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Blockbusters and Beyond

[whitespace] Godzilla
Bigfoot Rules: Godzilla's humongous ad budget is set to squash the competition this summer.

This summer, screens will sizzle and explode, as usual. And there'll be some good movies, too.

By Richard von Busack

'CHRIST TO APPEAR IN DEVIL-WORSHIP MOVIE," a Variety headline recently screamed. Actually, it's an actor named Chad Christ, late of Gattaca, who is going to appear later this year in a Canadian-made potboiler about teenage Satanism.

What a disappointment--because who else could follow such summer-season opening acts as killer comets and the return of Godzilla? (And isn't He overdue for a comeback? One keeps expecting to hear that the Omen franchise will be revived--"But we want to make it dark, not like the campy original.")

So far, flacks have been careful to note that the comet in the summer's first blockbuster, Deep Impact (which jumped the calendar gun on May 8), is only half the size of Manhattan--"from the Battery to Central Park"--whereas the meteor in Armageddon (opens July 1) is the size of Texas, presumably complete with Panhandle. Armageddon, which stars Bruce Willis, has the same plot, even unto astronauts mining the comet with explosives.

More intriguing than the summer movies themselves, which can disappoint, are the spring ad campaigns, which never do. The Godzilla (which stomped into theaters this week) ads--"Size Does Matter"--perhaps refer to the film's advertising budget. Godzilla's publicity campaign has a primitive quality that no student of the movies can fail to appreciate. I love the blunt comparisons, such as the one currently adorning Bay Area public transit: "His foot is as long as this bus" (and just as sticky?). It reminds me of a cartoon in the National Lampoon many years ago. A preacher is in his pulpit, describing the Lord: "His T-shirts are the size of China, and His socks are as big as New Jersey."

Besides these three prodigies--comet, lizard, another comet--the cinematic hopefuls this summer include more modestly proportioned children's movies: two full-length cartoons, Quest for Camelot (opened May 15), yet another Arthurian legend; and Mulan (June 19), a Chinese woman-warrior tale from Disney. In a slightly different vein, Joe Dante directs Small Soldiers (July 10), the dark underbelly of Toy Story: what if the G.I. Joes came to life and were evil? Tommy Lee Jones and Frank Langella do the voices.

Real-life G.I. Joes turn up in the new Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan (July 24), in which Tom Hanks leads the way as a U.S. Army captain searching for a paratrooper behind the lines after D-Day. Matt Damon co-stars.

SUMMER FRANCHISE watchers are disappointed to learn that the only movie with a number in its title this season is Lethal Weapon 4 (July 10). Guaranteed to be better than Lethal Weapon 3 and perhaps livened up by the casting of Jet Li as the villain.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Riding High: Johnny Depp goes gonzo as Roul Duke when Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas--directed by Terry Gilliam--arrives in theaters on May 22.

Remakes include a new version of Cinderella, Ever After (Aug. 7), starring Drew Barrymore as the wannabe princess and Anjelica Huston as the stepmother who lacks people skills. Doctor Doolittle (June 26) is one remake that no one will compare unfavorably to the 1967 original, if only because no one has been known to compare the 1967 original favorably to anything. Eddie Murphy plays Hugh Lofting's linguist/veterinarian.

For audiences tired of ridiculous plots, unlikely action and two-dimensional characters, there are a few "women's pictures" coming in the months ahead. Some of the (hopefully) better-than-average romantic offerings are Hope Floats (opening May 29), directed by Forest Whitaker and starring Harry Connick Jr. and Sandra Bullock; and Polish Wedding (July 17), featuring Claire Danes as an unwed mom.

The valley's thriving independent and repertory film scene should give audiences a respite from the summer explosions in Dolby. And even the studio system has to release some aesthetic, if not financial, winners. Here are season's best bets:

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas--Terry Gilliam (Brazil) directs the screen version of Hunter Thompson's influential psychedelic farrago/memoir, with Johnny Depp as the old Southern gentleman himself. Benicio del Toro plays his traveling companion; Christina Ricci co-stars as the hitchhiker with the crush on Barbra Streisand. (May 22)

High Art--Lisa Cholodenko's cold-blooded, sexually tense story of the art world in the 1980s. Lucy Berliner (Ally Sheedy), a once-noted photographer burnt out by partying and disgusted with the politics of the galleries, is seduced two ways at once by her avid downstairs neighbor Syd (Radha Mitchell), an "assistant editor" (actually a glorified intern) at a photography magazine. The film is stolen by Patricia Clarkson, darkly funny as Sheedy's Nico-esque lover, Greta, a German expatriate coasting on her reputation as a Fassbinder starlet. (June 12)

The X-Files--Knowing them, they'll only just tease us some more. Mulder and Scully (David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) bring their TV roles to the bigger screen. (June 19)

Out of Sight--Elmore Leonard's novel is the source for a caper starring George Clooney as a criminal pursued in more ways than one by marshal Jennifer Lopez. Underrated director Steven Soderbergh is in charge; the cast includes Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle (who stole Devil in a Blue Dress as the dangerous Mouse) and Albert Brooks. (June 26)

The Mask of Zorro--Yeah, I remember, I thought The Phantom with Billy Zane would be good, too. Much delayed, and no doubt much compromised, The Mask of Zorro may be a lox. The removal of Robert Rodriguez as director might well have doomed this version of the Zorro story, since Rodriguez was star Antonio Banderas' best director since Pedro Almodovar. (Banderas' work in Almodovar's Matador and Law of Desire shows how badly he's been squandered by prejudiced Yankee filmmakers.) Still--a story of political misrule in California should have allegorical resonance during an election year. (July 17)

BASEketball--Mindwalk it isn't. South Park co-creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker star in live-action roles as suburban brats who invent a combination basketball and baseball game. Fans of the duo's Cannibal! The Musical already know that Stone and Parker can act; their director is David Zucker (of the Airplane! and Naked Gun franchises). (July 31)

Snake Eyes--Brian De Palma directing Nicolas Cage: two reasons to check out a story of political assassination set in Atlantic City. (Aug. 7)

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From the May 21-27, 1998 issue of Metro.

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