Movie News & Reviews

Summer movie guide | ‘Indiana Jones,’ superheroes and ‘Sex and the City’ battle at the box office

There can be only one” may be the motto of those crazy dudes with the big swords in the “Highlander” movies, but it’s also a philosophy embraced by Hollywood.

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.

But love ’em or leave ’em, the films that you’ll be hearing about this summer start on Page 17. (Opening dates are subject to change.)

‘Iron Man’

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”: “The Visitor”: ‘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”: “Young@Heart”: “Redbelt”: “Then She Found Me”: ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian’

As kids, a lot of us read

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Narnia

books.

Which means there’s only limited audience familiarity with

Prince Caspian

.

Happily for the Disney folk, 2005’s “LW” 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.

ALSO: •“Son of Rambow”

(May 23): It’s called counterprogramming — against a big flashy Hollywood picture you open a tiny, heartfelt movie … and hope for the best.

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.

If you liked the little Irish flick “Millions,” you’ll probably like this one.

‘Sex and the City: The Movie’

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”: •“The Fall”: ‘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”: “Stuck”: ‘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”: ‘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”: ‘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”: ‘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” ‘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”: Meet Dave”: “Religulous”: “Encounters at the End of the World”: ‘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!”: “Space Chimps”: ‘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”: “The Longshots”: “American Teen”: ‘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”: “The Rocker”: “Brideshead Revisited”: “Choke”: “Midnight Meat Train”: ‘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”: “Fly Me to the Moon”: ‘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.

ALSO: •“Star Wars: The Clone Wars”:

It might be great. It might be gosh-awful. But, hey, it has “Star Wars” in the title.

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”: “Mirrors”: ‘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”: “The Accidental Husband”: “Hamlet 2”: “Crossing Over”: “Bangkok Dangerous”: ‘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”: “College”: “Babylon A.D.” :
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