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A Killer Summer

CL's 2004 Summer Movie Preview

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What's the difference between the summer movie season and the Christmas movie season? No, this isn't a trick question, nor a joke whose punchline will involve a wino or a bear (or both). It's merely meant to bring attention to the fact that the industry approaches its two most lucrative seasons in different ways.

The year-end holiday season is a whirlwind rush to cram all titles into a five- or six-week window, with most weekends seeing the concurrent debuts of scores of movies competing for both cash and awards. The summer season, on the other hand, is far more leisurely. With more time at its disposal (a whole four months, since the first week in May is considered the season opener), Hollywood can roll out most of its blockbusters one week at a time, so the movies don't end up cannibalizing each other's profits from the get-go. This year is no different: Take a look at the first few weekends of the season and you'll see only one mega-flick assigned to each slot, with one or two smaller features tossed in as (if they're lucky) effective counterprogramming or (if they're not) instant tax write-offs. The schedule becomes more cluttered as the summer progresses, but even further down the path, some major titles are given their due: Note, for instance, the wide berth awarded to Spider-Man 2.

Here, then, are summaries of 55 movies scheduled for release between now and Labor Day. As always, keep in mind that release dates are subject to changes.

MAY 7

NEW YORK MINUTE
PLOT: Twin sisters -- one a model student (Ashley Olsen), the other a punk rocker (Mary-Kate Olsen) -- both set off for the Big Apple to keep their respective appointments, with a truant officer (Eugene Levy) in hot pursuit.

TALKING POINTS: After building an empire largely on the profits of numerous straight-to-video hits, the 17-year-old Olsen girls take a crack at the big screen, serving as stars and producers on this freshman effort... The preview looks pretty blah, but Levy appears to give the film some lift.

VAN HELSING
PLOT: In the 19th century, a fearless monster hunter (Hugh Jackman) sets out to vanquish Count Dracula, the Frankenstein monster and the Wolf Man.

TALKING POINTS: If this movie succeeds, X-Men star Jackman will have two film franchises to juggle... The preview makes it look like fun (in a big-budget, effects-dominated, Hollywood-hyped kind of way, of course), but I'm cautiously optimistic since the director, Stephen Sommers, didn't exactly do justice to the Mummy legend with those two overblown Brendan Fraser pictures.

MAY 14

BREAKIN' ALL THE RULES
PLOT: After getting dumped by his girlfriend, a guy (Jamie Foxx) writes a best-selling book that instructs men how to break up with their loved ones first.

TALKING POINTS: Between this picture and the more heavily hyped August release Collateral (opposite Tom Cruise), Foxx should gain maximum exposure this summer -- whether that translates into bona fide stardom remains to be seen.

TROY
PLOT: In this classic tale based on Homer's The Iliad, the love affair between Paris of Troy (Orlando Bloom) and Helen of Sparta (Diane Kruger) leads to an all-out war, with the brave Achilles (Brad Pitt) selected to lead the Greeks' charge against the Trojan army.

TALKING POINTS: It's hard to say whether Troy's primary influence was Homer's The Iliad or Gladiator's phenomenal success... The director is Wolfgang Petersen, no stranger to movies about macho men (The Perfect Storm, Das Boot)... Look for Peter O'Toole and Julie Christie among the luminaries in the large cast.

MAY 21

SHREK 2
PLOT: It's Meet the Parents toon-style, as Shrek (Mike Myers), with Donkey (Eddie Murphy) in tow, travels to the Kingdom of Far, Far Away to meet Princess Fiona's (Cameron Diaz) parents, King Harold (John Cleese) and Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews).

TALKING POINTS: The previous installment grossed $267 million and earned the first-ever Oscar for Best Animated Feature; this sequel will doubtless match its predecessor's elevated measure of success... The voice cast also includes Antonio Banderas as Puss In Boots and Rupert Everett as Prince Charming.

MAY 28

THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW
PLOT: Or When Nature Attacks!, as abrupt climate changes decimate the entire planet with tornadoes, snowstorms, heatwaves and other Weather Channel staples.

TALKING POINTS: Director Roland Emmerich previously incinerated the earth in Independence Day... Taking billing under the expensive special effects are Dennis Quaid, Ian Holm and Donnie Darko's Jake Gyllenhaal... The end of the world was also showcased in the early-summer-1998 release Deep Impact -- let's pray this movie's much better.

RAISING HELEN
PLOT: A top model (Kate Hudson) in New York must radically change her partying ways once she becomes responsible for her late sister's three children.

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