The Great Escape

Summer at the Movies 2004

click to enlarge Shrek 2 - DREAMWORKS PICTURES
Shrek 2

Emotionally conflicted superheroes! Sizzling super-babes! Slime-oozing mega-beasties! Brilliant agents of global espionage! Animated entities of all shapes and sizes! And nothing less than the end of the world as we know it!

Yep, sounds like summertime at the movies again.

The 2004 season is a bit lighter on those pesky sequels that so dominated last year's summer movies, but it's still the sequels that set the season's tone. Summer wouldn't be summer without its franchises, and some of this year's most highly anticipated offerings arrive with numbers tagged on to the titles, whether literally (Spider-Man 2, Shrek 2) or just implied (the latest Harry Potter). Probably the most alarming or ridiculous (take your pick) trend on the horizon is that some of these franchises have apparently gained the ability to cross-fertilize themselves. Freddy vs. Jason begot this summer's Alien vs. Predator, and lord knows where it'll go from there.

Likewise, remakes are still big business (The Stepford Wives, The Manchurian Candidate), as well as films that aren't technically remakes but might as well be. Movies such as Mindhunters, Raising Helen and The Day After Tomorrow sound like a million other movies, and add to a summer air already thick with the cloying scent of déja vu.

Don't fret, though. The good folks at Madstone, Tampa Theatre and Channelside will continue making sure that we receive our essential cinematic nutrients so that our brains and psyches don't completely shrivel up and wither away during these long summer months. We've included a few of those welcome aberrations in the following summer preview too, just to keep things interesting.

In the meantime, it's time to get busy doing nothing. Time to turn off the brain, tune out the world and ease into the season's latest batch of state-of-the-art guilty pleasures. Entertaining America is a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it. And nobody does it better than Hollywood.

May 7: VAN HELSING The summer season starts right here, with a big-budget monster mash that rehashes those old Universal free-for-alls like House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. Frankie, Drac and Wolf Man are all aboard for this particular house party, along with all the latest CGI effects, and blockbuster vets Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale, looking spiffy in head-to-toe leather again. (Editor's note: Film not available for view by column deadline. See Outtakes for Lance's review of Van Helsing.)

May 14: TROY History retold by hunks. Reigning pretty boys Orlando Bloom and Brad Pitt (as Achilles!) in the story of Helen of Troy, a tale full of love and war and the whole damned thing. Peter O'Toole and Julie Christie are here too, just in case you had any doubts that this really is an epic.

BREAKIN' ALL THE RULES Jamie Foxx, in the first of his several summer releases, plays a guy who gets even with his ex by writing a popular book advising men on how to dump their girlfriends. Mean-spirited hilarity no doubt ensues — and even if it doesn't, there's always Gabrielle Union to brighten up the scenery.

THE RETURN The first of the summer's filmic fish out of water, this brilliant and unsettling Russian import depicts the strained re-union of two young boys and a father who may not be who he claims to be. The winner of the coveted Golden Lion award at last year's Venice Film Festival, this puzzling and beautifully crafted film will open locally at Madstone Theaters.

May 21: SHREK 2 I'm counting the days until this one. Myers, Murphy and Diaz all return in this sequel to everyone's favorite subversive animated fairy tale. Factor in the newly acquired voices and personalities of John Cleese, Julie Andrews, Rupert Everett and Antonio Banderas (as Puss in Boots!), and what more do you need?

THE CLEARING Robert Redford is the main draw here, in rugged-yet-sensitive mode as a businessman kidnapped by disgruntled everyman Willem Dafoe.

May 28: RAISING HELEN Wasn't this already released a while back as Uptown Girls? Kate Hudson steps into the pumps worn by Brittany Murphy in that previous disaster, as a club-dwelling glamourpuss suddenly saddled with parental responsibilities and small children.

THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW Having built a career on destroying the world (by, among other things, aliens in Independence Day and giant lizards in Godzilla), Roland Emmerich is up to his old tricks again. This time, however, we've only got ourselves to blame, as global warming and an out-of-control greenhouse effect make life very difficult for courageous scientist Dennis Quaid and his dreamboat son Jake Gyllenhaal, not to mention a couple billion bit players.

SOUL PLANE This African-American Airplane asks us to believe that comedy can indeed result from sticking Tom Arnold and an otherwise all-Black cast on a plane piloted by Snoop Dogg. That's a leap of faith to be reckoned with.

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