THE BOILING POINT for summer movie season isn't measured on a Fahrenheit or Celsius scale, nor is it strictly gauged in dollars, number of tickets

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Thermal dynamics

Previewing the sticky floors of summer cinema.

THE BOILING POINT for summer movie season isn't measured on a Fahrenheit or Celsius scale, nor is it strictly gauged in dollars, number of tickets sold, or soda and popcorn revenues. Instead, as Hollywood marketing, vacationing kids, and unpredictable zeitgeist forces converge, there's a sudden, volatile reaction that makes a few anointed films hot. No one knows why these conflagrations occur. Massive advertising campaigns can leave the public unswayed; critics are ignored, as usual; and the public simply decides what it likes—then goes to see that same handful of movies over and over again. In part, the heat comes from that repetition: Strike a thing often enough, and it warms up. So it is with the churning tickets, turnstiles, and seats themselves. As soon as one show lets out, another immediately begins. When one movie hits big at a multiplex, it'll wind up on a half-dozen screens so we can enter at 30-minute intervals. The cinema becomes a machine operating at top speed and perfect efficiency. Its parts glow red with the effort, but that's the way it was designed to run. The movies are, after all, a product of mechanical reproduction.

Last summer, you'll recall, Mission: Impossible 2 was the hot flick. No matter that it felt derivative and uninspired— neither Tom Cruise nor John Woo's best work—the film still worked. Yet, for equally obscure reasons, the Jim Carrey- Farrelly Brothers comedy Me, Myself & Irene never reached the same temperature. Heat can't be forecast.

This summer, which begins with Pearl Harbor (see page 119), is no less difficult to predict. However, we do know the basic release schedule—always subject to change—and what stars are in which pictures. (See below; we won't even bother with May, which officially ends with the Japanese attack.) It's also possible to identify some obvious categories in the summer lineup. We've got remakes of movies (Planet of the Apes, Rollerball), of games (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), and of Shakespeare (O, which reworks Othello). We've got sequels (Jurassic Park III, Scary Movie 2, Rush Hour 2, American Pie 2, Dr. Doolittle 2—itself the sequel to a remake). We've got family fare (Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Cats & Dogs, Osmosis Jones), action flicks (The Fast and the Furious), and even a romantic comedy starring Julia Roberts (America's Sweethearts).

So, if the Oscar-bait Christmas movie season signals serious, does summer simply spell fun? Not anymore—and maybe that's the underlying significance of the next three months of supposedly escapist entertainment. The fact is that all the titles below are dead serious: laughs and gags planned to the second, jokes rewritten a dozen times over, effects and animation processed through NASA-size supercomputers. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested for our supposedly carefree enjoyment. (Last summer's box office gross totaled $2.65 billion—hardly a frivolous sum.) The pressure's on, and everything depends on us. So read further and start considering your potential favorites—if you can stand the heat.

JUNE BEGINS WITH Moulin Rouge's buzz from Cannes. Nicole rebounds from Tom by starring in the latest extravaganza from Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom), but do we really want to see her singing and dancing with Trainspotting's spiffed-up Ewan McGregor? More to the point, will this high-stakes musical merely seem corny and pass頴o irony-besotted Gen-Y ticket buyers? Swordfish (June 8) would seem an easier sell, with computers, gadgets, a new hunk (X-Men's Hugh Jackman), and an old icon (John Travolta)—but how much drama can we expect from people typing at keyboards? The same weekend, Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman returns with a virtual Ghostbusters remake (Evolution), but David Duchovny is no Bill Murray (see Osmosis Jones, below).

Nor is Rob Schneider Jim Carrey, although the former SNL comic's The Animal (June 1) boasts a premise—man receives nonhuman organ transplants, becomes hybrid superhero—that sounds suspiciously like something Carrey passed on. Speaking of heroes—or heroines— Oscar-winning nut case Angelina Jolie shows up in the title role of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (June 15), but how will her superbabeliness compare with that of the cyberoriginal? Female action flicks like Point of No Return or The Long Kiss Goodnight have never really scored with predominantly male action fans (who prefer women with comic-book proportions, just like Jolie).

For kids, the Dr. Doolittle sequel (June 22) is self-explanatory, while Atlantis: The Lost Empire (June 15) offers impressive animation in a Raiders of the Lost Ark- influenced tale that's refreshingly free of lachrymose ballads. (Be sure, however, of edifying lessons to be learned).

What about us adults? Several SIFF titles begin to spill into town, including Zhang Yimou's The Road Home (June 22), the dot-com fiasco documentary Startup.com (June 22), and The Princess and the Warrior (June 29), with the same director and star of Run Lola Run. For those who just caught Ag賠Varda's The Gleaners and I, her 1984 Vagabond returns on June 15.

JULY COMES EARLY, with Steven Spielberg's A.I. (June 29), based on a long-brewing pet project of the late Stanley Kubrick. The subject is—what else?—computers gone amok and the dehumanizing effect of technology on man, with that Sixth Sense brat, Haley Joel Osment, playing a kind of Pinocchio figure who only wants—sob!--to be human and to be loved. (Could this be the real tragedy to Kubrick's 1999 death—sap instead of astringency? We'll see.)

Pursuing a more obvious route to success (i.e., making fun of shit), Scary Movie 2 (July 4) promises more goofs on slasher movies. Julia Roberts fights Catherine Zeta-Jones for the guy in America's Sweethearts (July 20). More formulaic is the fish-out-of-water Legally Blonde (July 13), in which a sorority girl goes to Harvard Law; here we're hoping that Reese Witherspooon can add to a formidable comic r鳵m頴hat already includes Election.

Oddly, with the first two Jurassic Park flicks on his r鳵m鬠Spielberg dumped the third installment (July 18) on a prot駩—presumably because he was too busy with the presumably more important A.I. Wouldn't it then be a delicious irony if JPIII devours A.I. at the box office?

More than likely, both of those films will be stomped by Planet of the Apes (July 27). Here's a chance for Tim Burton to marry his turbo-Goth sensibility with popular culture again, as he did so well in the first Batman. Who cares if actors like Helena Bonham Carter will be unrecognizable beneath their monkey masks? Does it matter that Mark Wahlberg is no Charlton Heston? Not one whit. The racial allegories and future dystopianism have apparently been written out of the script; let's just hope that the new screenplay features more than irate chimps flinging feces at one another. Apes comes first on everyone's must-see list.

More SIFF spillovers include Chopper and The King is Alive (July 13), plus Baise-Moi (July 20) and Brother (July 27). SAM launches a weekly Cary Grant comedy series on July 12. For kids, the Little Theatre holds its annual summer children's film series of repertory titles, while Cats & Dogs (July 4) uses the latest CG technology to make our pets talk—creepy to us, amusing to others.

AUGUST FALLS UNDER the long shadow of Apes, which Hollywood rivals are wary of engaging directly. That's not such a bad thing for discerning moviegoers. The Grand Illusion is programming a wonderfully titled Bitches in Heat series (beginning August 3 and including All About Eve), while Ghost World (August 3) will return after its world premiere at SIFF. There, indie fave Steve Buscemi is stalked by a pair of creepy girls; Crumb director Terry Zwigoff makes this his first nondocumentary feature. Also from SIFF, Hedwig and the Angry Inch (August 3) promises to be the biggest echt—East German transsexual musical in movie history, while O and Together (August 24) should also benefit from festival buzz.

Relatively fresh from the Cannes festival, Francis Ford Coppola's lengthened, recut Apocalypse Now returns to screens August 24. Our three-word request to the director: More Brando, please! Then there's another aging director coasting on his laurels, Woody Allen, whose The Curse of the Jade Scorpion arrives August 10 with a big cast including Helen Hunt and Charlize Theron. It couldn't possibly be any worse than last summer's Small Time Crooks, a career low point. SAM's annual Twin Peaks night falls on August 18.

Outside the orbit of prestige films and art-house cinema, the Farrelly Brothers (of There's Something About Mary fame) deliver their live-action/animated feature, Osmosis Jones, on August 10. Even though the trailer leans heavily on flatulence, Bill Murray did wonderful things with their earlier Kingpin. Election's Chris Klein shows up in Rollerball (August 17), but it won't be the same without James Caan. We've also got yet another Freddie Prinze Jr. vehicle, Summer Catch (August 24), and the very first Mariah Carey vehicle, All That Glitters, which is conveniently scheduled to open on August 31—just when we're all going out of town for Labor Day weekend. It's nice to know that Hollywood still respects our intelligence.

bmiller@seattleweekly.com

 
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