By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Amy Nicholson
By Luke Y. Thompson, Jordan Harper, Melissa Levine, and Robert Wilonsky
Summer is the season of high expectations and profound disappointments. That suntan looks more like sunburn, your beer stays ice cold till the moment it's opened, and fat guys are the only ones hanging by the pool in bikini briefs. So it goes with summer movies: Sequels to beloved faves have all the flavor of week-old popcorn, blockbusters make pennies on their many dollars, and somewhere there's Adam Sandler pouring sour lemonade when you were craving something more refreshing. Maybe there's more hope this year, if only because last summer was such a bummer. Monster-in-Law, Stealth, or Dukes of Hazzard, anyone? Thought not.
Alas, what with the returns of Superman, Crockett and Tubbs, Jack Sparrow, and Dante and Randal, much of what you'll find below feels like yesterday's movies reheated—like someone went to Blockbuster and cut-and-pasted everything on the comedy shelf.
JUNE 16The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties
Starring: Bill Murray, Breckin Meyer, and Jennifer Love Hewitt
Directed by: Tim Hill (Muppets From Space)
Written by: Joel Cohen (Cheaper by the Dozen)
What it's about: America's favorite fat cat 20 years ago takes a trip to Jolly Old London and switches places with a rich, fat feline in this essential sequel to 2004's Garfield. For more information, read Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper.
Why you should see it: Old pro Bill Murray can get laughs reading obituaries.
Why you should not: He's Bill Murray, not He Who Is Risen.
The Lake House
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, and Shohreh Aghdashloo
Directed by: Alejandro Agresti (Valentin)
Written by: David Auburn (Proof)
What it's about: It's like Speed, but without a bus, bomb, or Dennis Hopper. And with a mailbox that transports love letters through time. A remake of the Korean film Il Mare, in which a man and woman write each other letters, only to discover that they're both living in the same house, but in different time periods two years apart.
Why you should see it: Could Keanu plus time travel equal an excellent adventure?
Why you should not: Every other love story Keanu has ever done. Also, Valentin was cloying, annoying crap.
Starring: Jack Black and Efren Ramirez
Directed by: Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite)
Written by: Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess, and Mike White
What it's about: Black (Nacho) plays a Mexican cook who stuffs his face into a wrestler's mask to save his financially strapped orphanage.
Why you should see it: Mike White wrote the best part Jack Black's ever been given, as Dewey Finn in The School of Rock.
Why you should not: Because Napoleon Dynamite was a great four-minute movie that went on just a little too long.
Starring: Adam Sandler, Christopher Walken, and David Hasselhoff
Directed by: Frank Coraci (The Waterboy)
Written by: Jack Giarraputo, Tim Herlihy (almost every Sandler movie to date), Steve Koren & Mark O'Keefe (Bruce Almighty), and Sandler
What it's about: Sandler obtains a magic universal remote control that can control the universe! Pausing, rewinding, and slow-motion-replaying the world around him is a lot of fun...until the remote gets stuck in fast-forward.
Why you should see it: Whatever you may think of Sandler, a movie that brings Walken and Hasselhoff together cannot be all bad.
Why you should not: Seems like a good premise, but so did The Benchwarmers' at one point.
Starring: Tyrese Gibson (Four Brothers), Meagan Good (Roll Bounce), and Larenz Tate (Crash)
Directed by: Vondie Curtis Hall (Gridlock'd)
Written by: Hall, Michael Mahern (Mobsters), and Darin Scott (Tales From the Hood)
What it's about: An ex-convict (Gibson) is driven to desperation when his son is kidnapped and held for ransom by a vicious crime lord. He begins to rob banks to raise the ransom—but only banks where the thug has an account.
Why you should see it: It's rated R, and based on the preview it looks like the two beautiful leads get sweaty.
Why you should not: Hall directed Glitter. Yep, that Glitter.
Starring: Will Shortz, Bill Clinton, and Jon Stewart
Directed by: First-timer Patrick Creadon
What it's about: A documentary about puzzle master Will Shortz, longtime editor of The New York Times' crossword and weekly guest on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday.
Why you should see it: 13 Down: J-O-N-S-T-E-W-A-R-T.
Why you should not: Virtually no chance of car chases or steamy sex.
Starring: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, and Kevin Spacey
Directed by: Bryan Singer (X-Men, X2)
Written by: Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris
What it's about: Set five years after Superman II, more or less, Superman returns from self-imposed exile to find Lois Lane with a kid and Lex Luthor out of prison, with yet another plan for world domination.
Why you should see it: Singer made the X-Men movies into something accessible to mainstream audiences without sacrificing its comic-book roots; he made superheroes human.
Why you should not: Look, it can't be any worse than Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
The Devil Wears Prada
Starring: Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, and Adrien Grenier
Directed by: David Frankel (Entourage, Sex and the City)
Written by: Aline Brosh McKenna (Laws of Attraction) and Don Roos (The Opposite of Sex), based on the novel by Lauren Weisberger
What it's about: Big-screen adaptation of Weisberger's thinly disguised "fiction" book about working as assistant to Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour (Streep).
Why you should see it: Streep rarely chooses unredeemable projects.
Why you should not: Do we care how hard it is to work for a fashion magazine?
Starring: Marlon and Shawn Wayans
Directed by: Keenen Ivory Wayans (Scary Movie, Scary Movie 2)
Written by: The Wayans brothers
What it's about: A digitally remastered Shawn Wayans plays a weensy little criminal mistaken for a baby by a wannabe dad (Marlon).
Why you should see it: Consider it your biennial dose of Wayans charm.
Why you should not: Perhaps you recall White Chicks?
The Heart of the Game
Starring: Ludacris (Crash), Devon Crosby Helms, and Maude Lepley
Directed by: Ward Serrill
What it's about: The world of high school basketball gets another documentary treatment, this one about a Seattle girls team and its irrepressible coach.
Why you should see it: The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and you are there!
Why you should not: There's no reason to believe the gender switch will help circumvent the sports-movie clichés.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, and Keira Knightley
Directed by: Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl)
Written by: Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio (Shrek), based on the Disneyland ride
What it's about: Bill Nighy joins the fun as supernatural part-man/part-octopus villain Davey Jones, out to collect the soul of Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) just in time to ruin the marriage plans of Will (Bloom) and Elizabeth (Knightley).
Why you should see it: Depp's Jack Sparrow is one of the most entertaining characters in cinematic history.
Why you should not: Bloom's still a stiff. And Chow Yun-Fat is in part three, not this one.
Strangers With Candy
Starring: Amy Sedaris, Matthew Broderick, and Philip Seymour Hoffman
Directed by: Paul Dinello
Written by: Stephen Colbert (The Daily Show), Paul Dinello, and Amy Sedaris
What it's about: A feature-film spinoff of the popular Comedy Central series starring Sedaris as a 46-year-old ex-con high school student.
Why you should see it: If you don't think Stephen Colbert knows funny, you don't know funny.
Why you should not: It could feel like one long inside joke made for those who've seen the show.
Starring: Kristen Bell, Ian Somerhalder (Lost), and Christina Milian
Directed by: First-timer Jim Sonzero
Written by: Stephen Susco, with Wes Craven (Nightmare on Elm Street), Tim Day, Vince Gilligan, and Ray Wright, based on the film by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
What it's about: A remake of the J-horror flick Kairo: When the souls of dead kids start popping up on her server, Kristen Bell needs to seriously think about getting a firewall.
Why you should see it: Bell is fantastic as a teenage private eye on Veronica Mars, so she should be up for teen ghostbuster too.
Why you should not: If Hollywood is good at anything, it's taking a subtle, moody piece of art (like Kairo) and turning it into one long, steaming, bespangled turd.
A Scanner Darkly
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, and Woody Harrelson
Written and directed by: Richard Linklater, based on the novel by Philip K. Dick
What it's about: In the near future, a government drug-enforcement agent (Reeves) winds up being ordered to spy on himself. Like Linklater's Waking Life, the entire movie is done in rotoscoped animation, so it's hard to tell whether or not it really counts that Winona Ryder does her first-ever nude scene.
Why you should see it: Previous Philip K. Dick-based movies: Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall...
Why you should not: ...also Paycheck, Screamers, and Impostor.
You, Me and Dupree
Starring: Matt Dillon, Owen Wilson, Kate Hudson, and Michael Douglas
Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo (Welcome to Collinwood)
Written by: Mike LeSieur
What it's about: Wilson's the best man in Dillon and Hudson's wedding, and when he loses his job after traveling to Hawaii for the wedding, they let him stay in their house.
Why you should see it: The Russos have estimable TV credits, including stints on Arrested Development and FX's woefully unappreciated Lucky.
Why you should not: There hasn't been a lovable Owen Wilson movie since...since...Bottle Rocket? That can't be right.
Starring: Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, and Rosario Dawson
Written and directed by: Kevin Smith (Clerks)
What it's about: Dante (O'Halloran) and Randal (Anderson) are still slacking away their lives, except their 20s have turned into their 30s, and both work at fast-food joint Mooby's. In other words, this is what Kevin Smith does when his attempt at maturity (Jersey Girl) tanks, and he's left going back to the well. Again. And again.
Why you should see it: Because it's just like Clerks. With a Jason Lee cameo.
Why you should not: It really is just like Clerks.
Lady in the Water
Starring: Paul Giamatti (Sideways, Cinderella Man), Bryce Dallas Howard (Manderlay), and Freddy Rodriguez
Written and directed by: M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Village)
What it's about: A lonely apartment building superintendent (Giamatti) discovers a beautiful woman (Howard) in the building's swimming pool, who turns out to be a mermaid. And there are other supernatural creatures after her...
Why you should see it: Advance word says there's no gratuitous twist ending this time. Shyamalan's a good director when he doesn't paint himself into a corner; even The Village had its moments until that terrible "surprise" finish.
Why you should not: This film's been labeled a "bedtime story." What does that even mean?
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee, and Nick Cannon
Directed by: First-timer Gil Kenan
Written by: Pamela Pettler, Dan Harmon, and Ron Schrab
What it's about: Sounds like The 'Burbs meets Poltergeist: Three kids live next door to a creepy house that turns out to be...duh-duh-dunh...a monster.
Why you should see it: Uh...uh...it's animated?
Why you should not: Have you seen the trailer? Was it made in 1992?
Starring: Uma Thurman, Luke Wilson, and Anna Faris
Directed by: Ivan Reitman (Old School)
Written by: Don Payne (The Simpsons)
What it's about: Wilson plays a normal dude who dumps the super-needy superhottie G-Girl (Thurman), who proves hell hath no fury like a superwoman scorned. In other words, what if Lois Lane broke up with Superman, and he didn't take it well? At all.
Why you should see it: Ivan Reitman directed Ghostbusters, Stripes, and Meatballs.
Why you should not: Ivan Reitman directed Father's Day and Evolution.
Starring: Kevin James, Courteney Cox Arquette, and Danny Glover
Written and directed by: Steve Oedekerk (Kung Pow: Enter the Fist)
What it's about: The owner of a farm leaves his animals to go udderly (that's all mine, baby) nuts when he leaves the place under their control.
Why you should not: You have to assume nobody saw this the first time, when it was called Home on the Range.
Why you should not: The only people who haven't tired of talking-animal animated movies haven't been born yet.
Starring: Alison Lohman (Big Fish), Tim McGraw (Friday Night Lights), and Maria Bello (The Sisters)
Directed by: Michael Mayer (A Home at the End of the World)
Written by: Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner, based on the novel by Mary O'Hara
What it's about: A young girl tames wild horse in a heartbreaking attempt to win her father's love.
Why you should see it: Girls, horses, summer, love, magic.
Why you should not: If Mayer's treatment of Flicka is anything like his Home at the End of the World, we're in for a sapfest of personal triumph set to music.
I Could Never Be Your Woman
Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Paul Rudd (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), and Tracey Ullmann (I Love You to Death)
Written and directed by: Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Clueless)
What it's about: Pfeiffer plays a lady growing long in the tooth (but still looking like Michelle Pfeiffer) who falls for a younger man (Rudd). Romantic Comedy blooms all around, and Ullmann as Mother Nature gets all up in everybody's business.
Why you should see it: When Heckerling is on, she makes movies like Clueless and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Plus, Rudd is due for a role that pushes him into the big leagues, where he belongs.
Why you should not: When she's not on, Heckerling makes movies like A Night at the Roxbury, Look Who's Talking Too, and National Lampoon's European Vacation.
John Tucker Must Die
Starring: Jesse Metcalfe (Desperate Housewives), Brittany Snow (The Pacifier), and Ashanti (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Directed by: Betty Thomas (The Brady Bunch Movie)
Written by: Jeff Lowell
What it's about: When a trio of hotties discover they're dating the same cad (Metcalfe), they plot to bring about his ruination (but not, despite the title, his demise).
Why you should see it: By July 28, the effects of global warming will have cooked our brains into pink paste. Perfect time for teen comedy.
Why you should not: As this is the 9,432rd movie to try and convince us that an obvious beauty is a plain Jane for the first 30 minutes, the idea could be losing a spot of freshness.
Starring: Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, and Gong Li
Written and directed by: Michael Mann (Ali, The Insider)
What it's about: Gee, lessee. Crockett and Tubbs. Drug dealers. Speedboats. Guns. Flashy suits. Bad accents. Expensive cars. Hot chicks. That about covers it.
Why you should see it: See above.
Why you should not: See above. And no Jan Hammer theme song. Rip. Off.
The Ant Bully
Starring: The voices of Zach Tyler, Julia Roberts, Paul Giamatti, and Nicolas Cage
Written and directed by: John A. Davis (Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius), based on the novel by John Nickel
What it's about: When a little boy (Tyler) takes out his frustrations on the ant hills in his yard, the bugs fight back.
Why you should see it: If you ignore the creepy undertones (to ants, a stomping kid isn't a bully, he's Osama Bin Laden), the story's got promise; Cage and Giamatti are A-list voice talent.
Why you should not: Boy, that creepy undertone seems hard to ignore. If all ants have souls and celebrity voices, that means this kid really is a mass murderer.
Starring: Jet Li, Nakamura Shidou, and Betty Sun
Directed by: Ronny Yu (Freddy vs. Jason)
Written by: There doesn't seem to be a credited screenwriter. But Yuen Woo-ping is the fight choreographer, which is what matters most
What it's about: Jet Li kicks some ass. Then a tragedy happens, and he doesn't want to kick any further ass, so he goes into seclusion, where he learns the true way of the warrior. The claim is that this will be Li's last martial-arts epic.
Why you should see it: Sigh. If you know your Hong Kong films, you'd have no doubt that Jet Li and Ronny Yu and Yuen Woo-ping teaming up can only be awesome.
Why you should not: Steer clear if action isn't your thing.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Starring: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, and Sacha Baron Cohen
Directed by: Adam McKay (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy)
Written by: Will Ferrell and Adam McKay
What it's about: NASCAR champeen Ricky Bobby (Ferrell) finds his title being usurped by a French rival played by Ali G., a'ight?
Why you should see it:Anchorman had some brilliant moments.
Why you should not:Anchorman had some brilliant moments only if you were really, really high.
Starring: Justin Long (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story), Adam Herschman, and Jonah Hill
Directed by: First-timer Steve Pink
Written by: Bill Collage, Adam Cooper, and Mark Perez
What it's about: A slack senior (Long) finds out that he's failed to get into college. So, of course, he and his similarly unmotivated pals fool their parents by inventing their own fraud of a university, which suddenly becomes crowded with similar rejects. Hey, it couldn't be any more worthless than your liberal arts degree, right?
Why you should see it: If a fake frat was funny (as it was in Old School), an entire fake university has to be a knee-slapper, right?
Why you should not: Of course not. Old School was only funny because it had Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn in it. No similar heavyweights present here.
World Trade Center
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, and Maggie Gyllenhaal
Directed by: Oliver Stone (JFK, The Doors)
Written by: Andrea Berloff
What it's about: Cage and Pena play real-life Port Authority cops who made it out of the World Trade Center alive after the terror attack of September 11, 2001. Word is this isn't the work of a paranoid Ollie Stone, but a sober, down-to-the-details docudramatization of the events of the day, already seen this year in United 93.
Why you should see it: Cage is at his best when playing an everyman stuck in a horrific, real-life situation (his portrayal of an EMT in Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead remains among his career highlights, even if no one saw it).
Why you should not: Oliver Stone's a real hit-or-miss moviemaker; pray this is closer to Platoon and Salvador than Alexander or Any Given Sunday. Or Natural Born Killers. Or U-Turn. Or Nixon.
Starring: Tim Allen, Courteney Cox Arquette, and Chevy Chase
Directed by: Peter Hewitt (Garfield)
Written by: David Berenbaum (Elf)
What it's about: Remember that Disney movie Sky High, about a retired superhero and the superschool his kids attend? This is pretty much the same thing, but with a bigger budget. And it's based on an actual comic book, Zoom's Academy for the Super-Gifted.
Why you should see it:Sky High was fun...
Why you should not: ...but do we need another version? Tim Allen instead of Kurt Russell isn't exactly what you'd call trading up.
Brothers of the Head
Starring: Harry and Luke Treadaway, Will Kemp, and Ken Russell
Directed by: Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe (Lost in La Mancha)
Written by: Tony Grisoni (In This World), based on the novel by Brian Aldiss
What it's about: Conjoined twins (Harry and Luke Treadaway) under the control of an unscrupulous music promoter become a rock and roll success story in the '70s. Loosely based on a true story.
Why you should see it: The directors and screenwriter have worked with Terry Gilliam a fair amount, so one might imagine they've picked up a thing or two.
Why you should not: Fulton and Pepe are documentarians, and this is their first narrative feature. The transition doesn't always work (remember Michael Moore's Canadian Bacon?).
The Night Listener
Starring: Robin Williams, Toni Collette, and Rory Culkin
Directed by: Patrick Stettner (The Business of Strangers)
Written by: Armistead Maupin & Terry Anderson (The Young Graduates) and Stettner, based on the novel by Maupin
What it's about: Williams plays a Garrison Keillor-like public radio host who tells embellished stories of his life and friends, but when he receives the manuscript of a memoir from an abused child (Culkin), he doesn't realize that it may be equally embellished.
Why you should see it: Stettner deftly dealt with similar issues of deceit in The Business of Strangers; Williams can certainly be as annoying as your typical talk radio host.
Why you should not: When it comes to drama, Williams is either spot-on (One Hour Photo) or insufferably mawkish (What Dreams May Come). His character here is a gay man whose lover has battled AIDS, which may mean lots of hugging, tears, and Williams doing that grinning thing that's supposed to make him look sad but really doesn't.
Snakes on a Plane
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, some snakes, and a plane
Directed by: David R. Ellis (Final Destination 2)
Written by: John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez (Gothika)
What it's about: The title really says it all here.
Why you should see it: Pay attention. Snakes. Plane. Samuel L. Jackson. What's not to love?
Why you should not: Sorry, there's just no good excuse not to.
Starring: Eric Christian Olsen (Not Another Teen Movie), Cameron Scher, and Blanchard Ryan (Open Water)
Directed by: Jay Chandrasekhar (The Dukes of Hazzard)
Written by: Jay Chandrasekhar and Kevin Heffernan (Club Dread)
What it's about: Two wacky lugs travel to Germany to enter, compete in, and perhaps maybe even triumph in a series of beer chugs. Seriously, that's it.
Why you should see it: It's possible to smuggle beer into a movie theater, but you're really better off with a pint of vodka to pour in a slushie.
Why you should not: Aside from the asinine concept, the label "from the director of The Dukes of Hazzard" packs the punch of a cigarette warning.
DOA: Dead or Alive
Starring: Jaime Pressly, Holly Valance, and Devon Aoki
Directed by: Corey Yuen (The Transporter, Hero)
Written by: J.F. Lawton (Pretty Woman) and Adam & Seth Gross (Devour), based on the videogame
What it's about: Chicks in bikinis fight guys with swords. It's modeled after a fighting game, and the movie doesn't look like it added a ton of plot or anything, though the fanboys are already up in arms over the fact that the women aren't fighting each other in the trailer.
Why you should see it: It could be as fun as the first Charlie's Angels.
Why you should not: It could be as tedious as Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle.
How to Eat Fried Worms
Starring: Luke Benward (Because of Winn-Dixie) and Hallie Kate Eisenberg (The Goodbye Girl)
Written and directed by: Bob Dolman (The Banger Sisters), based on the novel by Thomas Rockwell
What it's about: Fifth-grade kid goes head-to-head with the school bully by accepting a dare to eat 10 worms in a single day.
Why you should see it: The classic children's book brings hope and courage to a new generation of victimized youth. Who don't read books.
Why you should not: How many classic-children's-book adaptations can you name?
Starring: Andre Benjamin (Four Brothers), Antwan Patton (ATL), and Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow)
Written and directed by: First-timer Brian Barber
What it's about: Benjamin and Patton (the real-life duo of OutKast) play a couple of, um, ahead-of-their-times musicians in a 1930s southern juke joint. Elaborate musical numbers compete for airtime with gangster politics as big bad Howard comes to town to muscle in on the club.
Why you should see it: Musically, Benjamin and Patton are at the top of their game, the concept of injecting their tunes with the flavor of old-school jazz has major promise, and Benjamin has already shown he's got screen skills.
Why you should not: Neither period black gangster films (Harlem Nights) nor musical gangster films (Bugsy Malone) tend to stand the test of time.
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear, and Michael Rispoli
Directed by: Ericson Core (TV's Family Law)
Written by: Brad Gann (Black Irish)
What it's about: A down-on-his-luck Philadelphia Eagles fan (Wahlberg) decides to attend an open tryout for the team and gets to live out his dream of playing professional football. It's from the producers of The Rookie, is the same basic idea, and is similarly based on true events.
Why you should see it:The Rookie was formulaic, but it worked, and even appealed to people who couldn't care less about baseball.
Why you should not: Mark Wahlberg is no Dennis Quaid.
Starring: Hilary Duff, Haylie Duff, and Anjelica Huston
Directed by: Martha Coolidge (The Prince & Me)
Written by: John Quaintance, Jessica O'Toole, and Amy Rardin
What it's about: Duff and Duff play sisters—how about that?—who gots plenty of dough from their family's cosmetics company. But when the family biz is bankrupted by scandal, will the Duffs ever learn how to cope with being poor?
Why you should see it: Coolidge directed Valley Girl...
Why you should not: ...four years before Hilary Duff was born.