Movie News & Reviews

Summer Movie Preview: Warm up the popper

Winter was pretty much a ­washout, and spring at the movies? It sprang a leak. A lot of leaks.

Attendance has been down more than 6 percent, with some ­weekends seeing a 20 percent drop in the box-office take from last year. Having no 300 or Ghost Rider on your movie release calendar will do that to you.

But Hollywood is ever ­optimistic. What did they title that X-Files sequel (coming July 25)? I Want to Believe.

And so do we. If last week's Iron Man is any indication, this could be a season to remember. If Made of Honor, also from last week, is any indication, it won't be remembered for romantic comedies. Well, except for Sex in the City (May 30).

May has big-budget popcorn pictures — Speed Racer (May 9), The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (May 16).

June has Mike Myers' ­comeback, The Love Guru, and Steve Carell's Get Smart (June 20). July features Will Smith's Hancock, about a ­superhero down on his luck (July 2), plus Hellboy 2 and Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D (July 11), that X-Files sequel and Will Ferrell's latest, Step Brothers (July 25). And August features The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Aug. 1) and another Judd Apatow-produced comedy, ­Pineapple Express (Aug. 8).

But there are five benchmark weekends coming our way, dates with huge movies on them. ­Everything is riding on them. Will the films be good enough to get people away from their HDTVs?

MAY 22: It's been 20 years since Indy picked up the whip. So the cracks about how old Harrison Ford is, about how George Lucas isn't the popcorn-maker he once was, about how Steven Spielberg's out of practice at this sort of thing, were to be expected.

But Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull could be spectacular on a spectacular scale. The setting is the Cold War 1950s, the plot has to do with aliens and the Soviets, and the cast includes Ford, Shia LaBeouf and, as a Russkie, Oscar winner Cate Blanchett. Can Lucas, Spielberg and Indy still whip up a good yarn? Can Ford still deliver the popcorn? We really want to believe in this one.

JUNE 13: M. Night Shyamalan, master of the spooky, tasted bitter comeuppance with his last film, Lady in the Water. Bitter! ­Bitter! Make fun of movie critics in your movie, willya? We'll show you! Is The Happening, about an ”event“ that causes mass suicides, his ­comeback? Could be. Mark ­Wahlberg stars.

That thriller will go head to head with the humongous head of The Incredible Hulk. Edward Norton's tale of the big green monster seems more like the old TV series, with mild-mannered Dr. Banner traveling off the grid, trying to avoid losing his temper. Bad buzz on this one, mainly because of a lame, digitally augmented trailer that gives away the big Hulk-vs.-Abomination (Tim Roth plays him) throw-down.

Prediction: One of these two movies will compete with one of two Brendan Fraser popcorn flicks (Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Mummy) as the biggest bomb of the summer.

JUNE 27: Pixar still might be earning great reviews for its ­animation, but its reputation for making kid-friendly movies that kids line up to see has taken a hit in recent years. They've seen a steady erosion at the box office for Cars and last summer's ­Ratatouille. Will Wall-E reverse that? Early indications are: ”Quite likely.“ Previews make this tale of a lonely robot left behind to clean up the mess humans have made of the Earth (they've abandoned it) seem non-verbal, smart, sweet and very funny. Fingers crossed!

It'll compete against ­DreamWorks' kung-fu critters comedy, Kung-Fu Panda (June 6), which features an all-star voice cast including Jack Black, Angelina Jolie and Dustin Hoffman. That will test the old animation rule — the bigger names in the cast, the weaker the movie. So will Fly Me to the Moon (Aug. 8), an Apollo 11 tale about flies that tag along with Buzz Aldrin (a voice actor in the film) and Neil Armstrong to the lunar surface. Space Chimps (July 18), about monkeys sent ­skyward, features the voice of Patrick ­Warburton, among others.

JULY 18: The Dark Knight ­promises to be that much darker, thanks to the death of the new Joker, Heath Ledger, last winter. Christian Bale returns, and Aaron Eckhart is district attorney Harvey Dent (the future Two-Face).

But ”darker than dark“ will have weekend competition from a ­dancing queen. Mamma Mia!, based on the ABBA stage musical, is about a mom (Meryl Streep) who wants only to watch her daughter married off in a perfect setting, the Greek Isles. But the girl wants only to know who her real dad is. Might he be Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth or Stellan Skarsgard? It was the '80s, mom ”got around,“ listened to too much ABBA and, well, stuff happened.

AUG. 15: Robert Downey Jr. will have almost forgotten his ­accolades from Iron Man when Tropic ­Thunder opens. But this Ben Stiller-Jack Black-Steve Coogan-Robert D. comedy (Stiller directed) might bring it all back. The trailers to this farce about actors playing soldiers mixed up in a civil war are laugh-out-loud hilarious. Downey? He plays a Method actor so deep into his craft that he dons blackface to play an African-American Army sergeant.

If it's as funny as it is politically incorrect, this summer will leave us laughing so hard that we choke on our popcorn.