Summer Film Previews

Our critics enter the summer-movie fray

OUTLOOK: Frankly, this sounds less like a movie than a template for a screenwriting workshop. Mann's affection for LA's mean streets (Heat, TV's Robbery Homicide Division) may score him another hit, but -- baddie or otherwise -- isn't the entire world completely sick of Tom Cruise by now?

Danny Deckchair
STARRING: Rhys Ifans, Miranda Otto, Justine Clarke, Andrew Crabbe

WRITER/DIRECTOR: Jeff Balsmeyer (veteran storyboard artist making feature debut)

Napoleon Dynamite
Napoleon Dynamite

PREMISE: Australian comedy about a guy who escapes his big-city blues by sailing away in a chair attached to helium balloons.

OUTLOOK: Anybody's guess, but thanks to the recent discovery of Australia, some novelty is possible. Also, lovely Miranda Otto as a blasted meter maid may represent the year's biggest emotional conflict of interests.

Exorcist: The Beginning
STARRING: Stellan Skarsgård, James D'Arcy, Isabella Scorupco

DIRECTOR: John, wait, Paul Schrader...oops, make that Renny Harlin

WRITERS: William Wisher (The 13th Warrior), Caleb Carr (The Warlord: Battle for the Galaxy), Alexi Hawley

PREMISE: Skarsgård plays the younger version of Max von Sydow's Father Merrin character, tangling with the devil in mid-twentieth-century Africa.

OUTLOOK: Frankenheimer died before filming had started. Then Schrader directed the film as a psychological thriller. Once the studio saw his cut, they decided they wanted more of a head-turning and green-puking kind of horror flick, so they recast most of the major roles and hired Harlin (Schrader's version will still apparently come out on DVD). This level of "creative differences" usually doesn't bode well for a film's quality, not to mention the fact that no Exorcist sequel to date has exactly been an aesthetic or commercial triumph.

Gojira STARRING: A guy in a monster suit, some Japanese people

DIRECTOR: Ishiro Honda

WRITERS: Ishiro Honda, Shigeru Kayama, Takeo Murata

PREMISE: Formerly trimmed, dubbed and Raymond Burr-ed as Godzilla on these shores, the original Japanese "big critter stomping on Tokyo" flick finally hits U.S. theaters uncut, with 40 minutes of footage previously unseen stateside and a Japanese language track.

OUTLOOK: To quote Harry Knowles of MAN IN SUIT! MAN IN SUIT! MAN IN SUIT! A geek-stravaganza if ever there was one.

Hero (Ying xiong)
STARRING: Jet Li, Daming Chen, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung

DIRECTOR: Zhang Yimou (Shanghai Triad)

WRITERS: Feng Li, Bin Wang, Yimou Zhang

PREMISE: Prior to China's Imperial history, a brilliant warrior tells a threatened king of his prowess.

OUTLOOK: Its budget ($17 million) probably equals the catering costs on a Scooby-Doo movie, but this is China's most expensive film yet and a big hit in its homeland. A flashback-heavy narrative should provoke intrigue while Jet Li's martial arts gifts wow the action enthusiasts.

A Home at the End of the World
STARRING: Colin Farrell, Robin Wright Penn, Sissy Spacek, Matt Frewer

DIRECTOR: Michael Mayer (debut)

WRITERS: Keith Bunin, Michael Cunningham (novel) PREMISE: Farrell plays a straight Clevelander in 1980s "New York" (Toronto) who moves in with gay Cleveland friend (Dallas Roberts) and falls for female roommate (Wright Penn), whom gay friend -- oops! -- was planning to impregnate. Then they all go visit Sissy Spacek in the country.

OUTLOOK: The Hours novel was also written by Cunningham, and frankly it wasn't "deep" or "moving" -- it was tedious. If that's your cup of tea, have another lukewarm swig, courtesy of Warners' new "independent" wing.

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead
STARRING: Clive Owen, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Charlotte Rampling, Malcolm McDowell

DIRECTOR: Mike Hodges

WRITER: Trevor Preston

PREMISE: Gangster tries to go bucolic while solving the murder of his brother.

OUTLOOK: At least the second film to be named after a mortality-themed Warren Zevon song (the other being Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead), this British gangster movie reteams Owen and Hodges (Croupier). It could satisfy some indie-philes not interested in watching Owen play a fancy-pants King Arthur, and Rampling's usually a treat. But Malcolm McDowell as yet another heavy? What, was Dennis Hopper busy?

Infernal Affairs
STARRING: Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang

DIRECTORS: Andrew Law (not the same person as star Andy), Alan Mak (A War Named Desire)

WRITERS: Alan Mak, Felix Chong (Gen-X Cops 2)

PREMISE: The first film in a popular Hong Kong action franchise, Infernal Affairs follows the parallel stories of a gang mole in the police force and an undercover cop infiltrating the mob, both of whom find themselves seeking similar objectives.

OUTLOOK: Miramax finally seems to be learning that dubbing is not the way to go. If it does well, there are already two sequels available to import.

Open Water
STARRING: Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis

WRITER/DIRECTOR: Chris Kentis (1997's Grind, not to be confused with the recent skateboarding flick of the same name)

PREMISE: A vacationing couple goes on a scuba-diving trip and is accidentally left out to sea, surrounded by sharks. Based on a true story.

OUTLOOK: The filmmakers used real sharks. Real. No one's gonna be bitching about how fake they look, like they did with all the Jaws movies. Audiences jaded by mega-budget, computer-generated stuff who want a good water-based scare are gonna eat it up like Jaws at a beach party.

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