By David Mumpower
In 1994, Tom Cruise pulled off a most impressive feat. The thespian managed to sway novelist Anne Rice from her opinion that he had been horribly miscast as her beloved vampire, Lestat. To date, this represents the only time in Cruise's illustrious career as an A-List actor that he was not the good guy. Yet even in Vampire, Cruise was given every opportunity to chew scenery as a misunderstood creature of the night, allowing audiences to find some semblance of redemption in the role. With Collateral, that track record ends.
The actor, perhaps recognizing the stale nature of his recent parts (The Last Samurai excluded), has chosen to embrace the dark side of his personality. He has gone Jay Leno-gray and chosen to actually look his age (42) for a change.
Cruise's portrayal of an assassin having a bit of a night is exactly the kick in the pants his career needs. After innumerable safe choices (Magnolia excluded), Maverick takes a chance here, albeit a safe one since he has been placed in the care of the impeccable Michael Mann. He will be rewarded with a hit film and possibly even end-of-year awards consideration.
The real winner, though, is his co-star, Jamie Foxx. The In Living Color alumnus is poised to be the breakout star of the second half of 2004. First, he will face off against the biggest star in the world...and presumably win. From there, he will jump into the shoes of blind soul legend Ray Charles. The buzz the latter film has received thus far is so strong that it appears possible if not likely that Foxx rather than counterparts Jim Carrey and Jennifer Lopez will be the first member of the show to earn an Oscar nomination. His ascension is all but a certainty at this point.
2) Alien vs. Predator
As I said when Freddy vs. Jason's release was imminent, I just don't think this format can be screwed up. AVP is a project I have had on my radar since the initial announcement. That fascination was magnified once the lead actress was announced. Sanaa Lathan, the goddess who stole my heart in Love & Basketball and Brown Sugar, is the new Ripley wannabe.
As with FVJ before it, what makes the concept of AVP compelling is the introduction of humans into the mix. Where this production can stand out is if they pick a side of the battle rather than remain an interested third party. The expectation would be an alliance with the Predators, but the beauty of concepts such as this one is that absolutely anything is possible. This is one of my most anticipated films remaining on the 2004 release schedule.
3) The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement
The first film is one I predicted would be one of the most pleasant surprises on Disney's schedule for 2001. The concept of a young girl discovering her royal ancestry had not been mined for a while, so the timing of a gentle Disney comedy seemed perfect. Fast forward to 2004 and we find Disney more desperate for a hit than Janet "boobgate" Jackson. That makes their marketing campaign for the second helping of Diaries a much higher-profile one than might have otherwise occurred. Marrying off the lead character worked wonders for The Santa Clause franchise, so I guess that made it the easy choice here. To my mind, this sequel feels forced and more than a little too soon, but I guess they felt the need to strike while the iron was still hot. We will see how well it works. This just doesn't look like the same size hit that the last one was, though.
4) Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid
Like Tremors before it, Anaconda perfectly captured the B-movie feel of the Animals Eating Humans genre. The difference between the two is that a lot of people actually saw Anaconda. The 1997 release helped launch the acting careers of Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson and Ice Cube while managing to earn a jaw-dropping $65.6 million. That total might not seem huge now, but at the time, Anaconda was one of the biggest box office surprises in several years. A then-unknown cast opened a movie to a then-solid $16.6 million. The only surprise here is that the sequel has taken this long to go into production. Since the star is the CGI snake, the movie is again made up of a cast of unknowns plus Morris Chestnut, who for some reason doesn't even get top billing here. It's the format that sells, though. All that matters is that the slithering beast devours its share of folks before the plucky spirit of human endeavor allows us to outsmart a creature with a brain the size of a Cracker Jack prize. Yay us!
5) Little Black Book
For my money, films don't often enough take a humorous look at relationship paranoia and borderline stalking. I am glad to see that there is a movie that heartily encourages snooping into the sexual history of one's significant other. All too often, movies don't show how charming it is to steal the PDA that holds the addresses or your Current's exes. Without such hijinks, how could we ever see the ensuing comedic misunderstandings which inevitably occur before the happy ending where all is forgiven? Little Black Book ain't Shakespeare but sadly, that formulaic comfort zone is exactly what its target audience wants. And as a romantic comedy whore, I am probably one of them.
6) Exorcist: The Beginning
Redefining troubled shoot, the Exorcist prequel's initial reception was so poor that re-shoots were required. I don't mean one or two scenes were added at the last moment a la King Arthur. No, I am talking about the entire film being re-shot. This production was doomed even before the get-go. The original director, legendary auteur John Frankenheimer, was forced to resign due to problems with his back. While waiting to see if he could recover, everyone involved with the project was caught offguard as he died from complications from back surgery. The man picked to replace him, Paul Schrader, was fired during the editing process after filming had completed...presumably fired with great cause. Geena Davis dumpee Renny Harlin was then brought on board to save the movie. The only way he could figure out to make the damn thing work was to start from scratch, and that's exactly what he did. Absolutely none of the nearly three hours of footage from Schrader's work was kept, making this new footage something of a sequel to a prequel yet still a prequel. You got all that? In short, there is going to be a killer DVD release out there someday with about 35 deleted scenes on it. Until then, we have a Harlin project with the Exorcist name. I like Renny, so I am not as dubious as most, but this is certainly one of the most ill-fated projects since Cutthroat Island, fittingly enough also a Harlin film.
7) Open Water
Unquestionably the most novel and exciting project on the August calendar, Open Water celebrates the Blair Witch style of filmmaking. Rather than hire experienced actors to pretend as if they were scared, the production staff (which is really just a husband and wife team) somehow tricked two suckers into pulling off the real deal. These method actors to the nth degree were convinced to enter shark-infested waters and let schools of the fish swim right up to them. As you might expect, many of the emotional high points of the film will ring true, because the thespians will not be acting. Instead, they are legitimately uncomfortable at times and scared witless at others since there are...you know...sharks nuzzling their legs. Like Blair Witch before it, Open Water is as much reality television as it is a film with a plot. I could see this film striking a chord across North America if it receives a better marketing push than it has received thus far.
8) Suspect Zero
A top-notch cast is the main debit here as the premise of this film is truly bizarre. An FBI agent with the ability to remote view (don't ask) his subject is given the task of hunting down a unique serial killer. What makes the slayer special is that he is a serial killer of serial killers. He tracks them down and proceeds to prove that he is better than them at this malevolent talent. The FBI agent is supposed to stop him from killing again, but his search is stymied at times by the presence of an ex-agent who has become obsessed with finding and stopping the serial killer's nefarious activities. Folks, it doesn't get any darker than this. Suspect Zero is a hard sell that would hope to tap into that same niche which made Se7en a hit. I find that highly unlikely. Since the film stars three of my favorites (Ben Kingsley, Carrie-Anne Moss and Aaron Eckhart), though, it will certainly get my business.
Can't these kids today just be happy with a deck of Uno cards? Why does everything have to be all limited edition +4 on troglodyte bites and protection against lycanthrope outbreak? As near as I can tell from watching roughly two minutes of the show (which is all I can ever stand before having to change the channel), the *only* thing Yu-Gi-Oh has going for it is the name. And even that is a little bit too much in the melody of New Kids on the Block's The Right Stuff. Fortunately for the producers of the show/movie, none of their fans were alive when that song was released. The only amusement I take from any of this is that like Pokemon before it, there is a card tie-in involved with the theatrical release. Four different commerorative cards are available to kids who show up for the movie, meaning that some poor parents are going to get stuck watching this movie four different times. It serves them right for raising kids who would like this shit.
10) Without a Paddle
Ah yes, this is the requisite "Why, Seth Green, why?" paragraph I re-write every few months. The talented actor who was soufully laconic on Buffy the Vampire Slayer has followed that show by making a slew of heinous films. Scooby-Doo 2 was the latest crime against nature, but I guess my beloved Oz didn't feel that he had quite struck bottom. Instead, he chose to do this movie about three morons who raft down a river in search of the lost fortune of D.B. Cooper. It co-stars Burt Reynolds, who is presumably wistfully reminisicent of those gentle days on the Deliverance where he got to watch dear friend Ned Beatty squeal like a pig. Ergo, he has decided to get back to nature with this project. There is simply nothing about this movie that sounds good, and the only reason it makes this list is because the August slate is so weak that even garbage like this is one up on a Baby Geniuses sequel (and by the way, shouldn't we have put a constitutional amendment in place to prevent that from ever happening?). Seth, please move back into the light. You're killing me here.