Summer Movie preview
by J. Robert Parks

Last week, I stumbled upon a fascinating website called The Hollywood Stock Exchange. It's set up like a real financial market, except the securities traded are films and movie stars. Even more than Hollywood itself, the winners are judged solely on how much money they make. Who cares how many awards or critical acclaim a film garners, just tell me how much it grosses on opening weekend.

As I've pondered the movie lineup for summer 2000, I've come to think that the Hollywood Stock Exchange might have it right. When Big Daddy and Wild Wild West were two of last year's biggest films, it seems positively quixotic to believe that quality might equal quantity come summertime. Why beat your head against a wall when you can go with the flow and hope that Mission: Impossible 2 can actually crack the $200 million barrier?

To that end, I offer my picks for the big winners this summer:

The Blockbusters
Mission: Impossible 2, which opened last week, will probably be the largest film of the summer. And why not? It's a slick, enjoyable action movie that doesn't insult the audience's intelligence, at least not too much. Tom Cruise gives his typical performance, but his co-star Thandie Newton brings her own assets to the table; and director John Woo can stage a fight scene with the best of 'em. Gone in 60 Seconds (June 9), the new production from mega-action producer Jerry Bruckheimer, should be M:I-2's main competition. Starring Nicholas Cage as a reformed car thief who's blackmailed into one last heist and Angelina Jolie (who else?!) as his sexy sidekick, this movie promises more car chase explosions per minute than the ending of The Blues Brothers. The next week (June 16) brings the return of Shaft.  Actually, Richard Roundtree only has a small cameo. The title character is played this time by Samuel L. Jackson (who else?!). Vanessa Williams co-stars and Boyz N the Hood director John Singleton tries to regain his wonderboy status.

Opening the weekend before July 4th are two epic men movies: The Patriot (starring Mel Gibson) and Perfect Storm (starring George Clooney). Even though The Patriot is set in the Revolutionary War and Perfect Storm takes place off the New England coast in the 1990s, I keep confusing these movies in my mind. Both will have big effects, high drama, and more male bonding than you see at a WWF match. Two weeks later (July 14) comes another bonding movie, this one starring those comic-book heroes, the X-Men. This one is billed as a live-action movie, but then so was Phantom Menace. Hopefully, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen can raise the comic-book standard. And the last big blockbuster for the summer will probably be What Lies Beneath (July 21), directed by Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) and starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer. Expect supernatural weirdness, ala Sixth Sense.

If the prices on the blockbusters are too high for you (current price for M:I-2 on the big board is $150 million a share), I suggest you go the comedy route, always a summer staple. Martin Lawrence kicks June off with Big Momma's House, in which he goes undercover as an enormous grandmother to catch the bad guys. Comic hi-jinxs are sure to ensue. The biggest comedy of the year, though, will almost certainly be the new Farrelly brothers film (There's Something About Mary) about a cop with a split personality. Jim Carrey stars (who else?!), with Renee Zellweger as his unfortunate love interest. It opens June 23.

Other summer prospective laugh-fests include Disney's The Kid (July 14) in which Bruce Willis finds out what he was like as an 8-year-old. Generation gap hi-jinxs are sure to ensue. Then there's the battle of the African-American comics on July 28: Chris Rock stars in a "Heaven Can Wait"-style comedy entitled I Was Made to Love Her, and Eddie Murphy returns as the fatty professor in Nutty Professor 2. And rounding out this season of black stand-up is Jamie Foxx in Bait (Aug. 11).

Animated Movies
There's plenty of animated fare this summer, and not all of it's directed at the little ones. June 16 is the sci-fi, save-the-world epic Titan A.E., which has a strange underground buzz despite the fact that it looks amazingly stupid. Of course, this being summer-time, maybe it's because it looks stupid. Definitely on the other end of the intelligence meter is Chicken Run (June 23), the highly anticipated feature-length film from Nick Park and Aardman Animators, the geniuses behind Wallace and Gromit, among others. Chicken Run concerns a group of chickens trying to avoid the grocery store. The following weekend brings us The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, which is a combination of live-action and animation. The live actors are the trio of Robert De Niro, Rene Russo, and Jason Alexander. The animated characters are the duo of Rocky and Bullwinkle (who else?!).

The kiddies get their share on July 21 when Pokemon 2000 invades America. Expect more hyper-active sixth graders and completely bewildered parents. And for the even younger set (much younger) comes Thomas and the Magic Railroad (July 26). If nothing else, my four-year-old nephew will be excited about this one. Wrapping up the summer is Godzilla 2000 (August 11), which is, thankfully, not a sequel to the enormous bomb of a few years ago. Rather, it's a new movie from Japan that continues the great tradition of horrible stop-motion plastic dolls. Camp enthusiasts will be lining up early.

Teen Crap
Of course, the entire summer is devoted to teenagers, but some movies particularly target the libidinous generation and its disposable income. You can add a "who else?!" after each of these next flicks. There's the sweet romance of Boys and Girls (Freddie Prinze, June 16), Mad about Mambo (Keri Russell, July 14), and Save the Last Dance (Julia Stiles, August 11). There's the sex comedy of Road Trip (opened two weeks ago), Loser (Mean Suvari, July 21), and But I'm a Cheerleader (Natasha Lyonne, July 28). Throw in a horror spoof, Scary Movie on July 7, and the teen western Texas Rangers (James Van Der Beek, August 11), and you have eight movies that should never see the whites of an adult's eyes.

Adult Fare
There are some movies, though, that should interest those of voting age. If you're looking to stock your portfolio with a cheap blockbuster, this is the category (think of Forrest Gump and last year's Sixth Sense). July 14 brings John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow in Nora Ephron's Numbers, a romantic comedy about the lottery. Director Paul Verhoeven returns with another creepy sci-fi adventure starring Kevin Bacon as a man who enjoys being invisible (July 28).

Harold Ramis returns to the big screen with Bedazzled (August 11), an updating of the Faust legend with Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley. In the May-September romance category, Richard Gere and Winona Ryder fall in love in New York (Autumn in New York, August 18). And Robert Redford continues his obsession with uncinematic subjects (read, boring) by bringing us a film about golf. The Legend of Bagger Vance (August 4) stars Will Smith and Matt Damon (uh, someone else??).

Finally, in the subcategory of old men acting like stupid fools, we have Space Cowboys (August 4), a movie about a quartet of geezers hoping to go into space. This one features Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and James Garner. And for those who can't get enough, Burt Reynolds and Richard Dreyfuss star as a couple of retired mobsters (isn't that an oxymoron?) who fight to save their retirement home in The Crew (August 25). Maybe the Space Cowboys can come to their rescue.

Not every movie fits into a nice, easy category, particularly if it's trying to target a sentient audience. Beware, though: the odds of these movies making a return on your money is very, very small. Ralph Fiennes plays another tortured soul (what else?!) in Sunshine (June 9), a film that swept this year's European awards. Kenneth Branagh returns with another Shakespeare adaptation, Love's Labour's Lost (June 16). Vanessa Paradis is the Girl on the Bridge, a suicidal young woman who recognizes a career opportunity when she sees one, as the target of a circus knife thrower. And there's the toast of this year's Sundance Festival, Girlfight. No, it's not a behind-the-scenes look at Britney Spears and Cristina Aguilera (though that would be a better investment), but rather a feature about women's boxing.

For the discriminating filmgoer, Chicago offers a number of attractive options. The Music Box theater and the Film Center always have a fantastic mix of independent, foreign, and classic Hollywood. Facets offers a potpourri of rewarding smaller fare. And Hyde Park's own Doc Films has one of its finest summer schedules in recent memory; look for a full review in a couple weeks.


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