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 Longest Yard, The Honeymooners, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and War of the Worlds), which doesn't even take into account Jiminy Glick in Lalawood, which is barely a movie anyway.
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 Bad News Bears
With: 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 original by Bill Lancaster
What it's about: A broken-down, beer-guzzling Little League coach (Thornton) takes on a diamondful 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.
With: 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.
With: 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 this was canceled is that the one-joke premise grew stale. It's no fresher today.
With: Bill Murray, Sharon Stone, Tilda Swinton, Jessica Lange and Julie Delpy
Written and directed by: Jim Jarmusch
What it's about: Murray plays Don Johnston (heh), an aging, sweatsuit-sporting lothario who's dumped by his young girlfriend (Delpy) just as he receives news of a 20-year-old son he never knew. (Shades of The Life Aquatic, but still...) Jeffrey Wright (Basquiat) is the pal who convinces Murray to take a trip down Amnesia Lane to see his old lovers, including Stone and Swinton and Lange and other all-stars, and find out if any of them might be the mother.
Why it will be fabulous: Did you not just read the synopsis?
Why it will be dreadful: Seriously, read it again.
The Brothers Grimm
With: 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.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
With: 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 & 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.
With: Russell Crowe, Paul Giamatti and Rene 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.
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.
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.
Why it will be dreadful: Thispromises to be a plot-heavy romp that could easily fire blanks.
The Pink Panther
With: Steve Martin, Kevin Kline, Beyonce 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 outbumble Peter the Great? The smart money says non.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
With: Amber Tamblyn, Blake Lively, Alexis Bledel and America Ferrera
Directed by: Ken Kwapis (Dunston Checks In)
Written by: Delia Ephron and Elizabeth Chandler
What it's about: Based on a popular novel by Ann Brashares, this teen-girl flick is the story of four friends whose lives go in separate directions. To keep in touch, they pass around a pair of pants that happens to be a perfect fit for all four of them.
Why it will be fabulous: It has the coolest title of the year by far.
Why it will be dreadful: One pair of pants that fits four different adolescent girls equally well?
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
With: Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Ian McDiarmid, Natalie Portman and Chewbacca
Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: Lucas, though word is that Tom Stoppard did some ghost writing too.
What it's about: Anakin Skywalker (Christensen) finally turns into Darth Vader and kills a lot of people. Chewbacca shows up. Yoda fights a lightsaber duel with the Emperor (who's also known as Darth Sidious, just for confusion's sake). New baddie General Grievous fights with four lightsabers at once, thereby owning Darth Maul's dead, cut-in-half ass.
Why it will be fabulous: Darth Vader and Chewbacca, people! Plus Jar Jar apparently only shows up in the background and doesn't speak.
Why it will be dreadful: If there's any way to screw up a good story, George Lucas can find it. Also, Jar Jar doesn't die.
War of the Worlds
With: 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.
With: Sammo Hung and Zhang Ziyi
Directed by: Tsui Hark
Written by: Choi Lee Man and Tsui Hark
What it's about: Yet another highly acclaimed Hong Kong action epic that Miramax has been holding onto for years. It's the sequel to 1983's Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain, but don't sweat it if you never saw that one -- the plot's a minor detail. Something about a mystical realm and forces of good and evil, with lots of fights choreographed by the master, Yuen Wo Ping.
Why it will be fabulous: It's been out internationally for four years, and HK fanatics have been yelling its praises ever since.
Why it will be dreadful: Miramax (or whoever's left in its place these days) still has time to screw things up with bad editing and a lousy dub.
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