about baseball.
Why you should not: Mark Wahlberg is no Dennis Quaid.