By Stephanie Star Smith
The traditional start of the summer box office season was, until recent years, Memorial Day Weekend. But as studios learned they could roll out their tentpole releases without regard to the calendar, the start of the summer season has been pushed back to the first weekend in May and, in some cases, even into the final weekend in April. Were it not for weather considerations in some parts of the country, and the need for a dumping ground for the dogs sitting on shelves, the studios would likely begin the so-called summer season in January. For the time being, however, May remains the official start, and though the studios are offering a smaller slate than in years past, there promises to be something for everyone as the summer season gets underway.
8) Soul Plane
Though the so-called urban film has carved an increasingly impressive slice of box office pie of late, Soul Plane doesn't look to continue that trend. This fish-out-of-water tale about Caucasians ending up on the maiden voyage of the first African-American-run airline looks pretty much DOA. It seems as though the filmmakers took the time-honored comic style of throwing as many jokes as possible at the screen in the hopes that something will stick, and added a side of, "If we say it loudly enough, they'll know it's a punchline" to boot. Its release on Memorial Day Weekend may help some, but coming as it does the week after Shrek 2, and the same weekend as the big effects film The Day After Tomorrow, it doesn't look as if Soul Plane is going to soar very high.
7) Raising Helen
Is this the film that will put Kate Hudson on the A-list of female celebs? Can Goldie's little girl carry a film entirely on her slender shoulders? The answer to those questions may have to wait, as the outlook is a tad grim for this chick-flick from three-hankie specialist Garry Marshall. Hudson plays an immature young woman and rising modeling star who must raise her nieces and nephew when they are orphaned by an auto accident that killed her brother and sister-in-law. And most of you out there can write the rest of the plot synopsis yourself. Not that a story that's been done many times before can't be presented in a fresh and different manner; it's just unlikely such a fresh take will come from Marshall.
6) Breakin' All the Rules
The second urban film of the month, this comedy is sort of the distaff take on Two Can Play That Game. After being dumped by his sweetie, a man writes an instruction book on how to end a relationship, which instantly becomes a bestseller. Now convinced he knows all the answers, he gives relationship advice to his pals, only to discover he may not be that wise after all. And hilarity, the filmmakers hope, ensues. Aside from the annoying Jamie Foxx, there is some true comedy talent in the cast, and people always enjoy seeing someone worse off than they are trying to dig his/her way out of the mess he/she has made of things. Much like the surprise April hit Johnson Family Vacation, Breakin' All the Rules has a good chance at flying under the radar and chugging steadily along whilst the blockbusters duke it out.
5) New York Minute
Apparently, that pact with the Prince of Darkness is still in full effect. The Olsen twins, that allegedly-adorable duo who played the youngest member of the sit-com mediocrity that was Full House, are now all growed up and hitting the silver screen. In the ensuing years between the merciful end of Full House's run and this venture into cinemas, the Olsens have created their own evil empire, which sells TV movies, video games, and clothing and accessories to all the unsuspecting kinder who become ensnared in their web. In their big-screen debut, the girls are cast as twins - now there's a stretch - who wreak havoc in New York while each pursues her heart's desire. And the answer to the question, "What have Andy Richter, Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin done to so anger the Comedy Gods that they are appearing in this?" is actually quite mundane: It's a job, and they're actors. Given that the film basically has the kiddie market to itself until Shrek 2 debuts later in the month, this pair of Satan's minions will no doubt find sufficient success that they will be invading our theatre screens for years to come. Just stay on the lookout for children suddenly turning up in hospitals totally unresponsive but with weird smiles on their faces.
Now we move into blockbuster country, with a movie about the epic historical war that hasn't been done yet. Yes, the face that launched a thousand ships, Brad Pitt...no, wait; that's not right. But this is the story of the Trojan War, which gave us the Trojan Horse, and the warning about not trusting Greeks who bear gifts. It also gives us Brad Pitt as the near-invincible warrior Achilles, source of yet another familiar phrase; Orlando Bloom as Paris, who touched off the bloody, decade-long battle when he stole fair Helen from her husband, the king of Sparta; and Eric Bana as Hector, the Great Trojan Hope in the war against the Greeks. And a more fey group of "warriors" in a film without "Lord of the Rings" in the title has yet to hit theatres. Don't get me wrong; it's not that Pitt, Bloom and Bana aren't pretty enough, and they definitely have their followers. But judging from the trailers, there's barely enough testosterone between them to fuel a three-day pillow fight, much less a ten-year war. We don't get any heft in the cast until we get to Brian Cox, who plays Agamemnon, not above stealing a wife himself, and Peter O'Toole as Priam, the Trojan leader whose part in all the hoopla was so minor most folks (including me) don't even know the name. But it's an epic and it's the only history-based one in the month, and Pitt, Bloom and Sean Bean, another LotR alum who plays Odysseus, certainly have their fan-bases, which could help get this going. It has the disadvantage of opening the week after Van Helsing, but the advantage of appealing to a slightly different audience. It will be interesting to see how word-of-mouth plays on this one, as I suspect the moviegoers more than the critics will decide whether Troy rises or falls.
3) The Day After Tomorrow
Credit: It's an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it/Mother Nature's-vengeance-on-mankind flick.
Debit: It's written, directed and produced by Roland Emmerich.
Credit: It's opening Memorial Day Weekend.
Debit: Which is only one week after the month's probable 500-pound gorilla, Shrek 2.
Actually, this effects-laden film that posits what might happen if the current worst-case scenarios concerning global warming come true looks to be a good, old-fashioned disaster film gussied up with lots of special effects. Emmerich has a reputation for being over-the-top, which sometimes works well (Independence Day) and sometimes not (Godzilla). That the biggest name in this film is Dennis Quaid might be seen as a disadvantage, but that could also be seen as an opportunity for the audience to really get into the story without being distracted by watching so-and-so meet his/her untimely end in spectacular fashion, or become the hero of the world by doing something incredibly stupid...I mean, brave, in order to save mankind from itself. If the global weather pattern changes, the massive hurricanes and the coming of the next Ice Age are depicted with sufficiently cool gee-whiz effects, and the plot allows the audience to care about the characters and their fates, it mostly won't matter whether the science is questionable or the backstory plausible. A good popcorn movie doesn't necessarily have to make sense when you think back on it after leaving the theatre; it just has to maintain its own inner logic for the duration of its running time and make you go, "Ooo! Look at that!" while you're watching it. Day After Tomorrow looks to have good shot at achieving those ends.
2) Van Helsing
Here at the top of the ladder, it's kind of a toss-up as to which film will finish second to Shrek 2 (for make no mistake about it, Shrek 2 is the Iron Chef of May). Just from my own personal preference, I'm going with Van Helsing. Partly that's because the writer/director of Van Helsing, Stephen Sommers, did such a bang-up job in modernizing The Mummy; partly it's because the stunts and effects are some of the more daring and imaginative in recent memory, and certainly head-and-shoulders above what one usually sees in a horror film. But mostly, it's due to my love of monsters in general, and the classic Universal monsters in particular. Dracula, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein's Monster are the real stars here, but there wouldn't be any dramatic tension if they didn't have an adversary. And while the traditional version of Van Helsing is a bit long in the tooth to be an action hero, making over the wizened vanquisher of demons into Hugh Jackman is a damned good idea; Jackman seems right at home doing all those acrobatic stunts and throwing out one-liners. Which might be why there are rumors in some quarters that Jackman, and not one of the Colins, will take on the mantle of James Bond when Pierce Brosnan lays it down. But I digress. The genuine affection that Sommers has expressed for the classic Universal monsters, and his stated desire to update them without losing their essence, bodes well for Van Helsing, and there has definitely been attention to detail regarding the monsters as well as creating special effects that may wow even CGI-sophisticated modern audiences. One tiny thing does bother me from the previews, though; with what can be done using computer graphics these days, why is it a man in wolf make-up looks more realistic than 21st century technology? Oh, well; it is a minor quibble, and hopefully not one that will prove an impedance to Van Helsing's theatrical success.
1) Shrek 2
DreamWorks' Animation Department had already made inroads into the monopoly once held by Disney with Prince of Egypt and then Antz. While neither took the box office by storm - and the latter was overshadowed by the visually-inferior Disney release A Bug's Life - both proclaimed a studio willing to return, at least in visual style, to the days when an animated film was nearly as complex visually as a live-action one. It also married traditional animation techniques with computer-assisted animation, giving the animators a greater number of tools with which to work without completely eliminating the human touch. But Shrek really brought DreamWorks into the animation fore, not to mention making a boatload of money along the way. That a sequel would be made was inevitable; the question becomes, then, can the magic be recaptured? Certainly the return of the majority of the cast from the first film bodes well (only John Lithgow from the original is missing). And some interesting new voices and characters have been added, including John Cleese and Julie Andrews as Princess Fiona's parents, Antonio Banderas as Puss-in-Boots and Larry King as one of the ugly stepsisters (and the latter two might just be worth the price of admission alone). Shrek and Fiona, having been sent to live happily ever after in wedded bliss at the end of the first film, must now face the perils of explaining to the in-laws how it is their daughter not only married an ogre, but became one as well. There will be magic and laughs and not a few in-jokes, and all will most certainly end well, because even though this is an adult fairy-tale, a fairy-tale it remains. How long into the summer Shrek 2 will go is up to the audience, of course, but it's about as safe a bet as one gets in the world of box office prognostication that the green ogre, his sometimes-human bride and the donkey that can't seem to shut his mouth will walk off with the May box office crown.
Marty Doskins's May Forecast
John Seal's May Forecast
Zach Kolkin's May Forecast
David Mumpower's May Forecast