Summer Film Previews

Our critics enter the summer-movie fray

The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement
STARRING: Anne Hathaway, Julie Andrews

DIRECTOR: Garry Marshall

WRITER: Gina Wendkos

Napoleon Dynamite
Napoleon Dynamite

PREMISE: Last time around, she found out she was a princess. Now our heroine learns that she has 30 days to find herself a prince, or give up the throne. There's something like seven of these books already in print, so this cinematic series has only just begun.

OUTLOOK: The first Princess Diaries was surprisingly appealing, and all the same people are back, including Heather Matarazzo as the less-attractive best friend. John Rhys-Davies joins the cast on this outing, and he knows a thing or two about picking franchise projects.

STARRING: Alexa Vega, Mika Boorem, Kalli Flynn Childress

DIRECTOR: Joe Nussbaum

WRITER: Elisa Bell (Vegas Vacation)

PREMISE: Barely-teens compete against popular high school girls in an all-night scavenger hunt.

OUTLOOK: The director of the silly George Lucas in Love wriggles his way into a feature-directing deal, proving that anything is possible in America. Elements including stealing a car and vying for the "best" table in the cafeteria suggest a spirited teen hit, but nonetheless smells like Lean Girls.

Tom Dowd and the Language of Music
FEATURING: Tom Dowd, Ray Charles, Tito Puente, Aretha Franklin

DIRECTOR: Mark Moormann

PREMISE: Veteran recording engineer-producer's diverse career is documented.

OUTLOOK: First-time director arrives without a pedigree, but Dowd's decades of pop life and work sound lively. Plus, how often do Coltrane fans and Skynyrd fans assemble in the same room?

Without a Paddle
STARRING: Matthew Lillard, Seth Green, Burt Reynolds

DIRECTOR: Steven Brill (Adam Sandler movies)

WRITERS: Jay Leggett, Mitch Rouse (Employee of the Month)

PREMISE: Urban buddies go camping. And rafting. Badly.

OUTLOOK: Dork-a-thon. Some may squeal in amusement . . . but please, deliver us.

FEATURING: The voices of Dan Green, Wayne Grayson, Amy Birnbaum

DIRECTOR: Ryôsuke Takahashi


PREMISE: Spiky-haired anime guy from popular cartoon series and card game battles ancient evil.

OUTLOOK: Children, gaming geeks and quasi-Egyptologists rejoice. Even if you're not a fan, the title is fun to say in bed.

The Cookout
STARRING: Storm P., Eve, Queen Latifah, Danny Glover, Farrah Fawcett, Vincent Pastore

DIRECTOR: Lance Rivera

WRITERS: Queen Latifah & Shakim Compere & Darryl French, Laurie B. Turner & Ramsey Gbelawoe, first-timers all

PREMISE: A newly successful basketball player (Storm P.) throws an old-fashioned cookout for his longtime friends and family. But when his new hangers-on and corporate co-workers show up as well, humorous interactions ensue.

OUTLOOK: Latifah's been on a roll lately, but if she makes too many movies that sound almost exactly the same as Barbershop (up next: Beauty Shop), people may stop coming. The premise of The Cookout is extremely basic -- the degree to which the vast ensemble cast has any kind of chemistry together is going to make or break it.

Fahrenheit 9/11
STARRING: Michael Moore, George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden

WRITER/DIRECTOR: Michael Moore (yes, it's allegedly a documentary, but remember, he won a writing award for Bowling for Columbine)

PREMISE: Just in time for election season, Moore chronicles the connections between the Bush and bin Laden families, and no doubt implies that more could have been done to prevent the events of September 11.

OUTLOOK: They're gonna love it in Europe. Here at home, it's become the cool thing for Democrats to distance themselves from Moore, but the bottom line is he knows how to make a documentary that can engage the average American, and he almost single-handedly made the Bush AWOL issue a news item again this year.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
STARRING: The voices of Akio Otsuka, Atsuko Tanaka, Koichi Yamadera


PREMISE: Sequel to the highly influential anime about downloading human souls ("ghosts") into robot bodies. The original film was one of the most obvious stylistic and narrative influences on The Matrix.

OUTLOOK: DreamWorks did right by its last anime release, Millennium Actress, which didn't make a whole lot of money. Everyone who knows the name Mamoru Oshii will likely see this sequel and love it, but will anyone else?

MC5 * A True Testimonial

DIRECTOR: David C. Thomas

PREMISE: Documentary about the '60s Detroit hard-rock band, whose political stance caught the attention of the authorities. Includes archival and recent footage, as well as actual FBI surveillance tape.

OUTLOOK: This film should be enlightening to the kids of today who think all '60s music was mellow stoner jams. It should also find favor with those who fondly remember the band. Whether it gets seen by a wider audience depends entirely upon how well the film's publicists are able to market it.

STARRING: Thomas Jane, Ashley Taylor, David O'Hara

DIRECTOR: Bronwen Hughes

WRITERS: Ken Friedman (Bad Girls), Bima Stagg

PREMISE: The true-ish story of South Africa's popular early '80s antihero.

OUTLOOK: The director of Harriet the Spy takes on a gritty tale about a bad cop who robbed banks to prove that Apartheid was wrong. Big points for originality. Already a fave in its home country, itself an up-and-coming moviemaking haven.

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