Summer Comes Early

April 26, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

Though the weather may still be warming, summer always comes early to movie theaters. This weekend in fact, with the opening of a couple of high-profile pictures: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (about which I am guardedly optimistic) and XXX: State of the Unions (about which I am not). Hitchhiker's can be said to open the summer movie season. It was originally planned to be unveiled on May 6, but was pushed up to give it some "breathing room" and a chance to capture the #1 box office spot for at least one weekend.

The first weekend in May brings Kingdom of Heaven and a bunch of smaller releases and also-rans. I wrote a short piece about the Ridley Scott film last week, so I won't say anything else here, except that it could easily be one of this summer's big winners or losers. Another wide release for this weekend is House of Wax, which will feature Paris Hilton without her mouth full. Vincent Price is turning in his grave.

The big movies on May 13 are Kicking and Screaming, Mindhunters, Monster-in-Law, and Unleashed. Will Ferrell runs hot and cold, so Kicking and Screaming could go either way. Mindhunters has been on the shelf for two years, which is not a good sign. Monster-in-Law stars Jennifer Lopez, which is an even worse sign. (I can remember a time when I actually thought she had a promising career as an actress.) Unleashed features Morgan Freeman supporting Jet Li, but the writer is Luc Besson, who has pretty much proven himself to be a hack. (I'm getting ready to dodge nasty e-mails now from Besson's rabid fans.)

If you don't know what's opening May 19, your name is Rip Van Winkle. Regardless of whether it's the summer's box office champ or not, Revenge of the Sith is the movie to see. I'm rooting hard for this one, because I would like nothing better for the Star Wars saga to go out on a high note. (Or at least a higher note than the original trilogy, which was saddled with Return of the Jedi as its conclusion.)

Once Star Wars mania has passed, we get to May 27 and Madagascar, named after a space on the RISK board. Sorry, but I can't generate much enthusiasm for digital animation anymore. It may turn out to be okay, but I'm not excited about it. I think I may have reached the saturation point for this form of entertainment. Then there's the Adam Sandler remake of The Longest Yard, which doesn't get me any more excited than Madagascar.

We move into June with Ron Howard's feel-good Cinderella Man, which looks like a bunch of Depression-era clich├ęs cobbled together with a "based on a true story" tag applied to the advertisements. The other big movie of the week is the tween-oriented The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, which isn't my cup of tea. The sleeper of the weekend, or at least the one to look out for is the NC-17 French horror import, High Tension. This one offers a lot more blood, gore, and shocks than any recent American genre film.

June 10 gives us another family-friendly 3D film from Robert Rodriguez, The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl. I'm already trying to figure out if I can legitimately skip this one. Paramount rapes the past with The Honeymooners, which I may skip in honor of the late Jackie Gleeson. Finally, at least there's something to look forward to: Mr. and Mrs. Smith, about husband-and-wife secret agents. The previews make it look like a lot of fun, which is more than can be said of most of what's coming out before the summer solstice.

On June 15, we get Batman Begins, with Christian Bale attempting to re-invent the Caped Crusader. To help him, he has an all-star cast and hot director Christopher Nolan behind the camera. Two days later, there's The Perfect Man, starring Hilary Duff. I will see one of these but not the other. Guess which one.

June 24 ushers in the first official weekend of summer. One of two wide releases is Lindsey Lohan, overexposed teen star, in Herbie: Fully Loaded. The other is the remake of Bewitched. Okay, so the premise - a real witch starring in a remake of the classic TV series - sounds more promising than that of the usual TV-to-cinema transformation, but still... Besides, I preferred "I Dream of Jeannie" (coming to a theater near you next year.) On the idie front, Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know opens. Worth seeing. That will be a "Featured Review" the week I return from Manila.

To wrap up June, and part one of my summer preview, we have June 29th's War of the Worlds, which has all the earmarks of the summer's second-biggest money-maker. Spielberg, Cruise, Martians... what better way to spend the Fourth of July?

Four the record, that leaves an anemic four mainstream movies I'm looking forward to between now and June 30: Star Wars, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Batman Begins, and War of the Worlds. Not a good start to what looks like a lackluster multiplex summer. Oh well, more time to spend at the beach and in the pool.

Next time, I'll explain why it doesn't get much better in July, and actually gets worse in August. Time to start praying for November.