The Heat Is On

July 04, 2007
A thought by James Berardinelli

For many in the northern hemisphere, July represents the start of summer - outdoor barbecues, days on the beach, nights lying out under the stars. For Hollywood, July is the beginning of the end of the blockbuster season. With movies being so heavily front-loaded, there are only a few potential box office busters left by the time July 1 rolls around. By August, it's the dog days indeed.

Thus far this summer, Hollywood's brightest stars have failed to shine. Dull, limp sequels dot the cinematic firmament: Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, Pirates 3, Hostel 2, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Evan Almighty... It's an unimpressive list. The best that May and June have had to offer was Knocked Up, the charmingly profane romantic comedy that's cute enough for women and raw enough for men. When it comes to buying DVDs of movies released in the last two months, that may be the only one on my shopping list.

July opens with two colossal duds. Transformers is what it is - lots of loud action, some dumb comedy, and one edit every 1.5 seconds. Action doesn't necessarily equate to excitement, but I'll leave that discussion for another column. Many critics have applauded this movie as the ultimate in popcorn entertainment. I was largely bored, not because I don't like action, but because I like my spectacle with a little adrenaline. This has none. Of course, it's a better choice than its direct box office competition: License to Wed. That one's a real challenger for worst movie of the year. The best offering of the first week in July is Rescue Dawn, the Werner Herzog based-on-a-true-story adventure movie about an escape from a Vietnam prison camp during the 1960s. It will roll out across the country over the next few weeks.

Week #2 provides us with that rarest of beasts: a truly entertaining blockbuster. The fifth in a series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, is sure to delight Muggles everywhere. This is still my predicted victor in the summer box office sweepstakes, although it's unsure how the release of The Deathly Hallows on July 21 will impact its overall gross. The only other wide release this week is Captivity, which scored some free publicity a few months ago as a result of offensive billboards. It's not being screened for critics, but I plan to see it anyway. I can't imagine it to be any worse than Hostel Part II. Two small movies - Introducing the Dwights and Kim Ki-duk's Time - are also opening. Time is worth seeking out. The review will reveal more, but this is certain to be in my Top 10 at the end of the year.

The big movies on July 20 are Hairspray and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. I can't say I'm overly enthusiastic about either but, putting them on equal footing, which generates more interest: John Travolta in drag or Jessica Biel in her underwear? I know how I'd answer that question, but your mileage may vary. Movie musicals are hit-and-miss affairs and it's tough to say whether Hairspray will be more like Dreamgirls or The Producers. The Adam Sandler comedy is a known quantity. Lots of lowbrow humor, but without the edge we get with Judd Apatow's films. Also opening this weekend: Goya's Ghosts, Milos Forman's latest (it had trouble finding a distributor - not a good sign) and Danny Boyle's Sunshine, which has played almost everywhere else in the world except the United States. (It was originally supposed to be released in the spring.)

The month ends with The Simpsons Movie. Some people have projected monster numbers for this film, but I don't agree. I think The Simpsons are too long in the tooth to generate the kind of box office explosion that would propel them to the top of the summer heap. Maybe ten years ago... The rest of the week's movies are a motley group. There's Artic Tale, a nature documentary hoping to cash in on the March of the Penguins success. I Know Who Killed Me is the latest Lindsay Lohan effort. Sounds oddly similar to Boxing Helena. No Reservations is a re-make of Mostly Martha with Catherine Zeta-Jones. (From a distance, it looks like the weekend's best pick.) Skinwalkers is another PG-13 werewolf movie. (Anyone remember the unfortunate Blood and Chocolate?) I'm betting this won't be screened for critics.

That's all for July. I'll be back when the Dog Star rears its head in the morning.