Dive into summer movies

School's out, and Hollywood plans plenty of sequels, thrillers, and comedies aimed mostly at teens.

"I had a talk with my 11-year-old son," said a movie critic I know as we left a preview of "Evolution" and discussed the summer lineup.

"I told him to grab the goodies while he can. The next three months belong to him!"

My colleague is mostly right. There should be joy in the preteen set as the likes of "Jurassic Park III" come hurtling their way.

But older kids may be even happier with these movies and others of their ilk. "Jurassic Park III" will give 11-year-olds a perky blend of thrills and laughs, but their teenage siblings will also get a jolt of nostalgia for the 1993 original that inspired this sequel - and so will their parents, who flocked to that cinematic thrill ride as eagerly as the younger set did.

The same won't be true of "Scary Movie 2," since the original came out just last year, and it's aimed at older teens anyway. Ditto for "Rush Hour 2" and "American Pie 2," which are also poised for release.

But it will take a real grown-up to get all the pleasures of Rollerball, since only folks who saw the 1975 original in wide-screen splendor will be of every kind, from curious critics to

enthusiastic 11-year-olds, ideally positioned to judge the improvements - or missteps - made by the remake's producers.

This goes double for "Planet of the Apes," which is promoting itself with promises of excitement for kids and memories of the good old days for adults - the good old days being 1968, before many of today's moviegoers were born.

And then there's the new "director's cut" of Apocalypse Now, the 1979 epic by Francis Ford Coppola, who has added 53 minutes of previously unseen material. Coming soon after "Pearl Harbor" and other recent Hollywood war movies, "Apocalypse Now Redux" is deja vu with a difference.

All of which means summer will be a backward-looking period for moviegoers. The warm-weather season traditionally brings an onslaught of remakes and follow-ups, but 2001 has so many that even Hollywood seems a bit embarrassed by it.

The number of sequels, for instance, has swelled to the point where studios and distributors are doing just about anything to make theirs stand out. Some are even going so far as to drop the traditional numeral from the title. And what's a sequel without a numeral - Roman or Arabic, depending on how much class the producers want to project - to let us know it is a sequel?

Industry insiders may argue that some of these pictures are "further explorations" or "thematic continuations" rather than "sequels" per se. But we know better, don't we? Baby Boy will revisit the same inner-city territory John Singleton probed in "Boyz N the Hood," and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is a follow-up to Kevin Smith comedies like "Clerks" and "Dogma," giving that series its final chapter. For now.

What's the reason for such a barrage of sequels, remakes, and rehashes? One factor is the recent threat of a major strike by Hollywood writers and actors.

The writers have settled their grievances, and the actors are expected to do so shortly. Still, the possibility of these job actions has made the industry nervous for the past several months. This led producers to hedge their bets even more than usual by relying on time-tested formulas.

There's another answer, too: old Hollywood habits. Why try a new idea when an old one will do? This also explains the increasing frequency of movies based on comic books and other pop-culture sources. For mass marketers, instant title recognition is as good as gold.

Looking at this summer's fare by categories, it makes sense to start with the few Hollywood pictures that appear truly interesting from more than one angle - as entertainments, conversation pieces, maybe even works of wide-screen art.

Ambitious Fantasies

A.I. Artificial Intelligence, directed by Steven Spielberg. (June 29) If any movie has built-in appeal for 11-year-olds, it's this eagerly awaited tale of an 11-year-old android who knows he's manufactured and wishes he were a real boy. The plot recalls "Pinocchio," and it's hard to imagine that Spielberg won't approach it with a strong Walt Disney touch.

What's most surprising about this project, however, is that it was nurtured for years by the late Stanley Kubrick, whose body of deeply visceral and highly intellectual work - think of "Dr. Strangelove" and "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "A Clockwork Orange," to mention only his science-fiction films - makes him one of the most un-Spielbergian artists imaginable.

Then again, Kubrick publicly suggested that Spielberg might be the ideal director for this picture, which Kubrick himself postponed partly because current technology couldn't achieve the special cinematic effects he wanted.

Will the combination of Spielberg and Kubrick turn out to be an auteurist joy ride or a self-annihilating collision? Moviegoers

can't wait to find out.

Planet of the Apes, directed by Tim Burton. (July 27) This midsummer release is being touted as a true original that takes its old premise in new directions. That may be Hollywood hype, but remember that the director is Tim Burton, an original if ever there was one. His movies range from offbeat romps ("Pee-wee's Big Adventure," "Beetlejuice") to media-savvy satires ("Ed Wood," "Mars Attacks") to surrealistic epics ("Batman," "Batman Returns"). They don't always click -but when they do, it's with a weirded-out panache few other filmmakers can surpass.

The original "Planet of the Apes" was made by Franklin Schaffner, who specialized in dependable storytelling rather than novelty and innovation. Its popularity arose not from the visionary freshness that made "2001" a hit (also in 1968), but from a sense of unabashed hokiness - all those famous actors with hairy faces and monkey suits! - coupled with a surprise ending that slyly echoed the socially subversive mood of the '60s.

Advance scuttlebutt says Burton's version will retain the title but jettison much else, including the time-warp finale and its warning that we Earthlings had better mend our ways. Mark Wahlberg will play the astronaut who wanders into a world of supersmart simians, and Hollywood icon Charlton Heston will trade his old starring role for a cameo. Tim Roth and Helena Bonham Carter round out the cast - but if Burton lets his best creative instincts run wild, he'll be the real star of the show.

Other noteworthy fantasies include Tomb Raider, with Angelina Jolie as video-game heroine Lara Croft and Iain Glen as a supervillain who's chasing that old favorite, domination of the universe (June 15); Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, an us-versus-them adventure with Alec Baldwin and Ving Rhames providing voices for computer-generated human characters (July 11); and Ghosts of Mars, a space opera by John Carpenter that promises red blood flowing on the red planet (Aug. 24).

Serious dramas

Captain Corelli's Mandolin, directed by John Madden (Aug. 17). Can the Oscar-friendly director of "Shakespeare in Love" score with a romantic drama about a Greek-Italian love triangle set during World War II on a Mediterranean island? With a triangle like this - Nicolas Cage, Penelope Cruz, Christian Bale - he may well pull it off.

The Score, directed by Frank Oz (July 13). Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro are indelibly associated with the "Godfather" mob, and here they play a variation on the theme: Brando is a senior criminal, De Niro is an aging protege who wants a different life, and Edward Norton is the swaggering kid with whom he's supposed to perpetrate his final crime. Astute acting fans will watch anything with Brando and almost anything with De Niro, so the box office should hum.

Other dramas include Baby Boy, about a troubled young man in the Los Angeles inner city (June 27); and Songcatcher, with the remarkable Janet McTeer as a musicologist involved with an Appalachian mountain man (June 15).

High-End Comedies

America's Sweethearts, directed by Joe Roth. (July 20). Tom Hanks lost weight for "Cast Away" and Renee Zellweger gained it for "Bridget Jones's Diary," but Julia Roberts may trump them both in her flashback scenes as the (formerly) plump assistant to a major movie star. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays the star, John Cusack plays the star's husband, and Billy Crystal plays the publicist who's trying to keep their shaky marriage in one piece until their new picture is launched. All are good comic performers, so hopes for this Crystal-written comedy are as high as the salaries of its cast.

The Princess Diaries, directed by Garry Marshall (Aug. 3). Can a northern California teen learn to behave like the English aristocrat she really is? And if so, will it be her genes that do the trick, or the royalty lessons she gets from her high-toned grandma? Julie Andrews as the grandma makes this comedy a must-see, or at least a must-check-out. Anne Hathaway plays the teen.

Other comedies include The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, with writer-director Woody Allen as a '40s sleuth and Helen Hunt as an office manager who's complicating his life (Aug. 10); and Legally Blonde, with the gifted Reese Witherspoon as what sounds like an extension of her "Election" character, a sorority girl who finds trouble while chasing an Ivy League boyfriend (July 13).

Low-End Comedies

American Pie 2, directed by J.B. Rogers (Aug. 10). This is the one you're having either fantasies or nightmares about, depending on your tolerance for very vulgar comedy. The original set new records for gross-out humor, but it remains to be seen whether the sequel rises (or sinks!) to the same level.

Osmosis Jones, directed by Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly (Aug. 10). Body parts have played comic roles in Farrelly farces like "Me, Myself & Irene," but in a new departure, anatomy is animated in this comedy about a zookeeper (Bill Murray) with a bad egg floating around his innards. Chris Rock and Laurence Fishburne give voice-only performances.

Other farces include Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (Aug. 10); and Scary Movie 2, with lots of Wayans brothers caught in a haunted mansion (July 4).

Look also for a rush of independent and international releases to fill screens when some (or all?) of these high-profile productions fall on their celluloid faces. It may not be a particularly mature summer, but it could be a lively one.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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