The Dog Days

April 28, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

The term "dog days" originally referred to the morning rising of Sirius, the "Dog Star," but it might as well refer to the quality of movies that rise in multiplexes during August. Next to February, there is no worse month in which to be a movie-lover than August, when films unable to break into the early-summer schedule are unceremoniously dumped into theaters with the hope that they will at least recoup a portion of their costs. But, before I preview August 2005, let me step back a month to July, when the releases are less toxic.

Despite the presence of the 1000-pound guerilla War of the Worlds, which opens on June 29, Fox is nevertheless moving ahead with the release of Martin Lawrence's Rebound on July 1. It will get buried on its opening weekend, but it may show legs (if it's any good). The problem is that, especially during the summer, studios have notoriously little patience with poor initial performers.

On July 8, we get one of the summer's biggest box office wars. It will be a three-way struggle for #1 at the box office, with War of the Worlds still probably going strong. Add to that the Jennifer Conelly horror film Dark Water and the superhero action/adventure, The Fantastic Four. I'm especially intrigued by the latter, since, when I was growing up, The Fantastic Four was my favorite comic book, and Hollywood has done a wonderful job tranforming "A-list" Marvel comic books into movies.

July 15 brings Tim Burton's darker vision of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which won't be as family-friendly as the Gene Wilder one. Meanwhile, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson play Wedding Crashers, which has one of the worst trailers of any movie opening this summer.

July 22 brings us another remake: Bad News Bears. This may be one for the "skip" list. The big film of the week is Michael Bay's latest, The Island, which I would normally dismiss the way I normally dismiss most of Michael Bay's products, except that this one stars Scarlett Johansson, and it's tough to dismiss anything she's in. Miramax (or is that The Weinstein Company?) is counter-programming with the Robert Redford/Jennifer Lopez/Morgan Freeman drama, An Unfinished Life.

Four more films join the fray on July 29: Matt Damon's The Brothers Grimm, the John Cusack/Diane Lane romantic comedy, Must Love Dogs, Disney's Sky High, and Columbia's silly-looking Stealth (a computer goes mad and threatens the world, with Jamie Foxx, Jessica Biel, and Josh Lucas). It doesn't sound like the most promising weekend of the summer.

Now, moving to August...

August 5 shows a group of unpromising releases. There's The Dukes of Hazzard, whose most significant asset may be Jessica Simpson in her Daisy Dukes. The Pink Panther v.2, featuring Steve Martin, is reputedly awful, which doesn't surprise. And Doom, with the Rock, sounds a lot like a video game-to-movie conversion (which it is). There's an intriguing limited release opening on this day: Wong Kar Wai's 2046, starring Zhang Ziyi and Tony Leung. Unless you live in New York or L.A., this may not reach your neck of the woods until September (if at all).

Rob Schneider's Duce Bigalow is back as a European Gigolo on August 12. I wouldn't expect any surprises from this movie: it is what it is. Mark Wahlberg headlines the revenge flick Four Brothers. Then we have an unlikely combination: cuddly Kate Hudson in a horror movie called Skeleton Key.

The weekend of August 19 brings us the action film Supercross; the comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin; Tony Scott's action thriller Domino, with Keira Knightley as a bounty hunter; Wes Craven's Red Eye; Disney's animated Valiant; the drama Romanace & Cigarettes, with James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, and Kate Winslet; and Zu Warriors, a Hong Kong action fantasy that Miramax is releasing here four years after it debuted overseas. (So what else is new?)

That pretty much does it for the summer, except for the lone notable August 26 release, Backwater, a horror film starring Method Man and Bijou Phillips. (Not exactly A-list material.)

So, a couple of "anticipated" titles can be added to the four I previously provided: Fantastic Four and The Island. And that wraps things up: plenty of high-profile movies, but how many are there to get excited about? And I guess that has been my problem about the last few summers. If the May-August period of 2005 is going to be saved by anything, it will be by the limited release movies that often fly below the radar. There just isn't enough big-budget juice to keep my glass full.