Summer Movie Preview

Seven film critic Cole Smithey anticipates a fun start to the season (starring Iron Man 2 and Robin Hood), with the surest blockbuster (Inception) coming in July

The summer movie season actually begins in spring, as Hollywood unveils its first big blockbuster, Iron Man 2, at midnight May 6 in Las Vegas (and everywhere else the next day). With a script written by Justin Theroux and packed with A-List stars such as Don Cheadle, Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson, there’s considerable reason to believe the sequel will top the upstart franchise’s first installment.

Because we’re not yet at the overdue point where all films are available on-demand in your living room the same day they open in theaters (I expect this to change within the next year or two), Las Vegans probably won’t be able to see Alex Gibney’s scathing documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money on May 7. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek out this informative and entertaining film about lobbyist thief Jack Abramoff, from the same director who made Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.

Summer continues to heat up on May 14 with Robin Hood, the opener at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It marks the first reunion of director Ridley Scott with Russell Crowe since their 2008 flop Body of Lies. Cate Blanchett and the ageless Max von Sydow star. You’ll have to do your due diligence to catch the concurrently opening Looking for Eric, the latest film from the great Ken Loach (The Wind That Shakes the Barley), but it’s definitely worth the effort.

Children get their first warm-weather heyday of the season on May 21, when Shrek Forever After reunites Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas in the final episode of DreamWorks’ franchise about the big green ogre with an equally big heart.

In the “unnecessary sequel” category is Sex and the City 2, which opens May 27, and I’ve already crossed it off my list. May 28 also finds the ever-reliable Jake Gyllenhaal testing his leading-man status as Prince Dastan in the video-game-based Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time from Disney. The Jerry Bruckheimer-produced blockbuster comes with the caveat that, to date, no movie based on a video game has been worth a damn.

Not until June 4 does nasty comedy take center stage with Get Him to the Greek. Jonah Hill and the infamous Russell Brand star in this romp from director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Hill plays a record company intern entrusted with escorting an egomaniacal rock god from London to L.A.’s Greek Theatre in time for a big performance. You know what you’re getting, and you’re bound to get plenty of it.

That same weekend is Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s “mental science-fiction movie,” Valhalla Rising. Mads Mikkelsen plays a one-eyed mute warrior of supernatural strength who escapes his captors with the help of a young boy to discover a new land. June 4 also delivers another sci-fi fiesta, Splice (starring Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley), about a couple of genetic engineers who get in over their heads when they create an animal/human hybrid (played by Delphine Chanéac). Creepy.

Hollywood’s endless stream of comic-book inspiration (see page 35) adds another would-be franchise on June 18 when Jonah Hex casts Hollywood’s latest A-list addition, Josh Brolin, in the title role of a gunslinger straddling his earthly existence and hell. Toy Story 3 also opens that weekend—in 2-D, 3-D and IMAX 3-D.

Middle-aged comic bonding blossoms on June 25 with Grown Ups, starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James and Chris Rock.

I’d be remiss not to mention the June 30 release of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, but I do so against my better Nosferatu nature. Adults can bypass the pubescent vampires that weekend with Taylor Hackford’s intriguing drama Love Ranch (starring Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci), about a married couple who start a brothel in Nevada only to have their family business blow up in their faces when a heavyweight boxer from South America introduces a love-triangle equation to the sex-charged atmosphere.

M. Night Shyamalan threatens to stink up screens with his latest piece of cinematic flatulence, The Last Airbender, on July 2. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Instead, keep your feelers out for Angela Ismailos’ labor-of-love documentary Great Directors, in which the filmmaker interviews the likes of Bernardo Bertolucci, David Lynch, Stephen Frears, Richard Linklater, Agnès Varda and John Sayles. It’s pure cinematic ice cream.

Brody makes his second summer appearance in the sci-fi flick Predators on July 9. This movie carries the distinction of being produced at Robert Rodriguez’s much-talked-about Troublemaker Studios in Austin, Texas, under director Nimród Antal (Vacancy).

Leonardo DiCaprio fans get their just rewards on July 16 when the Christopher Nolan sci-fi movie Inception puts him in the company of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page and Michael Caine in a world where ideas are the new currency. Look for this to be a lock for the best blockbuster of the season.

Steve Carell and Paul Rudd team up on July 23 for Dinner for Schmucks, a promising slapstick comedy from Jay Roach (Meet the Fockers). The next weekend, July 30, lands Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in the espionage thriller The Adjustment Bureau. Think Bourne Identity. If teen comedy is more your thing, Beastly (starring Neil Patrick Harris) also opens that weekend.

Multi-culti crime action strikes on Aug. 20 when the gang-heist flick Takers brings together Idris Elba, Paul Walker, Chris Brown, Hayden Christensen and Matt Dillon. Stereotypes and bullets promise to be in plentiful supply. Also that weekend, if your kids haven’t had enough of sequels, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang brings back Emma Thompson for the next chapter about the ugly nanny with a knack for handling unruly kids.

It wouldn’t be summer without a 3-D B-movie horror gore fest. This year, the same director that gave you High Tension in 2005 (Alexandre Aja) comes up with Piranha 3-D. With Richard Dreyfuss, Elisabeth Shue and Ving Rhames, the vast quantities of spurting blood have reliable faces upon which to splash.

No matter how that sounds right now, there’s nothing like a nice air-conditioned cinema to escape the summer heat. Enjoy.