By ROBERT W. BUTLER
The Kansas City Star
According to the immutable laws of movie distribution. there can be only one BIG movie opening each week.
Only one major tent pole picture.
Only one title moviegoers are expected to run out to see on its first weekend in theaters.
Looking at the films that will be opening in Kansas City till Labor Day, it’s easy to see this attitude in practice.
With few exceptions, each week this summer will be dominated by one monster movie — a movie expected to so consume the ticket-buying public that nobody wants to go up against it … at least not with a film that might draw from the same audience.
The most obvious example is the opening of the new Indiana Jones movie May 22. It’s expected to so suck up all the attention and dollars that it’s the only studio movie opening that week. In fact, Hollywood expects it to be such a hit that no big-budget blockbuster will be opening the week after, either.
This is not to say that the BIG movie will be the best movie. We’ve been burned too many times to fall for that one.
It’s a superhero movie based on a minor Marvel character most of us know little about. Still, “Iron Man” has developed tremendous buzz thanks largely to the teaming of director Jon Favreau (“Elf”) and star Robert Downey Jr. and the judicious leaking of footage at last summer’s big ComicCon convention.
Downey plays Tony Stark, brilliant inventor, millionaire playboy and international arms dealer without a conscience. Kidnapped by terrorists on a business trip to Afghanistan, Stark must face the human toll of his life’s work and responds by building a flying suit of armor that will transform him into Iron Man.
It has all the bells and whistles of the genre — great f/x, fights, a dastardly villain — but it’s Downey’s transformation from smug egomaniac to protector of the weak that gives the film its emotional oomph.
With Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard.
ALSO: •“Made of Honor”: In this romantic comedy, womanizer Patrick Dempsey comes to the late conclusion that he’s in love with his best friend (Michelle Monaghan). For her wedding she chooses him as her maid of honor, putting him in a perfect position to sabotage the nuptials. •“The Visitor”: Indie star Thomas McCarthy (“The Station Agent”) directs character actor Richard Jenkins (the dead dad in “Six Feet Under”) as a Connecticut prof who finds two illegal immigrants living in his rarely used New York apartment. Advance reviews have been glowing. ‘Speed Racer’
Swell. Another big effects movie based on a TV show that wasn’t very good to begin with.
But wait: The combination of the Wachowski brothers (“The Matrix”) with “Into the Wild” star Emile Hirsch raises the possibility of action and brains. At least the futuristic racing sequences look fun.
Drawn from a Japanese anime series (originally called “Mahha GoGoGo”) that aired in the U.S. in the late ’60s and ’70s, the yarn features a young hero whose racing car is outfitted with all sorts of fantastic gadgets.
To save the family business (Susan Sarandon and John Goodman are his parents) and avenge his dead brother, Speed must take on the racing world and a crooked corporation. Look for Christina Ricci as Speed’s girlfriend, Trixie.
Yeah, the dialogue on display in the trailer suggests a grade-school mentality. Let’s hope the visuals make up for it.
ALSO: •“What Happens in Vegas”: Strangers Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz get drunk in Sin City and wake up married. The divorce is delayed when the unhappy couple win millions from a slot machine and are ordered by a judge to cohabit before dividing the fortune. •“Young@Heart”: Raves are pouring in for this doc about a chorus of New England retirees who sing rock ’n’ roll. You don’t appreciate the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” until you’ve heard it performed by nursing home residents. •“Redbelt”: David Mamet directs a “Karate Kid” for grown-ups. Brit actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (“American Gangster,” “Children of Men”) portrays a principled martial arts instructor forced into the world of ultimate fighting. With Tim Allen, Joe Mantegna. •“Then She Found Me”: Helen Hunt stars in and directs this effort about a teacher who’s dumped by her husband (Matthew Broderick), falls for a student’s father (Colin Firth) and discovers the mother (Bette Midler) who gave her up for adoption. ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian’
As kids, a lot of us read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But very few went on to consume all of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books.
Which means there’s only limited audience familiarity with Prince Caspian.
Happily for the Disney folk, 2005’s “LW&W” was a monster hit ($292 million in ticket sales) that left young fans eager for more. So while the actual plot may be new to them, the whole Narnia thing is now a known quantity.
In the latest installment of the saga, the dimension-traveling Pevensie children return to Narnia to find that a millennium has passed (in Narnia years) and the kingdom is ruled by yet another despot. The sword-wielding Prince Caspian (newcomer Ben Barnes) leads the rebellion.
Andrew Adamson returns as director, the special effects should be better than ever and Tilda Swinton is back as the witch and Liam Neeson as the voice of Aslan the lion. New to the cast are Warwick Davis, Eddie Izzard and Peter Dinklage. ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’
Set in 1957, “Crystal Skull” finds our swashbuckling hero looking for a mysterious antiquity with supernatural powers (nothing new there) and battling a Soviet agent (Cate Blanchett) bent on world domination. Indy is reunited with old flame Marion (Karen Allen) and teams up with a cycle-riding, leather-jacketed teen (Shia LaBoeuf, who seems to be wearing Brando’s wardrobe from “The Wild One”).
The Indy films have always been the child of two fathers: Steven Spielberg (who directs) and George Lucas (who comes up with the stories). Our fear is that if the last three “Star Wars” films were any indication, Lucas’ storytelling skills have deteriorated. Still, screenplay writer David Koepp has a good track record (“War of the Worlds,” “Spider-Man,” “Panic Room”), and Spielberg can direct a great action scene.
And holding it all together is Harrison Ford, whose Indy isn’t so much getting older as getting better.
Set in 1982, “Rambow” is the story of a British lad whose strict religious sect won’t allow him to watch movies or TV. So when a troublemaking classmate exposes him to a bootleg video of Sylvester Stallone’s “First Blood,” the movie virgin is blown away. He and his pal decide to make their own “Rambo” movie, using their classmates as cast members.
Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda are back in business … although just what that business might be is one of Hollywood’s best kept secrets.
This we do know: The story takes place four years after we last saw the ladies, and they’ve settled into new lives of domestic bliss (or not). Chris Noth is on hand as Carrie’s squeeze Big (and, no, they’re not married yet). Apparently there’s a big shocker in the movie’s opening minutes. (Does somebody die?)
Beyond that, about all you can count on are some fabulous shoes. Veteran “Sex” director Michael Patrick King is at the helm and wrote the screenplay.
ALSO: •“The Strangers”: Vacationers Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman are terrorized in their cabin by psychos. It’s the writing/directing debut of Bryan Bertino. •“The Fall”: The latest from director Tarsem Singh (“The Cell”) has been described both as a visual tour de force and narratively incomprehensible (and it has been in distribution limbo for a year). A hospitalized man (Lee Pace) relates to a fellow patient — a little girl (Catinca Untaru) — a fantastic story. Slowly reality and fiction become one. ‘Kung Fu Panda’
The latest from DreamWorks Animation is this yarn about a slothful panda (voiced by Jack Black) who must study martial arts so he can defend his patch of jungle from a predatory leopard (Ian McShane).
Dustin Hoffman voices his kung fu mentor; others include Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, David Cross and Michael Clarke Duncan.
ALSO: •“You Don’t Mess With the Zohan”: An Israeli secret agent (Adam Sandler) fakes his death and begins life anew as an NYC hairstylist. Dennis Dugan directs; with Mariah Carey, Rob Schneider. •“Stuck”: Heavy drama and black humor vie when an alcohol-impaired nurse (Mena Suvari) hits a homeless man (Stephen Rea) and drives home with his body stuck halfway through her windshield. Stuart Gordon (“Re-Animator”) directs. ‘The Incredible Hulk’
Ang Lee’s 2003 psycho-heavy take on Hulk was a box office and critical dud. But at least it got out of the way the whole origin-of-the-Hulk thing.
As this version starts, Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is already on the lam, trying to find out how to reverse the gamma ray-induced mutation that periodically turns him into a big, green behemoth.
Gotta love that a chops-heavy thesp like Norton would take on this iconic role. But since filming concluded, the actor has had a falling out with Marvel Enterprises and has declined to do publicity for the movie. Apparently he and director Louis Leterrier (“The Transporter”) wanted a slower, more thoughtful “Hulk.” The guys at Marvel wanted a faster, more furious “Hulk.” Guess who won?
Also in the cast are Liv Tyler, Tim Roth and William Hurt. And look for a crossover appearance from Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, aka Iron Man.
ALSO: •“The Happening”: When unexplained events decimate the world’s population, a couple (Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel) go on the run. Oooh … are there zombies? Probably not. This one’s from M. Night Shyamalan, whose career could use a “Sixth Sense”-sized hit. ‘Get Smart’
Most of today’s hard-core moviegoers never saw the old Don Adams/Mel Brooks TV comedy about a bungling secret agent. But they know and love Steve Carell, which should be more than enough reason for this new “Get Smart” to dominate the box office.
With Anne Hathaway as Agent 99, Dwayne Johnson as Agent 23 and Alan Arkin as the Chief. Peter Segal isn’t terribly comforting in the director’s shoes (he helmed the last three Adam Sandler flicks — “The Longest Yard,” “50 First Dates” and “Anger Management”), but we’ll put our faith in Carell’s comedy sensibilities.
ALSO: •“The Love Guru”: An American (Mike Myers) raised in India returns to the U.S. determined to break into the self-help field. Some Hindus in this country have expressed concern. With Jessica Alba, Jessica Simpson, Ben Kingsley. ‘Wall-E’
The latest animated effort from Disney/Pixar is a futuristic love story involving a waste-disposal robot left behind when humans fled their polluted planet. Now, 700 years later, humanity has sent another robot back to Earth to see if the place is livable once again.
Let’s see … romance, ecologically responsible theme, recognizable voices (Sigourney Weaver, John Ratzenberger, Fred Willard) and Pixar’s look and sense of humor. Sounds like it can’t miss.
“Wall-E” was co-written and directed by Andrew Stanton, who previously steered “A Bug’s Life” and “Finding Nemo” to box-office gold.
ALSO: •“Wanted”: While families are flocking to “Wall-E,” the action crowd will be piling into “Wanted,” in which slacker James McAvoy (“Atonement”) is recruited into a shadowy world of assassins. Angelina Jolie does the recruiting, so we can understand how he’d get sucked in. Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (“Night Watch,” “Day Watch”) certainly has the visual chops to pull it off, but can he handle a big comedy/adventure? With Morgan Freeman and Terence Stamp. ‘Hancock’
In a season heavy with superheroes, “Hancock” could be the sleeper. Will Smith plays the title character, an anti-social alcoholic who isn’t thrilled to have superhuman powers.
He tries to restore his public image with the help of a PR expert (Jason Bateman) and ends up falling for the guy’s wife (Charlize Theron) … which doesn’t sound like any superhero movie we’ve ever seen.
Indeed, Smith and director Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights,” “The Kingdom”) say “Hancock” is as much a romantic drama as a superhero flick.
ALSO: •“Kit Kittredge: An American Girl” We’re not encouraged by the knowledge that this comedy/drama/mystery was inspired by a line of dolls. But the presence here of Oscar-nominated Abigail Breslin (for “Little Miss Sunshine”) is soothing. ‘Hellboy II: The Golden Army’
Ron Perlman’s Hellboy may be the coolest superhero ever to hit the movies — a hulking, red-skinned demon raised by humans and dedicated to saving us from the things that go bump in the night. That is, when he isn’t oozing sarcasm, making glum observations and pining after his morose, psychically gifted gal pal Liz (Selma Blair).
Perlman re-teams with writer/director Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) for this sequel, which has our horned hero battling an army of creatures from the Other Side while trying to lure Liz away from a new beau.
Del Toro boasts that the new movie has thousands of monsters. Fine, but the real attraction will always be Perlman’s grumpy/grand Hellboy.
ALSO: •“Journey to the Center of the Earth”: Brendan Fraser leads a team deep into caves below Iceland in this modern-day retelling of the Jules Verne story. Aside from the actors, just about everything in this 3-D eye-popper is computer-generated. Former effects guy Eric Brevig makes his feature directing debut. •“Meet Dave”: Tiny aliens visit Earth in a spaceship designed to resemble a human being (Eddie Murphy). Complications arise when the “machine” falls for an Earth woman. Let’s hope director Brian Robbins and Murphy have better luck than they did with “Norbit.” •“Religulous”: Bill Maher takes on contemporary religion in this comedy. •“Encounters at the End of the World”: Documentary about Antarctica from famed director Werner Herzog. ‘The Dark Knight’
This latest feature in the Batman franchise would have been a hit under any circumstances. After all, 2005’s “Batman Begins” earned more than $200 million, and fans were eager for another look at the dark, brooding world created by star Christian Bale and director Christopher Nolan.
But the death of actor Heath Ledger not long after he completed his work for the movie forces us to look at “The Dark Knight” in a whole new light. Some in Tinseltown say his iconoclastic, crazily energetic turn as the Joker could earn him a posthumous Oscar.
In any case, all the familiar faces from the original are returning, save for Katie Holmes, whose role as Rachel Dawes has been taken over by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Aside from Ledger, look for Aaron Eckhart as D.A. Harvey Dent, who will of course at some point become the criminal Two-Face.
ALSO: •“Mamma Mia!”: Not in the mood for another brooding superhero? Try this film adaptation of the long-running Broadway hit set to the ABBA songbook. On the eve of her wedding, a young woman meets the three men who might be her father. Great score and a great cast: Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan, Julie Walters. At the helm is leading Brit stage director Phyllida Lloyd. •“Space Chimps”: Animated feature about three apes rocketed into space to explore a black hole … they end up leading an intergalactic revolution. Voices by Andy Samberg, Cheryl Hines, Kenan Thompson, Kristin Chenoweth, Stanley Tucci. ‘Step Brothers’
Comedy rules, especially with Will Ferrell. Here he plays one of two adult stay-at-home sons (the other is played by John C. Reilly) who become stepbrothers when their parents (Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen) wed. Sibling rivalries develop. Directed by Adam McKay (“Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights”).
ALSO: •“The X-Files: I Want to Believe”: FBI agents Scully and Mulder (Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny) are back on the trail of the supernatural in this second feature inspired by the TV show. But 10 years after the first movie and six years after the last TV episode, does anybody still care? •“The Longshots”: An inspirational effort about a little girl determined to join a boys football team. Ice Cube co-stars; making his debut as director is Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst. •“American Teen”: The critics have been going nuts for this doc that follows a handful of Indiana high-schoolers. ‘The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor’
1999’s “The Mummy” and 2001’s “The Mummy Returns” earned more than $370 million domestically and made a bona-fide action star of Brendan Fraser.
OK, OK, we’ll admit that his Rick O’Connell is a diluted Indiana Jones, but Fraser is such a likable screen presence, audiences put up with even some of the more ridiculous elements of the franchise.
This time we find Rick in China looking for ancient treasure. Rachel Weisz is nowhere to be seen as the Missus … instead we find Rick contending with his teenage son (Luke Ford) and the re-animated mummy of a long-dead Chinese emperor (Jet Li).
ALSO: •“Swing Vote”: In an unexpected turn of events, a presidential election comes down to the vote of one man (Kevin Costner). The dramedy co-stars Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper, Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane. •“The Rocker”: “The Office’s” Rainn Wilson gets his first starring gig as a washed-up rock musician who decides to get his game back with his nephew’s high school band. With Christina Applegate and Josh Gad. Director Peter Cattaneo was the guy behind “The Full Monty.” •“Brideshead Revisited”: The TV version was one of the hits of the ’81 season. Julian Jarrold (“Becoming Jane”) directs this yarn about a young man’s relationships with the aristocratic family living on the Brideshead estate. Some heavyweights in the cast: Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon, Ben Whishaw, Greta Scacchi. •“Choke”: In this dramedy Sam Rockwell plays a scam artist who fakes choking in restaurants, then sponges off those who have “saved” him. With Anjelica Huston, Kelly Macdonald. •“Midnight Meat Train”: A Clive Barker story inspired this thriller about a serial killer stalking subway riders. With Bradley Cooper, Vinnie Jones. Directed by Japanese horror specialist Ryuhei Kitamura. ‘Pineapple Express’
In this epic stoner comedy, a pot dealer and his customer (James Franco, Seth Rogen,) witness a mob hit and find themselves on the lam from hired killers.
This road movie is getting plenty of buzz from several angles. For starters, Franco (the spiffy Harry Osborn in the “Spider-Man” movies) is supposed to give a classic comedy perf as a scraggly weedhead. Then there’s the screenplay by none other than Mr. Comedy, Judd Apatow (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up”).
And finally there’s the director, David Gordon Green, best known for angst-riddled indie dramas like “All the Real Girls,” “Undertow” and the recent “Snow Angels.” With a big Apatow comedy, Green is ending his art house exile and moving into the megaplex. Does he have the comic sensibilities for this sort of thing?
ALSO: •“The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2”: In the 2005 original, four teenage girls (America Ferrera, Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel, Blake Lively) discovered a pair of magical pants which, passing from hand to hand, fit them all and shaped their lives. It earned only about $40 million in theaters but on DVD has become a must-have accessory for middle-school girls. That bodes well for this sequel. •“Fly Me to the Moon”: In this animated 3-D feature three houseflies stow away aboard Apollo 11 and witness the first moon walk. The voices are provided by Tim Curry, Ed Begley Jr., Christopher Lloyd and Kelly Ripa. ‘Tropic Thunder’
Got to admit, this sounds like a hoot. Spoiled Hollywood actors playing grunts in a Vietnam War movie find themselves living their roles in real life.
Ben Stiller co-wrote and directed this blend of comedy and action, flanked by Jack Black and, in his weirdest perf to date, Robert Downey Jr. as an obsessive Aussie actor who actually dyes himself black to play an African-American NCO.
Apparently it’s also a killer satire of Hollywood, with no less a star than Tom Cruise donning a fat suit to play a potty-mouthed studio chief.
This animated feature, written by “Star Wars” creator George Lucas, takes place between “Attack of the Clones” and the most recent entry, “Revenge of the Sith.” Anakin Skywalker hasn’t yet gone over to the dark side and is teamed with a female Jedi. Look for a TV series to follow. •“Henry Poole Is Here”: Luke Wilson plays a disillusioned man who tries to hide from life in a rundown suburban tract. But the neighbors keep dropping by. •“Mirrors”: In this horror entry, Kiefer Sutherland plays a night security guard who discovers the long-closed department store he’s patrolling holds a deadly secret. ‘The House Bunny’
People grousing that women get short shrift in contemporary comedies can now shut up. In “House Bunny” a disgraced Playboy Playmate (Anna Faris) takes a gig as a sorority house mother — and the cast is virtually all female.
Helmer Fred Wolf’s only other directing credit was the boys-in-the-woods effort “Strange Wilderness,” which isn’t reassuring, but Faris is one of the funniest actresses out there.
ALSO: •“Wild Child”: Troublesome California princess (Emma Roberts) is shipped off to a British boarding school. With Natasha Richardson, Aidan Quinn. •“The Accidental Husband”: In this comedy from director Griffin Dunne an opinionated radio psychologist (Uma Thurman) advises a woman to break up with her beau; he (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) takes revenge by messing with the records so that it appears he’s married to the shrink. •“Hamlet 2”: Brit funnyman Steve Coogan plays a high school drama teacher who decides to mount his own musical sequel to Shakespeare’s great play. (Uh…didn’t just about every character die at the end of “Hamlet”?) With David Arquette, Catherine Keener, Amy Poehler and (we kid you not) the Tucson gay men’s chorus. •“Crossing Over”: Writer/director Wayne Kramer (“The Cooler”) offers a “Crash”-style multi-character look at illegal immigration in L.A. With Harrison Ford, Sean Penn, Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd. •“Bangkok Dangerous”: Hit man Nicolas Cage falls for a Bangkok woman. ‘Traitor’
Don Cheadle stars in this thriller about a Muslim CIA agent who goes undercover with a terrorist group and finds all his allegiances being challenged. The supporting cast is solid — Guy Pearce, Jeff Daniels, Neal McDonough — but what’s curious is the story’s origins … it was written by funnyman Steve Martin.
ALSO: •“Vicki Cristina Barcelona”: In Woody Allen’s latest, a painter in Barcelona becomes involved with two tourists. With Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson. •“College”: Three high school seniors visit the local college campus and are exposed to more university life than they’re comfortable with. It’s a comedy. •“Babylon A.D.” : In this futuristic action effort, a mercenary (Vin Diesel) finds himself escorting a woman whose body harbors an organism desperately sought by a cult bent on world domination. With Michelle Yeoh, Gerard Depardieu, Lambert Wilson.