It's the Summer of the Sequel! No, strike that, it's the Summer of the Three-quel!
This year's movie season is seemingly dedicated to the final chapter of trilogies you may not have known existed. Spider-Man 3 and Shrek the Third already have stormed the cinemas, and this Friday, May 26, any remaining movie screens will be occupied by Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Other film stories told in triplicate this summer include Rush Hour 3, Ocean's Thirteen and The Bourne Ultimatum.
Given spiking movie costs and uncertain box-office returns, familiarity is a sound investment, though a fickle audience could dismiss the retreads and remakes with a flip "Seen it!"
So some sequels are stealthy. Evan Almighty offers a follow-up to Jim Carrey's Bruce Almighty, with Steve Carell as a modern-day Noah. The Invasion sounds fresh, with Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman facing extraterrestrial infiltration, from the director of Downfall, but wait – it's reportedly the fourth iteration of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).
That's not to say this summer doesn't have a compelling movie lineup.
With one conspicuous exception, none of our 10 most eagerly anticipated summer films are sequels or remakes, although a few of them might as well be. Some will only play the art houses – and all release dates are tentative – but they each promise to bring something new to a season that might be defined by feelings of déjà vu.
Here are our top 10 picks, ranked chronologically ...
THE BOSS OF IT ALL -- MAY 25
Director Lars von Trier, the man who brought us the marvelously dire Dancer in the Dark and Dogville, is taking a break from his grim fatalism, dyspeptic social commentary and high-profile casts in what may be the von Trier version of light summer comedy. The Boss of it All is a low-budget farce about a small-potatoes actor (Jens Albinus) hired to impersonate a company president. Trier's film easily could be a snarky take on workplace politics and power dynamics à la "The Office" but could end up as the first screwball comedy from von Trier, closer to 1998's The Idiots, also starring Albinus, than von Trier's usual heaviness. – Feaster
BUG -- MAY 25
After seeing Daniel May's astounding performance in the local Actor's Express performance of Tracy Letts' off-Broadway play, I am hoping the uneven William Friedkin will still have enough of that The French Connection/The Exorcist juice left in him to pull out a claustrophobic, perhaps Cronenbergesque thriller. A Gulf War vet (Michael Shannon from the London and New York stage versions) and a tragedy-plagued woman (Ashley Judd) are locked in a grimy motel convinced they are infected with bugs of indeterminate origin. – Feaster
SICKO -- JUNE
Ah, Michael Moore, the filmmaker with the Big Gulp lefty outrage and the supersized ego to match – can we love the politics but hate the man? I'll take Ralph Nader's underdog advocacy over Moore's snooty infotainment any day, but beggars can't be choosers in a country overloaded with neocon gasbags. There's actually nothing funny about a country with a health-care system as ass-backward as ours, but hopefully debate and attention will rise to the top from Moore's hardy-har-har. Which means I am willing to put up with Moore's pious self-righteousness and smug self-regard in the hopes that something about this seriously damaged industry will change. – Feaster
KNOCKED UP -- JUNE 1
Since I spent a majority of The 40-Year-Old Virgin alternating between warm-and-fuzzy feelings and the kind of uncontrollable laughter where you have to bend at the waist and your face turns the color of merlot, I have very, very high expectations for director Judd Apatow's guy-angst follow-up about another exquisite loser with girl trouble. Seth Rogen stars as said loser who learns he has impregnated his recent one-night stand (Katherine Heigl). As perceptive about the sexual and emotional travails of men as chick flicks have been about women, Apatow's cinema shall now be known as "Dick Flicks." – Feaster
NANCY DREW -- JUNE 15
Since The Nanny Diaries' opening date has been pushed back, the slot for a mindless, girly picture is now open, and this teen comedy based on the run of classic girls' adventure tales looks ripe for updating. What teen icon could be more incongruous in the dirty, filthy present times than that buttoned-up sleuth of a lass Emma Roberts in pearls and sweater sets? The trailer appears to make hay with the contrast of a goody-two-shoes and a current girl culture of hard-edged Bratz. Movies such as this one, directed by Andrew Fleming, are the cinematic equivalent of a bottle of white wine: They make you stupid and ineffective, but sometimes after a brutal day, it's all you really want. – Feaster
RATATOUILLE -- JUNE 29
While Pixar's last computer-animated comedy, Cars, seemed targeted at NASCAR fans, this follow-up apparently caters to addicts of the Food Network. Comedian Patton Oswalt provides the voice of Remy, an American rat in Paris who not only craves haute cuisine but has ambitions to be a chef and secretly teams up with a bumbling human kitchen worker. The trailers look both clever and driven by character – Brad Garrett voices a five-star chef – although they make the premise seem more the stuff of a short film than a feature. Nevertheless, few animation directors have more credibility than Brad Bird, who matched personal nuance with amazing spectacle in both The Iron Giant and The Incredibles. – Holman
TRANSFORMERS -- JULY 4
I barely missed the Transformers toy craze. And given the basic premise of the live-action version – heroic alien "Autobots" defend Earth from the invading "Decepticons" – I'm unsure why giant robots need to transform into trucks or helicopters. Isn't being a giant, heavily armored robot sufficient? A 1980s animated TV series with a 1986 film featuring Orson Welles' voicing, the franchise transforms into a Cineplex vehicle. Disturbia's Shia LaBeouf plays the lead human character, which means he'll be the one who leaps out of the way of most of the special-effects shots. Director Michael Bay (Armageddon) specializes in big and stupid, so Transformers should be all about the spectacle. – Holman
HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX -- JULY 13
Audiences can be forgiven for approaching the fifth Harry Potter film with a little "series fatigue." Fortunately Ralph Fiennes' appearance as the villainous Voldemort in the last film gave the franchise a shot of adrenaline, and Order of the Phoenix is one of J.K. Rowling's best books. Oscar nominee Imelda Staunton portrays one of the wizardry student's most hateful adversaries (sadistic bureaucrat Dolores Umbridge), and the book's theme of youthful rebellion to authoritarian adults might have real teeth on the film. Director David Yates is best-known for the acclaimed British political thriller State of Play. – Holman
THE SIMPSONS MOVIE -- JULY 27
"The Simpsons" is now the longest-running show on television, so even if Homer caused a nuclear holocaust, new episodes would somehow keep rolling out. Though the series has lost most of its 'zazz, the film version just might give some of the old spark back. Plot details have been jealously guarded – the Simpsons' hometown of Springfield faces some kind of calamity – but the teaser trailer features some very funny shtick with Homer driving a team of sled dogs. Director David Silverman is a veteran of the show and co-directed Pixar's Monsters, Inc. – Holman
STARDUST -- AUG. 10
OK, this one's a pretty big question mark, but it commands attention by being based on a fantasy book by Neil Gaiman, a lionized cult figure mostly famous for his superb series of graphic novels, Sandman – not to be confused with the Spider-Man 3 villain of the same name. Stardust features a young man's journey into a magic realm to retrieve a fallen star for his beloved, with the cast including Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Ricky Gervais, Peter O'Toole and Ian McKellan as the narrator. Layer Cake's Matthew Vaughn directs. – Holman
CL film critics Curt Holman and Felicia Feaster give a sneak peak into this Summer's movie line-up.
Credit: Edward Adams