A summer of uploaded, mutated and cyborg heroes

Friday, May 2, 2003

OS ANGELES -- If America's looking for heroes in these times, Hollywood aims to deliver.

The summer season always is loaded with movies about gallant warriors beating the tar out of bad guys. And the Sept. 11 attacks and the war against terrorism that led to conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq may have audiences more primed than ever for big-screen heroes.

Adding to moviegoers' comfort zone, this summer reacquaints them with many old friends as favorite franchises such as "The Matrix," "X-Men," "Charlie's Angels, "Tomb Raider" and "Bad Boys" deliver fresh adventures.

"Everywhere I went, all over the world, when people would come up to me, they always ask, 'When are you going to do another "Terminator" movie?"' said Arnold Schwarzenegger, who finally makes good on his promise that he'd be back as humanity's cyborg protector from the future.

"Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," arriving over Fourth of July weekend, pits Schwarzenegger's part-flesh, part-machine bruiser against a gorgeous female terminator that can count sex as a weapon along with the ability to control other machines.

"There's a huge audience out there that loves this character and wants to see more of it," Schwarzenegger said.

Likewise with "X2: X-Men United" and "The Matrix Reloaded," two of the year's most highly awaited films. Hitting theaters weeks before Memorial Day, "X2" and "Matrix Reloaded" should give a jump-start to Hollywood's busy season after slumping box-office revenues so far this year.

"The Matrix" came out of the blue four years ago with an edgy new take on science fiction from brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski, who simultaneously shot "The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Matrix Revolutions," which concludes the trilogy this fall.

Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss are back as freedom fighters uploading themselves into a virtual world to battle Earth's machine conquerers, with the final two "Matrix" movies taking place over a 48-hour period.

A big question is how they can renew the sense of freshness of "The Matrix," whose stop-motion visual effects, time-altering action, and slick black fashion sense have been endlessly imitated in movies, television and commercials.

In the beginning, such imitation was "funny and cute, but then it kind of gets boring for everybody," Moss said. "I don't think that will be a problem for our movies. The brothers have come up with a whole bunch of new stuff this time. All the imitation just makes them have to work harder."

Summer is prime time for escapism far removed from troublesome current events. Movies such as "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle," reteaming Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu as the chic private eyes trying to crack a conspiracy against a witness protection program, has no pretensions beyond action and eye candy.

"There's nothing about 'Charlie's Angels' that is really related to anything but entertainment," Liu said. "There is violence in it, but we run around in stilettos fighting with people, and we don't have guns. We have great disguises, it's got tons of great dance numbers. It's saturated with color, it's sexy and funny. It's a nice way to unwind."

The season's action movies remain dominated by men, but "Charlie's Angels" is among a growing number of franchises allowing women into the act.

Along with Moss in "The Matrix" movies, the "X2" ensemble includes Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and Anna Paquin, joining male counterparts Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, James Marsden and Alan Cumming. This time, good and evil mutants team up to fight a rogue military man trying to exterminate them.

Angelina Jolie goes globe-trotting again in "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider -- The Cradle of Life," with the buxom video-game heroine on a quest to find Pandora's Box.

"We're at this place now where women are being very physical, very active in movies," said Jolie, who originated the character in 2001's "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider." "The studio felt at first it was such a risk to spend that much money on an adventure film with a woman. We weren't sure if anybody would go see it. It was a relief that it worked, and hopefully we've made an even better one this time."

Studios will offer heroes in everything from action thrillers to comedies to family flicks. Among them, there's:

Frilly ("Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde," with Reese Witherspoon back as the attorney with impeccable style on a lobbying mission to pass a bill against animal testing).

Fleet ("2 Fast 2 Furious," with Paul Walker returning for another hot-wheels adventure in the sequel to "The Fast and the Furious").

Fishy ("Finding Nemo," an underwater adventure from the makers of "Toy Story" and "Monsters, Inc." about a fish tailing after his missing son).

Frightening ("Exorcist: The Beginning," a prequel with Stellan Skarsgard taking on the role of the original film's priest in his first battle against Satan).

Familial ("Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over," pitting the espionage family of Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara against new villain Sylvester Stallone).

Fraternal ("The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," about a brotherhood of great literary heroes led by Sean Connery as Allan Quartermain).

Ferocious ("The Hulk," a comic-book adaptation with Eric Bana as the scientist accidentally turned into a beastly superhero).

And funky ("Bad Boys II," reuniting Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as hip Miami narcotics cops trying to crack a ring smuggling Ecstasy in from Cuba inside submerged coffins).2003 SUMMER MOVIE SCHEDULE

MAY

n BLUE CAR: Newcomer Agnes Bruckner and David Strathairn in a student-mentor tale that turns ugly.

BRUCE ALMIGHTY: A sourpuss (Jim Carrey) grouses to God -- who grants him infinite powers and challenges him to run the show. Morgan Freeman plays God.

BUFFALO SOLDIERS: An Army hustler (Joaquin Phoenix) tries to outwit his superiors. With Ed Harris and Scott Glenn.

DADDY DAY CARE: Eddie Murphy's an out-of-work dad who opens an offbeat day-care center.

THE DANCER UPSTAIRS: John Malkovich directs the story of a Latin American cop (Javier Bardem) tracking a terrorist.

DOWN WITH LOVE: This throwback to swinging '60s romances stars Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor.

FINDING NEMO: An animated tale from Disney-Pixar ("Monsters, Inc.") about a father fish trying to rescue his son from a dentist's aquarium.

THE IN-LAWS: A freewheeling spy (Michael Douglas) and a meek foot doctor (Albert Brooks) are prospective in-laws.

THE ITALIAN JOB: Gold thieves retaliate against a double-crosser in their ranks. Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron and Edward Norton star in a remake of the '60s caper.

THE LIZZIE MCGUIRE MOVIE: The Disney Channel series goes big-screen as Lizzie (Hilary Duff) takes a class trip to Italy.

THE MATRIX RELOADED: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss continue the fight against Earth's machine rulers.

ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE: A reunion concert of soul singers, featuring Wilson Pickett, Carla and Rufus Thomas and Sam Moore.

POKEMON HEROES: The animated "pocket monsters" return for an adventure in a mysterious water city.

THE SHAPE OF THINGS: Neil LaBute directs a campus tale of love and sex adapted from his play. With Rachel Weisz and Gretchen Mol.

SWEET SIXTEEN: A British teen schemes for cash to build a new life for him and his mother, who's about to get out of prison.

WRONG TURN: Youthful travelers are hunted by inbred cannibals in West Virginia.

X2: X-MEN UNITED: Everyone's favorite mutants fight fresh evil. The ensemble includes Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos.

JUNE

n CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS: The top Sundance documentary winner traces the dissolution of a family amid child-molestation charges.

CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE: "Angels" Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu go undercover to solve witness-protection murders. McG directs again.

DUMB & DUMBERER: WHEN HARRY MET LLOYD: The dopes of "Dumb and Dumber" blunder their way through high school in this prequel.

FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY: "American Idol" personalities Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini team for a beach romance.

THE HARD WORD: Out on bail, three brothers reluctantly sign on to a major heist. With Guy Pearce and Rachel Griffiths.

HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE: L.A. detectives (Harrison Ford, Josh Hartnett) investigate the slayings of a rap group in this action comedy.

THE HULK: Ang Lee directs the comic-book adaptation about a scientist (Eric Bana) transformed into a beastly superhero. Jennifer Connelly and Nick Nolte co-star.

JET LAG: Losers in love (Juliette Binoche and Jean Reno) have a romantic encounter at a Paris airport.

PROZAC NATION: Christina Ricci as a depressed Harvard freshman in the days before Prozac.

RUGRATS GO WILD: The cartoon toddlers meet the "Wild Thornberrys" clan on a deserted island.

28 DAYS LATER: A virus turns most of Britain's inhabitants into murderous zombies. Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting") directs.

2 FAST 2 FURIOUS: Vin Diesel's a no-show, but Paul Walker returns for the hot wheels follow-up to "The Fast and the Furious."

WHALE RIDER: The film-festival hit from New Zealand tells the story of a girl who bucks tradition to seek leadership of her Maori tribe.

July

BAD BOYS II: Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are back as Miami narcotics cops fighting a ring smuggling Ecstasy from Cuba.

CAMP: "Fame" goes to summer camp in a musical story of youths at a retreat for performing arts.

CATCH THAT KID: Three youths plan a heist at a high-tech bank -- all for a good cause.

EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING: The prequel to "The Exorcist" pits a priest (Stellan Skarsgard) against the devil in Africa.

HOW TO DEAL: A teen (Mandy Moore) disillusioned with love finds herself open to romance after tragedy strikes.

JOHNNY ENGLISH: A family comedy about a British agent (Rowan Atkinson) taking on the Frenchman (John Malkovich) who stole the crown jewels.

LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER -- THE CRADLE OF LIFE: Angelina Jolie travels the world on a quest for Pandora's Box.

THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: Sean Connery heads a cast of literary superheroes including Allan Quartermain, Capt. Nemo and the Invisible Man.

LEGALLY BLONDE 2: RED, WHITE & BLONDE: Reese Witherspoon is back as fashionable barrister, on a lobbying mission to Congress.

THE MAGDALENE SISTERS: Peter Mullan spins a drama of four "fallen women" condemned to work in Ireland's cruel "Magdalene Laundries."

MONDAYS IN THE SUN: Javier Bardem leads an ensemble cast in the humorous drama of workers left adrift by the closing of a shipyard.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL: A mariner (Johnny Depp) commandeers a ship to save a kidnapped woman. Based on Disney's theme-park ride.

SEABISCUIT: The adaptation of the best seller about the Depression-era racehorse stars Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper.

SINBAD: LEGEND OF THE SEVEN SEAS: Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michelle Pfeiffer lend voices to an animated tale about the rascally sailor.

SPY KIDS 3-D: GAME OVER: The spy family returns for a 3-D adventure against a power-mad villain (Sylvester Stallone).

TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES: Arnold Schwarzenegger's back as the cyborg from the future, battling a deadly female terminator.

AUGUST

n AMERICAN SPLENDOR: The top Sundance festival winner stars Paul Giamatti as grouchy cult-comic writer Harvey Pekar as he groans and sighs through life.

AMERICAN WEDDING: "American Pie" sweethearts Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan head for the altar.

AND NOW LADIES & GENTLEMEN: The lives of a jewel thief and jazz singer collide as they try to shed their pasts. With Jeremy Irons.

CIVIL BRAND: A woman imprisoned for killing her abusive husband faces cruel injustice behind bars.

DIRTY PRETTY THINGS: Stephen Frears directs Audrey Tautou ("Amelie") in a thriller at a London hotel.

THE FIGHTING TEMPTATIONS: Cuba Gooding Jr. and Beyonce Knowles in the tale of a man who must form a gospel choir to collect an inheritance.

FREAKY FRIDAY: Jamie Lee Curtis stars in a remake about a mother and daughter who swap bodies.

FREDDY VS. JASON: In this corner, the "Nightmare on Elm Street" ghoul, in that corner, the "Friday the 13th" slasher.

GIGLI: Real-life honeys Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez are mobsters at romantic odds on a kidnapping assignment.

HIGHWAYMEN: People victimized by a highway killer (Jim Caviezel) team to hunt him down.

IF YOU WERE MY GIRL: A nerd (Nick Cannon) bribes a high school hottie to pretend they're dating.

JEEPERS CREEPERS 2: The ravenous Creeper terrorizes a busload of high school athletes, cheerleaders and coaches.

KEN PARK: An explicit tale of sex and emotional trauma among California teens. From director Larry Clark ("Kids").

LE DIVORCE: Romantic misadventures of two American sisters (Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts) in France. From filmmakers Ismail Merchant and James Ivory.

MARCI X: A prissy woman (Lisa Kudrow) takes over her father's record label and tries to keep a rapper (Damon Wayans) in line.

MATCHSTICK MEN: Nicolas Cage as a skittish con man whose big score is endangered by a visit from his teenage daughter. Ridley Scott directs.

MY BOSS' DAUGHTER: Unwanted visitors plague a klutz (Ashton Kutcher) who's house-sitting for his boss.

SHAOLIN SOCCER: A hit in Hong Kong, this action comedy features a misfit gang that blends shaolin kung fu with soccer.

S.W.A.T.: The '70s TV show gets an update as S.W.A.T. officers (Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell) battle mercenaries out to free a drug lord.

THIRTEEN: A gritty tale about a 13-year-old girl and her single mom as their relationship decays. With Holly Hunter.

UPTOWN GIRLS: Brittany Murphy as a rock star's daughter who becomes nanny to a precocious girl.

WONDERLAND: A drama based on the true story of a porn star (Val Kilmer) linked to drug murders. Lisa Kudrow co-stars.

-- AP

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