By our count, there are but two sequels waiting to have oil rubbed on their backs this summer — one featuring an evil lord named Vader, the other featuring an evil lord named Schneider — so the season has that going for it, which is nice.
But in lieu of sequels come comic-book superheroes (Batman, the Fantastic Four), small-screen retreads (Bewitched, cursed with the worst trailer ever, and The Dukes of Hazzard, which not even General Lee’s been waiting for) and big-screen redos (The Bad News Bears, The Longest Yard, The Honeymooners, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and War of the Worlds).
Of the 130-something movies scheduled to play this summer, few will warm the hearts of the most air-conditioned critics. Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers, with Bill Murray, Jessica Lange and Sharon Stone; Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man, starring Russell Crowe as boxer Jim Braddock and Paul Giamatti as his trainer; and Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm, with Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, arrive without action figures and Happy Meals — and bless their sunburned souls for trying to make art during a season of commerce. Perhaps it won’t be such a long, hot summer after all. — Robert Wilonsky
The following previews are written by Bill Gallo, Luke Y. Thompson and Robert Wilonsky.
The Longest Yard
Starring: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and James Cromwell
Directed by: Peter Segal (50 First Dates)
Written by: Sheldon Turner and Tim Herlihy
What it’s about: Remake of the 1974 prison-football classic.
Why it will be fabulous: Segal has Rock and ex-Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin on the roster for the inmate team, and first-version star Burt Reynolds drops in as player-coach Nate Scarbrough, the role originally played by Hill Street Blues‘ Michael Conrad.
Why it will be dreadful: Goofy, soft Sandler as a hard-nosed former NFL quarterback? This movie’s in big trouble if we wind up rooting for the guards.
Starring: The voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Sacha Baron Cohen
Directed by: Eric Darnell (Antz) and Tom McGrath
Written by: Mark Burton (Spitting Image), Billy Frolick (It Is What It Is), Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath
What it’s about: A curious zebra (Rock) escapes from the zoo with a lion (Stiller), a hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), and a giraffe (Schwimmer), then gets caught and shipped off to the wilds of Madagascar. Having been bred in captivity, these animals are out of their league in a natural habitat. Hilarity ensues.
Why it will be fabulous: The computer-animation style, which looks like weird origami, gives the trailer a unique look.
Why it will be dreadful: Every single member of the voice cast tends to be an over-the-top scene-stealer, which could get mighty tiresome.
Starring: Russell Crowe, Paul Giamatti and Renée Zellweger
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman
What it’s about: Ditched by his ugly sisters, Cinderella Man (Crowe) begs his fairy godmother to make him beautiful so he can go to the ball. Ah, if only. Instead, it’s a Depression-era boxing movie in which Crowe gets paid to punch people in the face.
Why it will be fabulous: Paul Giamatti might get to win that Oscar next year for his strong supporting turn.
Why it will be dreadful: Five words: “A film by Ron Howard.”
Starring: Cecile de France, Maiwenn Le Besco and Philippe Nahon
Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Written by: Aja and Gregory Levasseur
What it’s about: Two young women on vacation in the French countryside are terrorized by a psychotic killer who wears workman’s overalls.
Why it will be fabulous: This no-holds-barred French slasher has already been a horror hit internationally.
Why it will be dreadful: The version being released here has been trimmed for an R rating and dubbed into English.
The Lords of Dogtown
Starring: Heath Ledger, Emile Hirsch and Johnny Knoxville
Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, production designer of Vanilla Sky)
Written by: Stacy Peralta
What it’s about: Another of Peralta’s cinematic valentines (this one lightly fictionalized) to the 1970s beach-fun culture in Venice, California.
Why it will be fabulous: If you didn’t get your sun-kissed fill from Peralta’s Dogtown and Z-Boys and Riding Giants, this may be the summer movie for you.
Why it will be dreadful: You’ve more than likely had your fill of Peralta’s surf-and-skate cheerleader act.
The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D
Starring: Caydon Boyd, Taylor Dooley and David Arquette
Written and directed by: Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Spy Kids)
What it’s about: In a preadolescent fantasy, a boy’s imaginary friends — superheroes all — spring to life and pitch in to get him through a series of harrowing adventures.
Why it will be fabulous: Rodriguez likes playing with toys, and 3-D fits the bill.
Why it will be dreadful: Let’s just say that, unless you’re an 11-year-old, you’d better bring a book.
Starring: Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Epps, Gabrielle Union and Regina Hall
Directed by: John Schultz (Like Mike)
Written by: Danny Jacobson, Saladin Patterson, Barry W. Blaustein, David Sheffield and Don Rhymer
What it’s about: Hollywood’s latest raid on vintage TV: Cedric puts a new ethnic spin on Jackie Gleason’s beloved loudmouth Ralph Kramden.
Why it will be fabulous: Cedric’s ability to play blue-collar could send this one to the moon.
Why it will be dreadful: Nobody can channel the spirit of the Great One. Do you get the feeling you’ll pine for the murky black-and-white images and canned laughs that once emanated from your old Philco?
Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Starring: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie
Directed by: Doug Limon (The Bourne Identity)
Written by: Simon Kinberg
What it’s about: An unhappy married couple who earn their paychecks as assassins learn that they’ve been hired to kill each other.
Why it will be fabulous: The Pitt-Jolie twosome should be fun to watch under Limon’s fast-action framing.
Why it will be dreadful: This promises to be a plot-heavy romp that could easily fire blanks.
Starring: Christian Bale, Katie Holmes, Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: David Goyer (Blade)
What it’s about: This relaunching of the moribund franchise tells how Bruce Wayne (Bale) became the Dark Knight after seeing his parents executed in a Gotham City alley. In this version, Bruce heads to the Himalayas to train (with Neeson, shades of The Phantom Menace) and returns to Gotham to find a bad city run by a good cop, Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and overrun with creepy villains, chief among them the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy).
Why it will be fabulous: No Joel Schumacher, no Alicia Silverstone, no Batnipples.
Why it will be dreadful: Because origin stories are boring and because the idea of sitting through one more Liam Neeson “training session” is about as appealing as sliding down the Batpole naked.
The Perfect Man
Starring: Heather Locklear, Hilary Duff and Chris Noth
Directed by: Mark Rosman (A Cinderella Story)
Written by: Gina Wendkos (Jersey Girl)
What it’s about: A teenage girl (Duff) and her best friend try to invent the perfect man for Mom (Locklear) by using the best friend’s uncle (Noth) as a prototype.
Why it will be fabulous: Styx lead singer Dennis De Young plays a Dennis De Young impersonator.
Why it will be dreadful: Hilary Duff and good movies simply don’t interact.
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine
Written and directed by: Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally)
What it’s about: A TV producer revives the classic sitcom and inadvertently casts a real witch in the title role. Enter Kidman.
Why it will be fabulous: If the acidic journalist and fictioneer Ephron has put some punch into it, this could prove to be dark fun. The cast is certainly high-octane, and the plot-tinkering sounds interesting.
Why it will be dreadful: The reason this was canceled is that the one-joke premise grew stale. It’s no fresher today.
Land of the Dead
Starring: Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento and ZOMBIES!
Written and directed by: George Romero
What it’s about: The creator of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead finally gets to make a new big-budget zombie movie, after the mediocre Dawn remake made a pretty penny. Continuing the Romero Dead saga, the film envisions a post-apocalyptic world in which humans live in fortified cities while trying to ignore the fact that every place outside their walls is inhabited by flesh-hungry zombies.
Why it will be fabulous: It’s a sequel that’s been requested for 20 years — almost as long as Revenge of the Sith. And Romero is not the kind of director who will go soft.
Why it will be dreadful: John Leguizamo? Why?
War of the Worlds
Starring: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning and Tim Robbins
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: David Koepp and Josh Friedman, based on the novel by H.G. Wells
What it’s about: A family fights for survival amid an invasion of “alien tripod fighting machines.”
Why it will be fabulous: Expect lots of special-effects dazzle in the Close Encounters, Jurassic Park style and more of Spielberg’s characteristic empathy for the little guy.
Why it will be dreadful: Tom Cruise.
Starring: Martin Lawrence, Horatio Sanz, Megan Mullally and Breckin Meyer
Directed by: Steve Carr (Daddy Day Care)
Written by: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
What it’s about: A misbehaving college basketball coach (Lawrence) is fired and winds up having to coach a losing middle school team.
Why it will be fabulous: It could do for Martin Lawrence what School of Rock did for Jack Black. That’s clearly the intent, anyway.
Why it will be dreadful: Gee, um . . . Martin Lawrence?
Starring: Mungo McKay, Felicity Mason and Rob Jenkins
Written and directed by: Michael and Peter Spierig
What it’s about: The small town of Berkeley, Australia, gets infected with Zombie Plague From Outer Space!
Why it will be fabulous: The lead actor’s name is “Mungo,” and he fights zombies.
Why it will be dreadful: Conservatives may be disappointed that it isn’t Berkeley, California, being destroyed.
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Pete Postlethwaite and Ariel Gade
Directed by: Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries)
Written by: Rafael Yglesias (From Hell)
What it’s about: American remake of Ringu director Hideo Nakata’s other movie about a malevolent drowned girl ghost with hair in her face and the power to manipulate water.
Why it will be fabulous: The original is one of the scariest movies ever, and Salles is no slouch.
Why it will be dreadful: Nakata’s original came out three years ago, and since then, audiences may have overdosed on that whole “long black hair covering the face” bit. Also, both of the Hollywood Ring movies and The Eye cribbed liberally from the original already.
Starring: Michael Chiklis, Jessica Alba and Julian McMahon
Directed by: Tim Story
Written by: Michael France, Simon Kinberg and Mark Frost
What it’s about: Four astronauts — Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) and sister Sue (Alba), Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and Ben Grimm (Chiklis) — are bathed in gamma rays during an outer-space trip and are transformed, respectively, into the Human Torch, Invisible Woman, the stretchy Mr. Fantastic and the hideous Thing. The superhero team, a 44-year-old Marvel Comics institution, battles its armor-clad nemesis Doctor Doom (McMahon); chaos ensues, duh.
Why it will be fabulous: Because Marvel has managed to do the superhero movie thing right with the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises.
Why it will be dreadful: Then again, The Punisher, Daredevil, Elektra and Hulk were superawful, and the trailer looks fantastically horrid.
Starring: Tommy the Clown, Tight Eyez, Swoop and Big X
Directed by: David LaChappelle
What it’s about: Documentary about an up-and-coming style of street dancing called “krumping.”
Why it will be fabulous: Sooner or later, everyone’s gonna be doing it, so you might as well get the skinny first.
Why it will be dreadful: Just to be clear — David LaChappelle is a fashion photographer, not the comedian who says, “I’m Rick James, bitch!”
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Starring: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore and Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: John August
What it’s about: Charlie Bucket (Highmore, Depp’s Finding Neverland co-star) finds one of the golden tickets that allows him to tour the candy factory of demented sweets-maker Willy Wonka (Depp). Also on the treacherous tour are the usual suspects, including Charlie’s Grandpa Joe, Veruca Salt, Augustus Gloop and the Oompa-Loompas.
Why it will be fabulous: There’s no music this time, and Burton promises to go deeper and darker than Mel Stuart did in his 1971 Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory.
Why it will be dreadful: Because as much as you and I and everyone else loves Johnny Depp, he ain’t no Gene Wilder.
Hustle and Flow
Starring: Terrence Howard, DJ Qualls, Ludacris and Taryn Manning
Written and directed by: Craig Brewer
What it’s about: In the sweaty climes of Memphis, a pimp named Djay (Howard) aspires to hip-hop stardom like his idol Skinny Black (Ludacris). He enlists a skinny white kid (Qualls) and a heavyset pal from way back (Anthony Anderson) to record his autobiographical rhymes. Hope turns to tragedy turns to triumph in the most overwrought, hackneyed hit to come out of Sundance this year.
Why it will be fabulous: Terrence Howard, also starring in the ensemble drama Crash, is stunning — worth the price of admission, especially if you can get the early-bird discount.
Why it will be dreadful: Sold for $9.5 million at Sundance this year — money that went to its producer, John Singleton, not its writer-director. And because it is dreadful, in a seriously-that-can’t-be-happening kind of way.
The Wedding Crashers
Starring: Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams and Christopher Walken
Directed by: David Dobkin (Shanghai Knights)
Written by: Steve Faber and Bob Fisher
What it’s about: Two wild and crazy guys keep crashing wedding parties in order to score with chicks, but when they hit up the wedding of a presidential candidate’s (Walken) daughter, one falls in love, and the other meets an obsessive psycho.
Why it will be fabulous: Any movie that envisions Christopher Walken as a presidential candidate must be fabulous.
Why it will be dreadful: Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson aren’t the most picky actors in the world when it comes to scripts.
The Bad News Bears
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Sammi Kraft and Ridge Canipe
Directed by: Richard Linklater (Before Sunset, Dazed and Confused)
Written by: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, based on the original by Bill Lancaster
What it’s about: A broken-down, beer-guzzling Little League coach (Thornton) takes on a diamondful of hopeless but feisty kids who start to win.
Why it will be fabulous: Thornton has a way of giving an edge to icons. If he can make Santa hip, he can do the same for sandlot ball.
Why it will be dreadful: It’s awfully hard to top 1976’s original Bears as a baseball movie — or as an endorsement of redemption. Unless the kids shoot steroids, this is bound to seem corny.
The Devil’s Rejects
Starring: Sid Haig, Shari Moon and Bill Moseley
Written and directed by: Rob Zombie
What it’s about: This sequel to House of 1,000 Corpses sees the homicidal Firefly clan on the run from the law, and a genre shift from horror to crime movie (though the ’70s stylings are still fully in play).
Why it will be fabulous: House had several loose ends that needed tying up, including the true nature of the mysterious Dr. Satan.
Why it will be dreadful: Dr. Satan isn’t even in this sequel, and it looks like there’s no interest on Zombie’s part in resolving anything from the first go-round.
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi and Michael Clarke Duncan as “The Big Bald Black Guy”
Directed by: Michael Bay
Written by: Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Mission: Impossible III) and Caspian Tredwell-Owen (Beyond Borders)
What it’s about: In the future, residents of a secluded facility all dream about going to “The Island,” allegedly the last uncontaminated place on Earth. Naturally, it’s all a lie: The Island is really a place where they get harvested for their vital organs. When amusingly named protagonist Lincoln Six-Echo (McGregor) learns this uncomfortable truth, a bunch of chases and explosions and really quick edits ensue.
Why it will be fabulous: Michael Bay made The Rock.
Why it will be dreadful: He also made Armageddon and Pearl Harbor.
The Brothers Grimm
Starring: Matt Damon and Heath Ledger
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Written by: Ehren Kruger
What it’s about: A fictionalized fantasy about the German fairy-tale authors, here portrayed as con men who lift fake curses, only to encounter a genuine form of black magic that will force them to deal with things they’ve only written about.
Why it will be fabulous: After Gilliam’s aborted Don Quixote effort, The Brothers Grimm sees him back in fantasy mode, which is what he does best.
Why it will be dreadful: Its release was postponed for a year while Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein tried recutting it. His version then scored lower with test audiences than Gilliam’s did.
Starring: Lisa Kudrow, Tom Arnold, Steve Coogan, Jesse Bradford and Maggie Gyllenhaal
Written and directed by: Don Roos
What it’s about: A Sundance surprise fave this year, this is a portmanteau about a dozen or so folks whose lives collide in tales tragic and comic. In one story, a father (Arnold) and his gay-but-fighting-it son (Jason Ritter) turn out to be sleeping with the same woman (Gyllenhaal). In another connected tale, Kudrow plays an L.A. abortion counselor being blackmailed by a would-be documentarian (Bradford) who says he’s found the child she secretly gave up for adoption years ago. Fun!
Why it will be fabulous: Roos wrote and directed The Opposite of Sex.
Why it will be dreadful: Roos wrote and directed Bounce.
Must Love Dogs
Starring: Diane Lane, John Cusack, Stockard Channing, Christopher Plummer and Dermot Mulroney
Written and directed by: Gary David Goldberg
What it’s about: Romantic comedy based on a novel by Claire Cook, in which a teacher in her forties (Lane) tries to find love through the personals. She ends up meeting John Cusack.
Why it will be fabulous: Most guys wanna get with Diane Lane, and most women wanna get with John Cusack. And neither is repellent to the same sex, which is a plus.
Why it will be dreadful: Every hack film columnist in America is already preparing to write, “If you really like this movie, you Must Love Dogs!”
Starring: Kelly Preston, Kurt Russell, Lynda Carter and Bruce Campbell
Directed by: Mike Mitchell (Surviving Christmas)
Written by: Paul Hernandez and Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle (Kim Possible)
What it’s about: In a world full of superhumans, the teenage son of Captain Stronghold (Russell) and Josie Jetstream (Preston) tries to navigate the hurdles of adolescence while training at a school for heroes.
Why it will be fabulous: TV’s original Wonder Woman plays the school principal, and the impossibly square-jawed Campbell is head coach.
Why it will be dreadful: There’s no way it’ll be better than The Incredibles.
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Jessica Biel and Josh Lucas
Directed by: Rob Cohen
Written by: Cohen and W.D. Richter (Big Trouble in Little China)
What it’s about: After a superadvanced stealth fighter is struck by lightning, the onboard computer takes on a life of its own and decides to initiate the next world war.
Why it will be fabulous: WarGames meets Short Circuit? How could it not be?
Why it will be dreadful: OK, yeah, it’s made by the director of XXX and The Skulls, so it might be pretty bad.
The Dukes of Hazzard
Starring: Seann William Scott, Johnny Knoxville, Burt Reynolds and Jessica Simpson
Directed by: Jay Chandrasekhar (Club Dread)
Written by: Jonathan Davis, John O’Brien, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Erik Stolhanske and Paul Soter
What it’s about: Based on the TV series, in which two lovable good ol’ boys tooled around Hazzard County in their bright-orange Dodge Charger, finding trouble at every turn.
Why it will be fabulous: Chandrasekhar reportedly keeps the proceedings as delightedly mindless as his boob-tube inspiration.
Why it will be dreadful: Reynolds as the Duke boys’ nemesis, Boss Hogg, could be the high point of this low-concept fare.
The Pink Panther
Starring: Steve Martin, Kevin Kline, Beyonce Knowles and Jean Reno
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Written by: Len Blum, Steve Martin, Michael Saltzman and Glen Bloomberg
What it’s about: A new take on Peter Sellers’ surpassingly incompetent French detective in which Jacques Clouseau (Martin) tackles a case combining a murdered soccer coach, a priceless diamond and the usual selection of beautiful women.
Why it will be fabulous: It takes les grandes balles for Martin to assail the rich life and high art of Inspector Clouseau.
Why it will be dreadful: Can The Jerk out-bumble Peter the Great? The smart money says non.
Untitled Mike Judge Project (formerly 3001)
Starring: Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Dax Shepard and Stephen Root
Directed by: Mike Judge
Written by: Mike Judge and Etan Cohen
What it’s about: Similar in premise to TV’s Futurama, this comedy sees an average joe (Wilson) and a prostitute (Rudolph) accidentally frozen for 1,000 years. When they awaken in the future, they find that society has become so dumbed-down that they are now the smartest people alive.
Why it will be fabulous: Uh, huh-huh, Mike Judge rules!
Why it will be dreadful: Pick a title, already, buttmunch! Don’t make me kick your ass!
Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo
Starring: Rob Schneider and Eddie Griffin
Directed by: Mike Bigelow (a newcomer hired purely for his surname, apparently)
Written by: Rob Schneider and David Garrett and Jason Ward (Corky Romano)
What it’s about: Sequel to the comedy that introduced the phrase “man whore” into the wider lexicon. This time, Schneider’s hapless Deuce is tricked into prostituting himself in Amsterdam as more-experienced hookers are being murdered.
Why it will be fabulous: The first one was surprisingly amusing.
Why it will be dreadful: Amusing films are a rarity in the Rob Schneider canon.
Starring: Keira Knightley, Mickey Rourke, Lucy Liu, Christopher Walken and Mena Suvari
Directed by: Tony Scott
Written by: Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko)
What it’s about: “Based on a true story . . . sort of.” Inspired by the life of Domino Harvey, a Ford model and actor’s daughter who ditched it all to become a bounty hunter.
Why it will be fabulous: Could be as cool as Confessions of a Dangerous Mind but much more action-packed.
Why it will be dreadful: It’s an uphill battle to convince us that Keira can keep up with the likes of Mickey Rourke and kick serious ass.
Starring: André 3000, Tyrese, Mark Wahlberg and Chiwetel Ejiofor
Directed by: John Singleton
Written by: David Elliot (The Watcher) and Paul Lovett
What it’s about: An update of the John Wayne Western The Sons of Katie Elder updated to modern-day Detroit.
Why it will be fabulous: Ejiofor and André 3000 have shown a lot of promise as actors.
Why it will be dreadful: Aside from Boyz N the Hood, Singleton really isn’t all that great.
The Skeleton Key
Starring: Kate Hudson, John Hurt and Gena Rowlands
Directed by: Iain Softley
Written by: Ehren Kruger
What it’s about: A young woman (Hudson) moves into an old Louisiana house to take care of an elderly, paralyzed man (Hurt). But there’s voodoo curses in them thar woods.
Why it will be fabulous: It’s from the writer of The Ring and the director of The Wings of the Dove.
Why it will be dreadful: Of course, that same writer and director brought us The Ring Two and K-PAX, respectively.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Starring: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Catherine Keener and Seth Rogen
Directed by: Judd Apatow
Written by: Apatow and Carell
What it’s about: Pretty much what it sounds like: Andy Stitzer (Carell) is an action-figure-collecting geek content to play with plastic people until his co-workers set out to get him laid. Turns out the woman he winds up with is Trish (Keener), who has grandkids herself and isn’t terribly interested in sex, which is fine with Andy.
Why it will be fabulous: Carell, late of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, is carving out a niche as the discomfiting dweeb with turns in Anchorman and NBC’s The Office. And having Apatow onboard ain’t bad, either: He worked on The Larry Sanders Show and Freaks and Geeks and created Undeclared — a brilliant hat trick. And it’s R-rated, which is comedy gold.
Why it will be dreadful: Carell’s range is A to A, which might be somewhat, uh, limiting. And you can see the punch line coming from three months away, can’t you?
Directed by: Werner Herzog
What it’s about: A documentary about animal activists who lived with grizzly bears for a time and felt like they were making a connection. Then they were mauled to death.
Why it will be fabulous: Herzog is a mad genius.
Why it will be dreadful: Unless you really despise animal activists, it sounds like one hell of a downer.
Starring: Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Ex-Xena and Buffy scribe Carl Ellsworth
What it’s about: An airplane passenger with a fear of flying (McAdams) is blackmailed by her seatmate (Murphy) into becoming his accomplice in a murder plot. She has until the plane lands to try to stop him without endangering her fellow passengers or her father, who’s held hostage by Murphy’s allies.
Why it will be fabulous: Carl Ellsworth writes well about smart, butt-kicking chicks.
Why it will be dreadful: It was dreadful back when it was called Turbulence and starred Lauren Holly.
Starring: The voices of Ewan McGregor, Ricky Gervais, John Cleese, John Hurt and Tim Curry
Directed by: Gary Chapman
Written by: Jordan Katz
What it’s about: British CG-animated feature about carrier pigeons in the Royal Air Force during World War II.
Why it will be fabulous: In addition to the above names, Jim Broadbent, Rik Mayall, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Williams offer their pipes.
Why it will be dreadful: Even if it’s not a visual masterpiece, all those voice talents can’t go wrong at once . . . can they?
Starring: Sammo Hung and Zhang Ziyi
Directed by: Tsui Hark
Written by: Choi Lee Man and Tsui Hark
What it’s about: Yet another highly acclaimed Hong Kong action epic that Miramax has been holding onto for years. It’s the sequel to 1983’s Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain, but don’t sweat it if you never saw that one — the plot’s a minor detail. Something about a mystical realm and forces of good and evil, with lots of fights choreographed by the master, Yuen Wo Ping.
Why it will be fabulous: It’s been out internationally for four years, and HK fanatics have been yelling its praises ever since.
Why it will be dreadful: Miramax (or whoever’s left in its place these days) still has time to screw things up with bad editing and a lousy dub.
Starring: Cole Hauser, Morris Chestnut and Piper Perabo
Directed by: Bruce Hunt (second unit director on The Matrix and Dark City)
Written by: Michael Steiberg (Sleep With Me) and Tegan West
What it’s about: Mysterious monsters in a cave hunt down and eat a group of divers trapped in there. Morris Chestnut presumably has flashbacks to Anacondas.
Why it will be fabulous: Cole Hauser is one of the great bad actors of our time, doing his father proud.
Why it will be dreadful: It’s a PG-13 monster movie, which means bloodless kills. What’s the point?
Directed by: Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette
What it’s about: Ostensibly it’s about 100 comedians (from Bob Saget to Robin Williams to Gilbert Gottfried to Phyllis Diller) telling the same infamous ribald joke about 100 different ways — but it’s much, much more. It’s more like a comedy jam session, during which several generations of stand-ups reveal their technique and approach, using “The Aristocrats” (a joke about a family of would-be performers auditioning for an agent) as their springboard.
Why it will be fabulous: Sarah Silverman’s telling of the joke is worth the price of admission alone, and you’ll remember why you or anyone else thought Gottfried was funny in the first place. And because Saget has the foulest mouth this side of Ashley Olsen. And because the South Park clip kills.
Why it will be dreadful: It’s about 20 minutes too long, but you’ll have laughed yourself into a coma by the end, so you won’t really mind.
Starring: Ian McKellen, Natasha Richardson, Hugh Bonneville and Marton Csokas
Directed by: David Mackenzie
Written by: Patrick Marber
What it’s about: Stella Raphael (Richardson) is married to Max (Bonneville), a psychiatrist at an asylum for the criminally insane. She becomes infatuated with Edgar Stark (Csokas), a sculptor who mutilated and then murdered his wife — so of course Stella and Edgar wind up having an affair after he starts working in the couple’s asylum-grounds garden. Eventually Edgar escapes to London, Stella follows him, and the poor lad goes bonkers all over again.
Why it will be fabulous: It’s based on Patrick McGrath’s best-selling novel, which is chilling, and was adapted by Marber, whose Closer ranks a close second when it comes to curdling the blood.
Why it will be dreadful: Bet you 20 quid it’s a bummer. With an English accent, to boot.
Starring: Bill Murray, Sharon Stone, Tilda Swinton, Jessica Lange and Julie Delpy
Written and directed by: Jim Jarmusch
What it’s about: Murray plays Don Johnston (heh), an aging, sweatsuit-sporting lothario who’s dumped by his young girlfriend (Delpy) just as he receives news of a 20-year-old son he never knew. Jeffrey Wright (Basquiat) is the pal who convinces Murray to take a trip down amnesia lane to see his old lovers, including Stone, Swinton, Lange and other all-stars, and find out if any of them might be the mother.
Why it will be fabulous: Did you not just read the synopsis?
Why it will be dreadful: Seriously, read it again. And then rent Coffee and Cigarettes for the Bill Murray scene. Dreadful. Hardly. Then again, Dead Man does kinda suck.
Starring: John Leguizamo, Damian Alcazar and Alfred Molina
Written and directed by: Sebastian Cordero (Rodents)
What it’s about: An ambitious TV reporter from Miami sets out for Ecuador in search of a serial killer known as the “Monster of Babahoyo.”
Why it will be fabulous: Cordero has an obvious taste for the macabre, and this suspense thriller appears to indulge it again. The violence is said to be both extreme and inventive, the tension high.
Why it will be dreadful: If the gore overwhelms, audiences may not stomach this visceral exercise.
Everything Is Illuminated
Starring: Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz and Boris Leskin
Written and directed by: Liev Schreiber
What it’s about: In his directorial debut, Schreiber adapts Jonathan Safran Foer’s successful novel, apparently a comedic drama about a young Jewish American (Wood) in search of the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis.
Why it will be fabulous: Movies in which Elijah Wood goes on a quest that leads him to a barren and hostile land tend to do rather well.
Why it will be dreadful: Was there really a demand to see Liev Schreiber direct anything?
Howl’s Moving Castle
Starring: English dub features the voices of Lauren Bacall, Christian Bale, Billy Crystal and Blythe Danner
Written and directed by: Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away), from the novel by Diana Wynne Jones
What it’s about: Animated fantasy in which a young woman is transformed by a curse into an old hag and winds up in servitude at the castle-cum-vehicle of an infamous wizard.
Why it will be fabulous: If you don’t like Miyazaki, you might not be human. If you don’t know Miyazaki, now’s the time.
Why it will be dreadful: The late, normally great Phil Hartman was a blemish on Disney’s English dub of Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service. Billy Crystal may be likewise here.
Ladies in Lavender
Starring: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Natascha McElhone, and David Warner
Directed by: Charles Dance (villain from The Golden Child and The Last Action Hero)
Written by: Dance, from a story by William J. Locke
What it’s about: Two sisters (Dench and Smith) discover a stranger (Daniel Bruhl) washed up on the beach. Both wind up falling for him.
Why it will be fabulous: If you like older English actresses, this is a dream pairing.
Why it will be dreadful: You might not like older English actresses.
Starring: Russian actors you’ve never heard of
Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov
Written by: Bekmambetov and Sergei Lukyanenko, from the novel by Lukyanenko
What it’s about: A box-office smash in its native Russia, this “first chapter in an epic horror trilogy” tells the tale of a centuries-old truce between forces of light and darkness that is being violated.
Why it will be fabulous: If anybody knows about ancient grudges and treaty violations, it’s Russia.
Why it will be dreadful: Looks alarmingly similar to Underworld.
Starring: Courteney Cox-Arquette and James LeGros
Directed by: Greg Harrison (Groove)
Written by: Benjamin Brand
What it’s about: A photographer (Cox-Arquette) seems to be losing her mind as she repeatedly replays, in her mind, the events that led up to her boyfriend (LeGros) getting shot.
Why it will be fabulous: It’s about time Cox-Arquette branched out.
Why it will be dreadful: Is Cox-Arquette capable of branching out?
Directed by: Don Argott
What it’s about: Paul Green, founder of the Paul Green School of Rock Music in Philly, teaches a bunch of kids between the ages of 9 and 17 how to get their Axl on in this documentary that was a big hit at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas — home of Richard Linklater, whose School of Rock was the fictional version of this true story.
Why it will be fabulous: Kids rock.
Why it will be dreadful: Star pupil C.J. Tywoniak loves himself a good guitar solo.
Romance and Cigarettes
Starring: James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Steve Buscemi and Christopher Walken
Written and directed by: John Turturro
What it’s about: Believe it or not, it’s a musical. A “savage” one. The plot involves Gandolfini’s character, who goes by the name of Murder, having to choose between his wife (Sarandon) and his mistress (Winslet).
Why it will be fabulous: It’s just insane enough to work.
Why it will be dreadful: Love those actors, but can they sing?
Starring: Simon Abkarian and Joan Allen
Written and directed by: Sally Potter (The Tango Lesson)
What it’s about: Two unnamed characters begin a love affair that changes their lives.
Why it will be fabulous: Abkarian looks like Super Mario, which may lead to unintentional laughs.
Why it will be dreadful: Sally Potter films usually appeal to a specific niche crowd — and bore the crap out of everyone else.
Christian Bale rescues Katie Holmes from Tom Cruise in