- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 27, 2002

The summer movie season begins Friday about three weekends earlier than usual with "Spider-Man" as the fearless pacesetter.

As a rule, even movies that desire to get the jump on Memorial Day tend to be content with the second or third weekend in May. However, the third weekend is expected to be dominated by the latest "Star Wars" spectacle, subtitled "Attack of the Clones." This "Star Wars" becomes officially Part II in George Lucas' chronicle, although the fifth in the series as a matter of cinematic record.

If "Spider-Man" realized by director Sam Raimi after years in development or wishful-thinking repose with other filmmakers proves to be a comic-book spectacle with staying power, the other potential blockbusters may have to concede the seasonal edge in short order.

A bumper crop of movies, 10 other new ones, opens Friday in the Washington market. Eight of them qualify as art-house attractions. Several of those titles will appear on the marquee of Landmark's Bethesda Row multiplex when it opens Friday. They are the Latin American imports "Y Tu Mama Tambien" and "Nine Queens" and the English-language specialty items "Enigma," "The Cat's Meow" and "Some Body."

I can vouch for only a trio of early releases at the moment: the happily upbeat and playful Woody Allen comedy "Hollywood Ending"; the long-delayed Iranian import "Baran," which also makes its debut Friday; and the new Hugh Grant comedy, "About a Boy," an appealing adaptation of the Nick Hornby novel about a well-to-do London wastrel redeemed by his contact with a troubled schoolboy.

Both "About a Boy" and Oliver Parker's remake of Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" are cheeky enough to open opposite "Star Wars" more or less. They arrive May 17. The official opening day for "Attack of the Clones" is May 16, although midnight shows probably will have loyalists lining up on the night of the 15th.

Several summer movies, in addition to Mr. Allen's farce, deal with the contemporary movie business. They include "CQ," the debut feature of Roman Coppola, son of moviemaker Francis Ford Coppola; "The Kid Stays in the Picture," a documentary film version of producer Robert Evans' autobiography; and "Simone," a new comedy from Andrew Niccol, the talented writer-director of "Gattaca" and writer of "The Truman Show." He again directs his own script, which revolves around Al Pacino as a desperate producer who tries to get away with a computer-graphics casting hoax when a leading lady proves reluctant to sign. There also is "Full Frontal," the latest original screenplay from Steven Soderbergh, who claims to have been fondly influenced by Francois Truffaut's "Day for Night."

This will also be the summer of "Men in Black II," reuniting Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones with director Barry Sonnenfeld; "Stuart Little 2," reuniting Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie and the voices of Michael J. Fox, Nathan Lane and Steve Zahn with director Rob Minkoff; "Austin Powers in Goldmember," reuniting Mike Myers et al with director Jay Roach; and "Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams," reuniting grown-ups Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino and juveniles Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara with writer-director Robert Rodriguez.

The Tom Clancy cycle that began with "The Hunt for Red October" gets a makeover with Ben Affleck replacing Harrison Ford as CIA agent Jack Ryan, now a generation younger through the miracle of casting. This upheaval allows Mr. Ford an amusing retort: He will appear later in the season as a Soviet submarine commander in "K-19: The Widowmaker."

Mike Myers takes on a fourth character in the new Austin Powers sequel. Goldmember is, of course, a spoof of Goldfinger, the titular menace in the third of the original James Bond thrillers with Sean Connery. Powers; his nemesis, Dr. Evil; and the loathsome Fat Bastard will find themselves confronting Mr. Myers' newest alter ego while they're time traveling.

Remakes outnumber the sequels this summer season if one factors in the veiled remakes. Mr. Parker's "Earnest" arriving 50 years after the delightful Anthony Asquith production that featured Michael Redgrave, Joan Greenwood, Edith Evans and Margaret Rutherford leads this particular parade. Colin Firth and Rupert Everett are cast as Jack and Algy, respectively. Frances O'Connor and Reese Witherspoon play Gwendolyn and Cecily. Judi Dench is the new Lady Bracknell, and Anna Massey is an absolute physical opposite to Miss Rutherford as Leticia Prism.

Christopher Nolan, last year's stylistic sensation with "Memento," turns to a recent Scandinavian thriller for his second picture. It's "Insomnia," starring Al Pacino as an erratic homicide detective and Robin Williams as his taunting prey.

Adam Sandler reaches back for the Frank Capra-Gary Cooper-Jean Arthur classic of 1936, "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" and updates the plot while shortening the title to "Mr. Deeds." Winona Ryder is now the leading lady.

Perhaps sharing career calculations with Mr. Affleck, Matt Damon turns to a spy saga. He stars in Robert Ludlum's "The Bourne Identity," which was made as an exceptionally plodding two-part television movie in 1988. He plays a summer amnesiac.

The unacknowledged remakes begin with Adrian Lyne's "Unfaithful," which would appear to echo his biggest hit, "Fatal Attraction." It plunges Diane Lane as the wife into an affair with Olivier Martinez's character. This alliance becomes known to her wounded spouse, played by Richard Gere.

The Jennifer Lopez thriller "Enough" turns the tables on last year's "Angel Eyes." Instead of playing a law woman, Miss Lopez will be an abused wife who decides it's time to take the law into her own hands by throttling her psycho husband, portrayed by Billy Campbell. I suppose it would be kinder to think of these movies as variations on overfamiliar themes.

The DreamWorks animation feature "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" has nothing in common with the studio's 2001 blockbuster "Shrek," the top attraction of last summer, but it does suggest a politically correct variant on both "Black Beauty" and "The Black Stallion." Not to be trumped on this score, Disney has an animated feature called "Lilo & Stitch," about a Hawaiian girl and a pet alien, that would appear to be seriously moonstruck by the Pokemon phenomenon.

A trick-shot and costume farce titled, "The Country Bears" might be the first movie in years to return to the style of George Lucas' "Howard the Duck." Finally, the coarsely titled "Igby Goes Down," a comedy about a disgruntled prep school boy who plays hookey and rambles around New York City, rings a strangely J.D. Salinger-type bell.

Aiming for the family audiences are the animated features "Spirit," "Hey, Arnold," "Lilo & Stitch" and "Powerpuff Girls," plus the live-action "Scooby-Doo," "Stuart Little 2," "Like Mike" (alluding to a youngster who idolizes Michael Jordan) and "Spy Kids 2," all of which place a premium on trick-shot techniques.

The studios also will be making a pitch at fans of so-called extreme sporting events. Disney is distributing a documentary survey of a competitive gathering in Philadelphia last year titled, "ESPN's Ultimate X" (no local showing date). "Dogtown and Z-Boys" celebrates skateboarding during the past generation. The fictional "XXX" is more in the nature of a follow-up to last summer's "The Fast and the Furious." It's an action vehicle for Vin Diesel, cast as an erstwhile star of the X-treme athletic circuit.

Dana Carvey will rejoin the roster of summer comedians. His "Clean Slate" of 1994 was exceptionally clever and got a witty, seven-year jump on the "Memento" pretext. Mr. Carvey may get to have fun poaching on the specialties of former sidekick Mike Myers and the Italian zany Roberto Benigni while headlining "Master of Disguise." The movie celebrates the family heritage of Pistachio Disguisey, a mild-mannered Italian who blossoms upon discovering that he comes from a long line of impersonators.

The season recalls World War II with John Woo's "Windtalkers," an account of the Navajo code teams employed by the Marine Corps on Saipan.

Steven Spielberg, whose "Saving Private Ryan" prompted the World War revival four summers ago, collaborates with Tom Cruise on a science-fiction chase thriller, "Minority Report," set in Washington 50 years in the future and envisioning an elite law enforcement agency that can anticipate crimes.

Sam Mendes, the Oscar-winning director of "American Beauty," draws Tom Hanks, the leading man of "Ryan," for a vintage gangster saga titled "The Road to Perdition." Derived from a graphic novel, it asks us to entertain the novelty of Mr. Hanks as a hard-bitten mob killer in Roaring '20s Chicago, determined to avenge the deaths of his wife and child.

Clint Eastwood returns to crime fiction with "Blood Work," directing himself as an FBI profiler. Eddie Murphy gets to cavort in a farcical science-fiction realm in "The Adventures of Pluto Nash," playing a resourceful restaurant owner on the moon, circa 2087. He may also turn up in one of his vintage Hong Kong hits, "The Accidental Spy."

After repeated postponements, an augmented version of Giuseppe Tornatore's "Cinema Paradiso" will finally appear June 14. It's subtitled "The Director's Cut," of course. A similar edition of Milos Forman's Oscar-winning movie version of "Amadeus" was booked for Washington last weekend. Presumably, the postponement will not stretch out beyond the summer, but you never know. By the current estimate, about 90 titles may be headed our way in the next 18 weekends, so placing at least 10 percent of the inventory on display in the opening weekend seems reasonable.

The business itself is nestled in a generally rosy groove. Fears of a box-office slump in the wake of September 11 proved overly apprehensive. The three movies that needed to be big draws toward the end of the year were big draws: "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," "Monsters, Inc." and "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring." During the winter season "Black Hawk Down" and the Oscar-winning "A Beautiful Mind" exceeded expectations. In recent weeks so have "Ice Age," "We Were Soldiers" and "The Rookie."

It's not as if the summer attractions will be entering a slack or desperate market, even if they arrive a bit earlier than usual. The problem will be finding some genuine variety and distinction in the shadow of numerous box-office juggernauts as the season goes along.

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