BACK TO THE FUTURE

After a weaker than normal spring, all bets are on the upcoming slate of summer movies. Beginning with the release of Universal’s “The Mummy Returns” on May 4, the summer of 2001 looks to set another box office record. Hollywood number crunchers always begin the season like Chicken Little, afraid the sky is falling.


By September, when all of the box office receipts have been added up, they walk around like proud roosters. Despite the absence of such box office heavyweights as Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise, Jim Carrey and Harrison Ford, the summer of 2001 has shaped up to be one of great expectations.

A quick scan of the summer line-up reveals that Hollywood has learned a valuable lesson: teenagers are not the only people who go to movies. After catering to the 14-25 year-old demographic for years, Hollywood finally realized the reason adults weren’t going to the movies is because nothing appealed to them.

All that changed last year, when mature films like “What Lies Beneath,” “The Patriot,” “Meet the Parents,” “Gladiator,” “Traffic” “The Storm” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” raked in the bucks. At the same time, dozens of youth-oriented comedies and dramas bombed big time. Teenagers finally got fed up with the endless stream of mindless films being shoved down their throats.

The studios and independents plan to release more than 100 films between May and September. Most of the major releases already have their territory staked out, while some of the smaller films will jump around the schedule looking for the perfect moment to strike. Most weekends will see the arrival of several new releases. Only a handful of blockbusters like “Pearl Harbor” and “Jurassic Park 3” will have the weekend to themselves. That may change as Hollywood continues to tinker with the schedule. Several films announced last year have yet to make it to theaters.

Please keep in mind that all dates are subject to change, and probably will.

MAY 18

ANGEL EYES (Warner Bros.)

The Skinny: Jennifer Lopez plays a police officer whose life is saved by a mysterious stranger named Catch, played by Jim Caviezel (“Frequency”).

Good News: J Lo’s last two films, “The Wedding Planner” and “The Cell,” made enough money to warrant her demand for a raise (from $5 million to $7), meaning that audiences and studios can’t get enough of her. Caviezel scored with “Frequency,” and his scenes with Lopez look hot and sultry.

Bad News: The film’s supernatural storyline may remind audiences that they’ve seen all of this before. “Ghost” anyone?

MOULIN ROUGE (20th Century Fox)

The Skinny: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor and John Leguizamo star in director Baz Luhrmann’s musical remake of life and love in 19th Century Paris.

Good News: Luhrmann’s last film, “William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet” breathed new life into the stuffy Bard. The previews of “Moulin Rouge” are absolutely stunning, filled with colorful, gorgeous images.

Bad News: Will modern audiences go for a musical set in 19th Century Paris? The film has also been plagued by production delays, never a good sign.

SHREK (DreamWorks)

The Skinny: Based on William Steig’s storybook, “Shrek” features the voice of Mike Myers as an ogre who teams up with a talking donkey (Eddie Murphy) to rescue the Princess (Cameron Diaz) from the evil Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow).

Good News: The computer-animated comedy comes from the same folks who brought us the witty “Antz.” The current previews are a real scream, much better than the first one. Look closely around the frame and you’ll find lots of clever in-jokes.

Bad News: The animated Ogre opens a week before Michael Bay bombs Pearl Harbor, giving the film a limited window to grab and hold on to an audience.

MAY 25

PEARL HARBOR (Touchstone)

The Skinny: Director Michael (“Armageddon”) Bay and writer Randall (“Braveheart”) Wallace team up to revisit the events leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the following Dolittle Raid.

Good News: The previews are absolute dynamite. Bay loves to blow things up, and with the largest approved budget on record ($140 million), he gets plenty of opportunity. The film looks epic, and hopefully Wallace will be able to create a believable love triangle between pilots Ben Affleck and Josh Harnett and Kate Beckinsale as the nurse they both love. Audiences need a film like “Pearl Harbor” now. Bad News: After totaling in publicity and marketing costs, “Pearl Harbor” will have to do “Titanic”-like numbers to make a profit.

JUNE 1

THE ANIMAL (Columbia)

The Skinny: Rob Schneider plays a man who awakens from a bad auto accident to learn that he’s been rebuilt from animal parts.

Good News: Schneider hit pay dirt with “Deuce Bigelow,” proving that in the right vehicle he was gold. This modestly budgeted comedy features more outrageous special effects as his character starts using his animal instincts. Schneider’s love interest is played by Colleen Haskell, former television “Survivor.”

Bad News: The preview is funny, but will they be able to sustain the joke for an hour and a half?

WHAT’S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN? (MGM)

The Skinny: When crooks Martin Lawrence and John Leguizamo are caught trying to rob rich guy Danny DeVito, their lives are turned upside down as DeVito engages them in a game of one-upmanship.

Good News: Based on Donald Westlake’s novel, the film was originally intended as a drama, but eventually morphed into a comedy of errors. The previews are hysterical.

Bad News: The previews are hysterical, but what if that’s all there is?

JUNE 8

ATLANTIS (Walt Disney)

The Skinny: Michael J. Fox lends his voice to Milo Thatch, an amateur cartographer who guides a group of adventurers to the legendary lost city.

Good News: The latest animated offering from Walt Disney is an epic adventure that doesn’t feature singing mermaids or dancing plates. The emphasis is on fantasy, and based on the coming attractions, the directors of “Beauty and The Beast” have created a film that should appeal to both adults and children. James Garner, Jim Varney, Leonard Nimoy and John Mahoney lend their vocal talents.

Bad News: Walt Disney no longer has a stranglehold on the animated market.

EVOLUTION (DreamWorks)

The Skinny: Aliens hitch a ride on a meteor that strikes Earth, forcing an elite group of scientists to deal with the invasion.

Good News: First off, the coming attractions sold me. Fast, funny, and unpredictable. David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, Orlando Jones and Seann William Scott play the scientists assigned to investigate, while director Ivan Reitman has been down this road before with “Ghostbusters.” The film looks like great, goofy fun with incredible special effects.

Bad News: Not enough prints?

SWORDFISH (Warner Bros.)

The Skinny: John Travolta returns to the dark side, playing a former government agent turned master criminal who kidnaps a hacker and forces him to participate in high-tech burglary. Hugh Jackman plays the hacker.

Good News: Ventura residents will remember “Swordfish” as the film that closed down Main Street for several weeks last year. Now’s their chance to see what all of the fuss was about. After bombing in “Battlefield Earth” and “Lucky Numbers,” Travolta hopes to pick up his career by once again playing the bad guy (“Broken Arrow,” “Face/Off”). The supporting cast features Halle Berry, Don Cheadle and Sam Shepard.

Bad News: Remember, Travolta played a bad guy in “Battlefield Earth.”

JUNE 15

LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER (Paramount)

The Skinny: Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie plays Lara Croft, the female Indiana Jones in this big-budget adventure based on the popular video game.

Good News: The studio has done a good job of keeping the plot under wraps, while the trailer provides just enough information to make you want to see more. Jolie looks terrific, while the special effects are awesome. The film has a good friend in director Simon West, who turned “Con Air” into a roller coaster ride.

Bad News: Hopefully “Tomb Raider” will be able to overcome the video game-to-screen curse.

JUNE 22

DR. DOLITTLE 2 (20th Century Fox)

The Skinny: Eddie Murphy returns as the veterinarian who can speak to the animals. In the sequel he attempts to mate two bears in order to save a forest.

Good News: Murphy’s first appointment with “Dr. Dolittle” made over $140 million in theaters. The formula remains the same, so hopefully audiences won’t mind spending more time with the doctor.

Bad News: The film has a new director, Steve Carr, whose claim to fame is “Next Friday.”

THE FAST & THE FURIOUS (Universal)

The Skinny: Vin Diesel and Paul Walker put the pedal-to-the-metal in this tale of drag racers who use the streets of Los Angeles as their personal track.

Good News: Director Rob Cohen has developed a new filmmaking technique that actually puts the actors behind the wheel, creating a new sense of authenticity. Diesel and Walker both have followings, while the director hopes to rekindle the spark of “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Gone in 60 Seconds.”

Bad News: It’s a movie about drag racing.

JUNE 29

A.I. (Warner Bros.)

The Skinny: Steven Spielberg picks up where director Stanley Kubrick left off in this futuristic tale of an android boy who is adopted and then abandoned by a family desperate to have a child. Haley Joel Osment plays the boy. A.I. stands for Artificial Intelligence.

Good News: When Kubrick died while editing “Eyes Wide Shut.” Spielberg took over the reigns of the top secret project, based on a short story by Brian Aldiss. Spielberg, children, science-fiction. What more do you need? How about Jude Law as the kid’s companion on his journey through a futuristic world where the coastal cities are underwater?

Bad News: Kubrick isn’t alive to appreciate Spielberg’s effort.

BABY BOY (Columbia)

The Skinny: Ten years after arriving on the scene with “Boyz in the Hood,” writer-director John Singleton returns to the same inner-city L.A. neighborhood to tell the story of a 20-year-old African American man facing down his future.

Good News: The last time Singleton hung out in the hood he created a powerful piece of filmmaking.

Bad News: After ten years of imitations, will anybody want to see the real thing again?

RAT RACE (Paramount)

The Skinny: Six strangers compete in a treasure hunt, their progress being mapped out and wagered on by Las Vegas casino owner John Cleese.

Good News: Director Jerry Zucker (“Ghost”) has assembled a diverse cast (Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding Jr., Rowan Atkinson, Seth Green, Breckin Meyer, Lanai Chapman) for this quasi-remake of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World.” There’s plenty of opportunity in the premise, which includes Gooding Jr. and a busload of Lucy impersonators.

Bad News: Will this “Rat” get the cheese or just cut it?

JULY 4

CATS & DOGS (Warner Bros.)

The Skinny: Live action, puppets (from the Henson Creature Shop) and CGI effects combine to bring to life this action-comedy about cats and dogs who wage war in the backyard of eccentric scientist Jeff Goldblum.

Good News: Just the thought of kung-fu fighting cats and canine secret agents makes me smile. The live action crew includes Goldblum and Elizabeth Perkins, while the four-legged vocal talent includes Sean Hayes (“Will & Grace”), Alec Baldwin and Susan Sarandon.

Bad News: Haven’t seen a trailer. Is the studio trying to hide something?

SCARY MOVIE 2 (Dimension)

The Skinny: The surviving “Scary Movie” cast members find themselves trapped inside a haunted house. Good News: The Wayan brothers return for more mayhem and madness, spoofing every haunted house movie and more. Marlon Brando was originally going to play an exorcist until illness forced him to back out. The first film made so much money that the sequel was immediately put on the fast track.

Bad News: The first film pushed the envelope. How will they ever be able to top themselves?

JULY 6

KISS OF THE DRAGON (20th Century Fox)

The Skinny: Martial arts superstar Jet Li stars as a Chinese agent in Paris who becomes involved in a secret conspiracy.

Good News: Produced and shot in France, “Kiss of the Dragon” promises lots of action, plus a script by Luc Besson (“Leon”) and Robert Mark Kamen (“The Karate Kid”). Bridget Fonda co-stars for first time director Chris Nahon.

Bad News: Dazzling fight scenes are no longer a novelty.

JULY 11

AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS (Revolution)

The Skinny: When she falls for another man on their last picture, a husband-and-wife acting team (Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Cusack) struggle to stay civil during a press junket for the film.

Good News: Everything about “America’s Sweethearts” sounds like gold. The film was written by Billy Crystal and Peter Tolan (“Analyze This”), and stars Julia Roberts, Hank Azaria and Crystal as the studio publicist trying to keep the peace. Roberts, fresh off her Oscar win for Best Actress, has had three back-to-back $100 million hits.

Bad News: The director doesn’t have a track record, but with this cast and script, what could go wrong?

FINAL FANTASY-THE SPIRITS WITHIN (Columbia)

The Skinny: Futuristic fantasy-adventure based on the popular video game. Ming-Na voices the character of Dr. Aki, who helps Earth fight off an alien invasion.

Good News: Directors Hironobu Sakaguchi and Motonori Sakakibara use photo-realistic computer generated images to tell their story, and have recruited Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, Donald Sutherland and James Woods to voice them. The “Final Fantasy” series of games have a large fan base.

Bad News: “Final Fantasy” took a long time and a lot of money to make, and it’s doubtful there are that many 13-year-old boys who will want to see it more than once.

JULY 13

THE SCORE (Paramount)

The Skinny: Robert De Niro stars as a veteran thief ready to call it quits when he’s forced into one more job by his mentor, played by Marlon Brando.

Good News: Talk about a casting coup: De Niro and Brando in the same film together. Even though they both won Oscars for playing the same character (Don Corleone in “The Godfather” and it’s sequel), the two have never shared the screen together. They share the frame with Edward Norton, who plays the young firebrand assigned to help De Niro.

Bad News: The story is awfully familiar, and with three credited writers, it may not be as powerful as the actors.

JULY 18

JURASSIC PARK 3 (Universal)

The Skinny: A tourist plane crash lands on a tropical island inhabited by genetically engineered dinosaurs. Good News: Sam Neill and Laura Dern return from the first film, joined by Tea Leoni, William H. Macy and Alessandro Nivola. Director Joe Johnston takes over the franchise from Steven Spielberg, who serves as Executive Producer. The filmmakers promise more dinosaurs.

Bad News: The film went into production without a finished script, and according to the actors, the plot changed on a daily basis. A new ending had to be shot when Johnston realized the original wasn’t working.

JULY 27

PLANET OF THE APES (20th Century Fox)

The Skinny: Mark Wahlberg plays an astronaut who wanders through a time warp and ends up on a planet ruled by apes and gorillas.

Good News: Director Tim Burton promises a revision rather than a remake, plus make-up and special effects techniques have come a long way since the 1968 original. The coming attractions have gotten better and better.

Bad News: Based on the pre-release buzz, the only way to screw up the film is to show it backwards, upside down.

AUGUST 3

THE PRINCESS DIARIES (Walt Disney)

The Skinny: An awkward 15-year-old girl living in San Francisco learns from her grandmother that she’s actually royalty.

Good News: Director Garry Marshall loves fairytales (“Pretty Woman”), and here he gets the chance to make one for the entire family. newcomer Anne Hathaway plays the girl, while Julie Andrews (who got her start in Disney’s “Mary Poppins”) returns to the studio to play her grandmother. Expect lots of warm, funny moments.

Bad News: Films about and marketed to14-year-old girls have a limited audience (“Josie & The Pussycats” anyone).

RUSH HOUR 2 (New Line)

The Skinny: After the surprise success of the first East Meets West comedy, the filmmakers and cast reunite for a West Meets East twist. This time, Los Angeles cop Chris Tucker follows Hong Kong cop Jackie Chan home, where they become involved in a conspiracy.

Good News: The first film made over $140 million, and made stars out of Tucker and Chan. While both had big fan bases to begin with, “Rush Hour” made them mainstream. Major casting coup getting Zhang Ziyi, the dynamic star of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” to co-star. Expect lots of action and comedy. Bad News: Big budget, big salaries, big marketing campaign. Will there be any money left over?

AUGUST 10

AMERICAN PIE 2 ( Universal)

The Skinny: A year after they lost their virginity, the characters from “American Pie” reunite to confront their futures.

Good News: All of the original cast members and writer Adam Herz return, promising more low brow high jinks. The new director, J. B. Rogers, served as assistant director on the original. Band Camp, endlessly discussed in the first film, plays a big role here.

Bad News: Will the filmmakers and cast be able to catch lighting in a bottle a second time?

CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION (DreamWorks)

The Skinny: Woody Allen plays an ace private investigator in the 1940’s who search for the missing Jade Scorpion is constantly interrupted by new office efficiency manager Helen Hunt.

Good News: Allen returns to comedy with this nostalgic period piece that cost $25 million, all of which is on the screen. The cast, including Hunt, Charlize Theron, Dan Aykroyd, Elizabeth Berkley and Wallace Shawn, all worked for scale. Allen’s previous period pieces including “Bullets Over Broadway” and “Sweet and Lowdown,” have all been gems.

Bad News: Allen’s fan base keeps shrinking.

JAY & SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK (Miramax)

The Skinny: The slackers from director Kevin Smith’s previous films find themselves battling a movie studio who has made a film of a comic book based on them. Jason Mewes and Smith play Jay and Silent Bob, while the supporting cast includes Smith regulars Ben Affleck, Jason Lee and “American Pie” heartthrob Shannon Elizabeth.

Good News: Smith bites the hand that feeds him, using Miramax as the studio that rips off his characters. With a $20 million budget, Smith promises more action and visual effects. The writer-director also promises that he will retire the characters after this film, so fans will probably flock to catch their last outing.

Bad News: Even though he has a cult following, none of Smith’s films have made much money. His last film, “Dogma,” was too much for distributor Miramax, so they sold it to Lion’s Gate.

OSMOSIS JONES (Warner Bros.)

The Skinny: The Farrelly Brothers (“There’s Something About Mary”) team up with animation director Tom Sita and Piet Kroon to tell this live action/animated tale of a man (Bill Murray) fighting off a virus inside his body. Most of the action takes place inside Murray’s body, where animated characters voiced by Chris Rock, David Hyde Pierce and Laurence Fishburne battle for control.

Good News: The last time Warner Bros. mixed live action and animation they created the hit “Space Jam.” Murray is a good choice to play the ailing patient, while the animated interiors seem like a good idea, sort of a twisted “Fantastic Voyage.”

Bad News: The Farrelly Brothers are not noted for their family oriented comedy. Can they be clean and funny?

AUGUST 17

AMERICAN OUTLAWS (Warner Bros.)

The Skinny: Revisionist retelling of the Jesse James legend.

Good News: It stars hot young Irish actor Colin Farrell, who smoldered in Joel Schumacher’s “Tigerland.” Bad News: It’s a western.

CAPTAIN CORELLI’S MANDOLIN (Miramax )

The Skinny: Nicholas Cage plays an Italian soldier who is stationed during World War II to a small Greek island, where he falls in love with Penelope Cruz, who is seeing fisherman Christian Bale.

Good News: Love triangle. War story. Forbidden romance. Sounds a little like “The English Patient,” but the film has a good ally in director John Madden, who brought “Shakespeare in Love” to vivid life.

Bad News: “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” sounds to prestigious to be dumped in theaters during August. It’ll probably find a new home on the Fall/Winter schedule.

ROLLERBALL (MGM)

The Skinny: Director John McTiernan (“Die Hard”) remakes the 1970’s futuristic thriller about a vicious blood sport called “Rollerball.”

Good News: The original was set much further in the future. McTiernan’s remake takes place in just a few short years. The cast includes Chris Klein in the James Caan role, plus co-stars LL Cool J, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and Jean Reno. “Rollerball” marks the second time McTiernan has remade a Norman Jewison film. His last was “The Thomas Crown Affair.”

Bad News: Will mass exposure to extreme sports dilute the film’s power?

John Larsen



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