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Caught In Summer's Web

CL's 2002 Summer Movie Preview

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A couple of weeks ago, after sitting through previews for several upcoming titles, I turned to a colleague and said, "There are so many good-looking movies coming out this summer, there's simply no way Hollywood can screw them all up!" The odd thing about this? I said it with a straight face, in dead earnestness.

Yes, we've been here before, glancing at a promising summer slate and then feeling like we've been cheated or taken for granted once Labor Day officially closes the hot-weather movie season. Last year, for example, many moviegoers pinned their hopes on features like Pearl Harbor and Planet of the Apes and then were disappointed when neither picture lived up to mile-high expectations.

But this time around, there are enough big-ticket titles to tilt the odds in our favor. A long-awaited Spider-Man movie. A new Star Wars film. A boomer-friendly and kid-friendly Scooby-Doo feature. Another Steven Spielberg project. For younger audiences, pictures with Vin Diesel and Chris Rock; for older audiences, new works from Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen. Plus, a couple of sequels that might actually buck the trend and turn out to be entertaining. And if the summer's crop of limited releases -- including Steven Soderbergh's Full Frontal, starring Julia Roberts and David Duchovny, and John Sayles' Sunshine State, with Angela Bassett -- actually end up opening here over the next four months, so much the better.

Here, then, is a preview of 50 movies scheduled to open in Charlotte during the May-August window. And let's get together on September 1 to determine whether this summer's crop blew us away, or simply blew.

MAY 3

HOLLYWOOD

ENDING

Plot: As a has-been director (Woody Allen) embarks on what he hopes will be a comeback project, he's suddenly stricken blind and must shoot the picture without benefit of sight.

The Good: A new project from the man who gave us (among others) Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters will always have potential.

The Bad: The age discrepancy between the male actors (Allen, George Hamilton, Mark Rydell, Treat Williams) and the female performers (Tea Leoni, Debra Messing) is even wider than usual, and watching Allen's own insistence on continually locking lips with women who could almost be his, um, stepdaughters is starting to seem tragic.

The Outlook: We can only hope Allen will be even one-quarter as funny here as he was on the recent Oscar telecast.

SPIDER-MAN

Plot: After being bitten by a radioactive spider, nerdy teenager Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) transforms into the most unlikely of superheroes.

The Good: Technology has finally caught up to the demands of the comic book: If the preview is any indication, the film should at least look great. The choice of director (Sam Raimi) is inspiring, as is the cast (notably Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane and Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin).

The Bad: A bubblegum script could sink the whole ship.

The Outlook: The only movie this summer that will seriously challenge Attack of the Clones for the box office crown, this will only fail to make money if by some chance the world ends on May 2.

Also: New York street gangs in the late 50s are at the center of DEUCES WILD, starring Stephen Dorff, Matt Dillon and Malcolm In the Middle's Frankie Muniz.

MAY 10

UNFAITHFUL

Plot: A husband (Richard Gere) resorts to desperate measures once he learns that his wife (Diane Lane) is having an affair with a younger man (Oliver Martinez).

The Good: Lane is one of the best unheralded actresses in the business.

The Bad: Director Adrian Lyne already mined similar territory with the cultural touchstone Fatal Attraction.

The Outlook: With a certain web-crawler still kicking butt in his second week, this is one affair that won't last long.

Also: In the comedy THE NEW GUY, the school dork (D.J. Qualls) ends up in prison, gets some lessons in being a stud from a fellow inmate (Eddie Griffin), and, after his release, attends a different school with a new image.

MAY 16

STAR WARS

EPISODE II: ATTACK

OF THE CLONES

Plot: Despite the best efforts of Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), apprentice Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) finds himself entering into a forbidden relationship with Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) while simultaneously being tempted by the Dark Side.

The Good: Unlike poor little Jake Lloyd (terrible as Anakin in The Phantom Menace), Christensen received some much-needed early exposure (as well as good reviews) for his work in last fall's Life As a House, showing that he might be able to help carry this chapter. Christopher Lee appears in this outing -- a fitting tribute, since his old horror partner Peter Cushing appeared in the original Star Wars 25 years ago.

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