Assessing the Summer Movie Crop

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Critic Bob Mondello offers a selective preview of the upcoming summer movie season. Hollywood is digging into the archives with Batman Begins, Bewitched, The Honeymooners and The Dukes of Hazzard.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

The summer movie season has a lot riding on it this year. Despite the huge success of the latest "Star Wars" movie, box office numbers have been down from last year for 13 weekends in a row. Hollywood hopes that the summer's potential blockbusters, from "Batman" to "Cinderella Man," will reverse that trend. There are more than 100 films in all. We asked Bob Mondello for a selective preview.

BOB MONDELLO reporting:

With DVDs, TiVo and video games supposedly altering the entertainment landscape, Hollywood is turning to things that have worked in the past: lots of remakes, sequels and prequels, including the back story to a comic book franchise that had become pretty seriously overblown.

(Soundbite of "Batman Begins")

Mr. MICHAEL CAINE: (As Alfred Pennyworth) Your parents' death was not your fault.

Mr. CHRISTIAN BALE: (As Bruce Wayne/Batman) My parents deserve justice. I cannot let that pass.

Mr. CAINE: (As Alfred Pennyworth) If you make yourself more than just a man, then you become something else entirely.

Mr. BALE: (As Bruce Wayne/Batman) Which is?

Mr. CAINE: (As Alfred Pennyworth) A legend, Mr. Wayne.

MONDELLO: The director of "Memento," a movie that literally went backwards, will take us back to how Bruce Wayne became the Caped Crusader in "Batman Begins." And he's not the only one taking a fresh look at familiar territory. Hollywood's remake brigade will bring us new versions of the "Bad News Bears"...

(Soundbite of "Bad News Bears")

Mr. BILLY BOB THORNTON: (As Buttermaker) You guys swing like Helen Keller at a pinata party.

MONDELLO: ..."The Dukes of Hazzard"...

(Soundbite of "The Dukes of Hazzard")

Mr. JOHNNY KNOXVILLE: (As Luke Duke) Yee-ha!

Mr. SEANN WILLIAM SCOTT: (As Bo Duke) Yee-ha!

MONDELLO: ...and "The Pink Panther" starring Steve Martin in the role made famous by Peter Sellers.

(Soundbite of "The Pink Panther")

Mr. STEVE MARTIN: (As Inspector Jacques Clouseau) Officer Jacques Clouseau, gendarme third class.

MONDELLO: Not all the remakes will hue close to the originals. There are some reconsiderations in store, including an African-American take on "The Honeymooners" with Cedric the Entertainer as Ralph Kramden.

(Soundbite of "The Honeymooners")

CEDRIC THE ENTERTAINER: (As Ralph Kramden) One day you are going to push me too far.

Ms. GABRIELLE UNION: (As Alice Kramden) The only think that could push you is a bulldozer.

MONDELLO: A sitcom from a period just after "The Honeymooners," "Bewitched," will get a different sort of makeover. Nicole Kidman stars as a real witch who gets hired to play a fake witch on TV and then gets annoyed when the guy playing her hubby thinks he can upstage her.

(Soundbite of "Bewitched")

Mr. WILL FERRELL: (As Jack Wyatt/Darrin Stephens) "Bewitched" is being retooled. So it's about me.

Ms. NICOLE KIDMAN: (As Isabel Bigelow/Samantha Stephens) (Unintelligible). He said he needed me. He doesn't understand who he's dealing with.

MONDELLO: He's dealing with someone who can mess with his line reading.

(Soundbite of "Bewitched")

Unidentified Actor #1: This line is, `It's my dog.'

Mr. FERRELL: (As Jack Wyatt/Darrin Stephens) It's my dog. I want him back.

Unidentified Actor #1: Action!

Mr. FERRELL: (As Jack Wyatt/Darrin Stephens) Where art thou dog?

MONDELLO: Old television shows rethought, old comedies revised, and, believe it or not, they're even remaking an old documentary. "Dogtown and Z-Boys" told the story of the California kids who reinvented surfing as an activity for landlubbers. In the slightly fictionalized "Lords of Dogtown," they will again take the skateboard where it had never gone before, into empty swimming pools.

(Soundbite of "Lords of Dogtown")

Unidentified Actor #2: This wave breaks 24 hours a day, every day. And you know what, bros? We're going to be the first to ride it.

MONDELLO: The passion for remakes has even infected Steven Spielberg, though there's some debate over what exactly he is remaking. His source material in "War of the Worlds" is the 1898 H.G. Wells novel of that title, not the Orson Welles radio show or the 1950s movie. But the trailer for the film makes it look a lot like "Independence Day," with Tom Cruise trying to get his daughter out of the way of invading aliens.

(Soundbite of "War of the Worlds")

Mr. TOM CRUISE: (As Ray Ferrier) Tell me what you saw.

DAKOTA FANNING: (As Rachel Ferrier) Whose car is this?

Mr. LENNY VENITO: (As Manny) All right. Where are you going? What are you doing?

Mr. CRUISE: (As Ray Ferrier) Get in, Manny.

Mr. VENITO: (As Manny) Get out of this truck. I'm not kidding, Ray.

Mr. CRUISE: (As Ray Ferrier) Get in, Manny, or you're going to die.

MONDELLO: Not quite "E.T.," is it? For what it's worth, there are some non-remakes coming out of the big studios this summer, or at any rate films that aren't specifically remakes: "The Island," for instance, in which Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson discover that they're clones and decide they'd rather not have their organs harvested; "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," in which the world's most lethal assassins rekindle their marriage when assigned to kill each other; and the "Wedding Crashers," in which two guys improvise fake identities for the purpose of picking up girls.

(Soundbite of "Wedding Crashers")

Mr. VINCE VAUGHN: (As Jeremy Klein) We are going to have tons and tons of opportunities to meet gorgeous ladies that are so aroused by the thought of marriage that they'll throw their inhibitions to the wind.

Mr. OWEN WILSON: (As John Beckwith) And who's going to be there to catch them?

OK. So what angle are you going to play here?

Mr. VAUGHN: (As Jeremy Klein) I'm going to go with the balloon-animal display.

Mr. WILSON: (As John Beckwith) I'm going to dance with the little flower girl or I might be a charter member of Oprah's book club.

Mr. VAUGHN: (As Jeremy Klein) It's all deadly.

MONDELLO: Films for smaller kids, incidentally, follow the same pattern this summer as ones for adults. There are a couple of original pictures, like the 3-D adventure "Shark Boy & Lava Girl" and the fable "Howl's Moving Castle," from the reigning master of Japanese animation, and then there are the familiar stories retold. "Herbie: Fully Loaded," for instance, a sequel to "The Love Bug," and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," a re-imagining from the feverish brain of Tim Burton of a children's classic.

(Soundbite of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory")

Group: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible) a genius who just can't be beat. A magician and a chocolate...

(Soundbite of bubble popping)

Mr. JOHNNY DEPP: (As Willy Wonka) Chewing gum is really gross, chewing gum I hate the most.

Group: (Singing) Willy Wonka here he is.

MONDELLO: Does all this sound just relentless? Well, the big studios do go on a sort of sugar high at this time of year. If you want your cerebral cortex engaged before Labor Day, you should probably look to independent filmmakers. They have to fight for space at the multiplex, but there will be a few dramas out there, including one that's likely to be controversial, "9 Songs."

(Soundbite of "9 Songs")

Mr. KIERAN O'BRIEN: (As Matt) When I remember Lisa, I don't think about her clothes or her work, where she was from or even what she said.

Ms. MARGO STILLEY: (As Lisa) Oh, baby, pay attention to me.

Mr. O'BRIEN: (As Matt) I think about her smell, her taste, her skin touching mine.

MONDELLO: A lot of skin touching in "9 Songs," which is controversial because art film director Michael Winterbottom filmed his actors engaging in unsimulated sex, the real thing, as it were. Less controversial serious pictures include "Murderball," a genuinely rousing documentary about paraplegic rugby players, "Broken Flowers," a new Jim Jarmusch drama starring Bill Murray as an aging ladies' man who gets in touch with his exes when he discovers, belatedly, that he's a father. And, "Yes," a drama in which the director of "Orlando," Sally Potter, chronicles a passionate love affair between a privileged Western woman and a Middle Eastern man. "Yes" is a story complicated not just by culture, class and world politics, but also by the fact that it was written in iambic pentameter.

(Soundbite of "Yes")

Ms. JOAN ALLEN: (As She) You are confusing me with them. Look, I'm not just an American. I'm Irish, too.

Mr. SIMON ABKARIAN: (As He) So what. You all have roots somewhere but have forgotten that you are anything but powerful, a big boss. You hear our children screams but feel no loss because they are not yours.

Ms. ALLEN: (As She) That isn't fair.

MONDELLO: You don't often find poetry in motion pictures, but in this case, it works just fine.

There is also one big studio film that aims to be more than just light summer entertainment. "Cinderella Man" tells the true story set in the Great Depression of heavyweight champ Jim Braddock, who was considered washed up but who kept fighting because he had to, to provide for his family.

(Soundbite of "Cinderella Man")

Unidentified Actor #3: He's old. He's arthritic.

Unidentified Actor #4: I'm sorry, Jimmy. It's over.

Unidentified Actor #5: Go home to Mae and the kids, Jim.

Mr. RUSSELL CROWE: (As Jim Braddock) Go home with what? Go home with what?

They said I'm through, Mae, that I can't be a boxer no more.

Unidentified Actor #6: You know, if they keep cutting shifts down at the docks, and if--you just don't get picked every day.

Mr. CROWE: (As Jim Braddock) That's it!

Hell, we ain't got nothing left to sell.

Ms. RENEE ZELLWEGER: (As Mae Braddock) I think we need to pack the kids.

Mr. CROWE: (As Jim Braddock) Send them away. That all of this has been for nothing. If we can't stay together, that means we've lost. That means we're giving up.

MONDELLO: A bit of inspirational uplift from Ron Howard, "Cinderella Man" is counterprogramming of a sort for all that comedy, action and distraction that is the Hollywood equivalent of a good, summer read. I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of theatrical music)

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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