Summer Film Previews

Our critics enter the summer-movie fray

Around the World in 80 Days
STARRING: Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, Cécile De France, Jim Broadbent

DIRECTOR: Frank Coraci

WRITERS: David Goldstein, David Benullo, Michael Weiss...and Jules Verne

Napoleon Dynamite
Napoleon Dynamite

PREMISE: Chan and Coogan take to the skies in the umpteenth remake of this classic novel.

OUTLOOK: Looks like good old-fashioned fun -- if any market for such a risk still exists. Coogan (star of British TV hit I'm Alan Partridge) and Chan are both geniuses of their craft, and the stunt casting -- including the Gropenator as a polygamist in a fugged-up wig -- seems amusing. In the case of director Coraci (The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy), this appears to be evidence that if you survive Adam Sandler, you are allowed to make a cool movie.

STARRING: Mario Van Peebles, Nia Long, David Alan Grier, Ossie Davis

DIRECTOR: Mario Van Peebles

WRITERS: Mario Van Peebles, Dennis Haggerty

PREMISE: Playing his daddy Melvin, Mario dramatizes the trials and tribulations surrounding the making of the 1971 hit Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song.

OUTLOOK: Why the five s's in the title? Because the MPAA won't allow the word "ass" in a title. Wouldn't be a bad idea to release Papa Van Peebles' original movie in a new deluxe DVD format to help get the word out. If Mario can sell it to the black youth audience, he'll have a hit.

The Blind Swordsman: Zatôichi
STARRING: "Beat" Takeshi Kitano, Tadanobu Asano, Yui Natsukawa

DIRECTOR: "Beat" Takeshi Kitano (Kikujiro no natsu)

WRITERS: "Beat" Takeshi Kitano, Kan Shimozawa (novels)

PREMISE: Blind traveling masseur moonlights as noble Samurai.

OUTLOOK: The eccentric Japanese actor-writer-director returns with a great early buzz on his Samurai battle royale. The question is, can anyone Beat Takeshi?

Bukowski: Born Into This
STARRING: Charles Bukowski, Bono, Sean Penn, Barbet Schroeder

DIRECTOR: John Dullaghan

PREMISE: From the official press release: "The name Bukowski is as synonymous with fighting and fucking as it is with poetry and prose.... John Dullaghan's documentary brilliantly manages to reveal the man behind the myth."

OUTLOOK: You'll probably be able to smell the liquor in the air at theaters playing this one.

The Chronicles of Riddick
STARRING: Vin Diesel, Colm Feore, Alexa Davelos, Judi Dench


PREMISE: That bald brute from the supercool Pitch Black returns, perchance to save the universe.

OUTLOOK: Looks like a very heavyhanded allegory for the European Crusades, writ science-fictiony in the 26th century. Dench may be seeing Alec Guinness potential as the mystical guide of the nice-guy Elementals, whom Richard "Dick" B. Riddick (Diesel) assists in battling the probably-not-nice Necromongers, led by Feore. Pitch Black was an Alien knockoff done right, but this may be the beginning of an action trilogy done silly.

Coffee and Cigarettes
STARRING: Bill Murray, Tom Waits, Cate Blanchett, Roberto Benigni, the White Stripes and many other famous faces


PREMISE: A compilation of short films made by Jarmusch over the years, all of which are filmed in black-and-white and involve comic conversations between two or three people over, yep, the titular caffeine- and nicotine-delivery devices.

OUTLOOK: Is there anyone out there who doesn't want to see Bill Murray play a scene opposite the Wu-Tang Clan's RZA and GZA? Or Steve Buscemi mediating between Cinque and Joie Lee? Iggy Pop and Tom Waits discussing, well, anything? This stuff is cool, people! The only potential downside is the frustration smokers will feel not being able to light up in the theater when everyone onscreen is doing so.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story STARRING: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Christine Taylor, Rip Torn

WRITER/DIRECTOR: Rawson Marshall Thurber (the short film/commercial "Terry Tate, Office Linebacker")

PREMISE: Another month, another Stiller-in-a-wig movie. Does the man never sleep? Anyhow, the film's title says it all, except that the movie isn't really based on a true story.

OUTLOOK: Didn't that one episode of South Park already exhaust every possible gag to be wrung from the notion of a dodgeball world championship? Here's a bold prediction: Dollars to donuts there'll be more than one scene of a man getting hit in the crotch.

STARRING: Breckin Meyer, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Steven Tobolowsky, the voice of Bill Murray

DIRECTOR: Peter Hewitt

WRITERS: Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow (the Cheaper by the Dozen remake)

PREMISE: The fat cat popularized in the '80s finally hits the CG big time.

OUTLOOK: Really, think about it: Fat, obnoxious comic-strip creature, eats and complains constantly, annoys bachelor and dog. This could just as well be the Cathy movie. Director Hewitt previously helmed the heartwarming British comedy Thunderpants, about a kid who farts a lot, which mysteriously remains unreleased on our prim shores.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
STARRING: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Gary Oldman

DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuarón

WRITER: Steven Kloves, based on the J.K. Rowling book

PREMISE: Boy wizard and friends must confront a scary spellcaster.

OUTLOOK: Probably another strong installment in a quality series. Michael Gambon's a good choice to replace woefully departed Richard Harris as Dumbledore. Whether the charm of director Chris Columbus can be replaced by the rough edges of Cuarón (the teen-sex exposé Y tu Mamá También) remains to be seen, but the odds are now greater that Harry and Ron will masturbate together on diving boards at the Hogwarts pool.

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