Excess Hollywood

In the season of sequels and Happy Meal toys, '05 may be a pleasant surprise.

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 & 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.

Cinderella Man
With: Russell Crowe, Paul Giamatti and Renťe Zellweger

Directed by: Ron Howard

Written by: Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman

What it's about: Ditched by his ugly sisters, Cinderella Man (Crowe) begs his fairy godmother to make him beautiful so he can go to the ball. Ah, if only. Instead, it's a Depression-era boxing movie, in which Crowe gets paid to punch people in the face.

Why it will be fabulous: Paul Giamatti might get to win that Oscar next year for his strong supporting turn.

Why it will be dreadful: Five words: "A film by Ron Howard."

Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo
With: Rob Schneider and Eddie Griffin

Directed by: Mike Bigelow (a newcomer hired purely for his surname, apparently)

Written by: Rob Schneider, David Garrett and 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.

The Dukes of Hazzard
With: 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.

Fantastic Four
With: 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.

Herbie: Fully Loaded
With: Lindsay Lohan, Matt Dillon, Breckin Meyer and Michael Keaton

Directed by: Angela Robinson

Written by: Thomas Lennon, Ben Garrant, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar

What it's about: Maggie Peyton (Lohan) is the latest owner of the possessed Volkswagen Beetle, which first appeared in 1968'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.

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.

The Longest Yard
With: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and James Cromwell

Directed by: Peter Segal (50 First Dates)

Written by: Sheldon Turner and Tim Herlihy

What it's about: Remake of the 1974 prison-football classic.

Why it will be fabulous: Segal also has Rock and for-real ex-Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin on the roster for the inmate team, and first-version star Burt Reynolds drops in as player-coach Nate Scarbrough, the role originally played by Hill Street Blues' Michael Conrad.

Why it will be dreadful: Goofy, soft Sandler as a hard-nosed former NFL quarterback? This movie's in big trouble if we wind up rooting for the guards.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith
With: 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.

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