Sequel opportunity 

Have you noticed those big-ticket summer movies creeping past the once-customary season starter, Memorial Day weekend, and lodging themselves earlier in the calendar? Reportedly it has to do with there being more 3D movies now than screens to show them on. Well, not quite more, but definitely too many, with studios anxious to let their other offerings stretch out for a little box-office breathing room.

Aside from that new trend this movie-going summer, the rest looks like same old, same old. Iron Man 2 and Robin Hood notwithstanding, let's assume the season of big dumb seasonal blockbusters won't really have started until May 28 delivers Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, with a hairy, hunky, sorta swarthy Jake Gyllenhaal as said prince and the sands of time as themselves. You have to admit, as movies based on video games go, it'll probably be better than Super Mario Bros.

Still, it's gotten to the point, and then gotten past the point (but soon enough inevitably will come back to it), that complaints about lack of originality lack originality. By now, Hollywood isn't just recycling, it's composting.

A-Team, B-list

The coming weeks bring us a fourth Shrek installment (see the review, p. 49), a third Toy Story (June 18), a third in the Twilight series (June 30), a second Sex and the City (May 26) and, on Aug. 27, what we can only hope will actually be The Last Exorcism. (Actually, that one is no known relation to The Exorcist and its sequels, except in that it involves a priest performing an exorcism. Its faux-documentary format, however, suggests a kinship, possibly inbred, with The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity.)

Not to mention yet more multiplex permutations and perpetrations of the apparently endless cultural kitsch on which Gen-X'ers were weaned. To wit: MacGruber (May 21), the feature-length love child of Saturday Night Live and TV's MacGyver, along with such probably ill-advised '80s elaborations as a big-screen A-Team adaptation (from Smokin' Aces director Joe Carnahan, with Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper and some other guys, plus Jessica Biel) and a Karate Kid remake (with Jaden "spawn-of-Will" Smith as the kid and Jackie Chan as the karate), both opening June 11. Oh, and Grown Ups on June 25, with Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade and Rob Schneider reunited for high-schoolish hijinks by the funeral of their former basketball coach.

By July, the summer movie machine, like the summer moviegoer, will be just getting warmed up. In advance of seeing The Last Airbender, you might reasonably ask: What's an airbender? Is it a) fighter-pilot slang for some kind of supersonic alcoholic rampage, b) high-schooler/movie-critic slang for sublimely noxious flatulence, c) animated-Nickelodeon-series slang for any member of a mystical, martially artistic tribe with great power to control the elements? or d) b and c? Well, now you probably can guess, can't you? But of course that's usually how it is with movies by mister big reveal himself, M. Night Shyamalan, who lets loose his live-action Airbender adventure in theaters everywhere July 2.

After which, perhaps you'll need a double shot of Steve Carell — first as an animated super-villain, opposite Jason Segel and Russell Brand on July 9 in Despicable Me; then as a schmuck, opposite Paul Rudd and Zach Galifianakis on July 23 in the comedy Dinner for Schmucks. These titles, at least, seem declarative.

Likewise July 9's Predators, in which a hunt is afoot. Now, Adrien Brody and Topher Grace joining forces to revive a franchise (that is, Predator and Predator 2) inaugurated by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura doesn't exactly say, "Badass!" or even, "Necessary!" But save your indignation for July 16, when The Sorcerer's Apprentice gives us Goethe poetry (not to mention classic Disney animation) repurposed for Nicolas Cage by producer Jerry Bruckheimer (most recently of Prince of Persia). Or for Beastly, on July 30, which has the gall to put Neil Patrick Harris and Mary-Kate Olsen in an update of Beauty and the Beast — and only to put them in supporting roles! (The principals are Vanessa Hudgens and newcomer Alex Pettyfer.)

Why does Hollywood keep wasting our (sands of) time? Doesn't it realize that somehow there still are Philip K. Dick stories to be adapted into movies — like, say, the one about the congressman, the ballerina and the problem with the space-time continuum? Oh, right, it does. Hence The Adjustment Bureau, with Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. Though evidently, due to its own space-time adjustments, the distributor now has bumped the film's release date from July into September.

Guns and geeks

What else? Well, on July 16, corporate espionage goes totally mental with The Dark Knight director Chris Nolan's mysterious sci-fi thriller Inception, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard and Ellen Page.

"Your mind is the scene of the crime," says the tagline. Let's hope that is not the mantra for the entire moviegoing month.

If so, there's always August — historically a dead end of denial about the fact that summer is quickly reaching its finale and accordingly becomes a last-ditch dumping ground for big-studio leftovers — with a few occasional guilty pleasures.

If there is a right time to release a Sylvester Stallone movie called The Expendables, Aug. 13 probably is it. Just in case we didn't get our annual gang-of-gun-toters fix, or quite enough '80s throwbackism, from The A-Team and Predators, Sly and his pals, including Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Jet Li, Jason Statham and Bruce Willis, will make man's work of it.

Actually, Aug. 13 should be a fine day of demographic pigeonholing all around, with the simultaneous theatrical arrival of glamorized globe-trotting self-discovery for the upper-middle class, and comic-booky geek chic for junior hipsters, too. Not only does Elizabeth Gilbert's sort of annoyingly appealing 2006 travel memoir Eat Pray Love get the sort of annoyingly appealing movie cast it deserves, with Julia Roberts, James Franco, Billy Crudup and Javier Bardem, but there's also the graphic novel-derived Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, in which Michael Cera presumably gets funky-hair-dyed chill chick Mary Elizabeth Winstead for a girlfriend, as a reward for defeating her seven evil super-powered exes first.

If you feel some fatigue setting in, that's normal. We've covered a lot of moviegoing ground. Probably more than enough for a single season. Some forthcoming summer films were not mentioned here. Think of them as surprises. Lower priorities. After all, there is still Step Up 3D, the latest installment of the now literally in-your-face dance franchise, in theaters on Aug. 6. That one seems like an essential. Good thing we made room for it, eh?



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