- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 3, 2007

Director Len Wiseman signed up to helm the fourth “Die Hard” feature after consultation with a 15-year-old.

His inner 15-year-old.

“The kid in me who grew up with the franchise is what got me involved,” says Mr. Wiseman, best known for his two “Underworld” features.

Isn’t that why we all stuff air-conditioned theaters each summer, to satiate the kid who once lived and died by the best explosions and car chases Hollywood could muster?

The calendar says it won’t be summer until June 21, but consider today’s “Spider-Man 3” release as the starter pistol firing.

And few seasons ever carried as many sure things, commercially speaking, as summer ‘07.

“Spider-Man 3.” “Shrek the Third” (May 18). “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” (May 25). “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” (July 13).

Each promises to crush the $200 million mark and keep on going.

“Shrek” revisits the darling green ogre (voiced by Mike Myers) and his emerald bride (Cameron Diaz’s pipes). For the third go-around, Shrek is forced to become the land’s new king unless he can find a suitable substitute in the form of a surly teen (voiced by Justin Timberlake).

“Spider-Man 3” serves up a selection of villains, from the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) to Venom (Topher Grace), plus a new love interest for the web slinger (a platinum blonde Bryce Dallas Howard). Comic book fans may be licking their chops, but remember how far the “Batman” franchise fell when it introduced multiple baddies.

“Pirates” concludes last summer’s cliffhanger, which left critics cold but nonetheless brought in the year’s biggest bounty. And with Keith Richards popping up for his long-awaited cameo (as Jack Sparrow’s pappy?), who knows what box office records will shatter at year’s end? Let’s just hope Mr. Richards snorts the scenery and nothing more.

The latest “Potter” film, a wildly popular series which grows richer with each installment, finds Harry fighting off Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) while a new Hogwarts teacher (Imelda Staunton) threatens the school’s tranquility.

The season’s second-tier releases could threaten the big four’s supremacy.

Mr. Wiseman’s “Live Free or Die Hard” puts franchise star Bruce Willis right where fans want him — out of his element and in a sour mood.

“The element of John McClane being in the wrong place at the wrong time is very important to the franchise,” Mr. Wiseman says of the old school cop who saved the day in three “Die Hard” features, the last of which bowed in 1995 (“Die Hard With a Vengeance”).

“Rush Hour 3” (Aug. 10) reunites Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. If it weren’t for the “Rush Hour” franchise, we’d never see Mr. Tucker at the movies. Let’s hope he makes up for lost screen time.

“The Bourne Ultimatum” (Aug. 3) delivers more on Jason Bourne’s back story while exposing him to new perils alongside franchise regular Julia Stiles.

“Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” (June 15) will try to assuage FF faithful who found the first film a far cry from both the source material and the “Spider-Man” features.

“Evan Almighty” (June 22) lets Steven Carell take over for Jim Carrey’s “Bruce Almighty” character. Here, Evan finds himself chosen by God (Morgan Freeman) to build an ark.

George Clooney and company offer an apology for the self-aggrandizing “Ocean’s 12” courtesy of, what else, “Ocean’s 13” (June 8). The bloated cast gets even bigger with the addition of Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin.

A few summer films extend franchises of a different kind.

“The Simpsons Movie” is a mega-sized version of the flailing television show, while “Hairspray” brings the hit musical to the screen with John Travolta swaddled in a female fat suit.

It worked for “Norbit.”

We got an early peak at this one, and it promises to be a frothy alternative to the sequels parade.

Michael Bay’s “Transformers” (July 4) takes the popular 1980s cartoon-toy franchise and brings it into the 21st century. “Disturbia” lead Shia LeBeouf stars, but the real heroes will likely be the Autobots and Decepticons, images of which have been closely guarded.

Animation fans might have the best summer of all, if the Disney-Pixar film “Ratatouille” lives up to its pedigree. Director Brad Bird previously gave us both “The Incredibles” and “The Iron Giant,” and the trailer featuring a rat who longs to be a chef only whets our appetites.

The best comedy coming up will likely be “Knocked Up” (June 1) from Judd Apatow, the mind behind “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” Seth Rogen plays an arrested development type who impregnates an E! Entertainment reporter (Katherine Heigl) after a few drinks and decides to take responsibility for his actions.

Horror fans can check out a trio of disparate offerings. Next Friday, Fox Atomic releases “28 Weeks Later,” the sequel to Danny Boyle’s delirious 2003 hit “28 Days Later.” This time, England is trying to repopulate following the rage virus outbreak, but a few infected folks survive to make the Brits miserable.

Then it’s splatter auteur Eli Roth dishing out more torture via “Hostel: Part II” (June 8).

The most promising shocker, and it’s more science fiction than fright night, is “The Invasion” (Aug. 17). Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig star in this latest interpretation of the 1956 classic “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

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