Dog days of summer

A look ahead at the movies with some bark … or that just plain bite

<i>The Midnight Meat Train</i>

The Midnight Meat Train

If nothing else, this summer looks to be a relative breath of fresh air compared to last year, when by the end of August your only multiplex choices all had a “3” after the title. No fun, especially if you had already seen the pirates and the superheroes and wanted to see something new, something small that you had heard about, but was playing only in cities with more than one theater.

This year promises a little variety, starting off on a heavy-metal riff and going out on a dingbat giggle. Or, to unleash what is most likely an unwelcome allusion, it looks to be a real dogfight, with the “Alpha Dogs” and the “Underdogs” going at each others’ throats for the box-office gold—and the just plain “Dogs,” curled on the smallest screen for a weekend, whimpering.

May 9
The Broth … I mean, the Siblings Wachowski are back, looking to heal those post Matrix Revolutions scars with … um, Speed Racer. Was there actually a demand for a big-budget adaptation of a kitschy Japanese cartoon that no one in the target demographic has heard of? From advance looks, this puppy promises to be all candy apple gloss over a gray primer story. And it’ll be thrown in the pit with Iron Man, which should still be white hot off the previous weekend. UNDERDOG.

Apparently Cameron Diaz’s shelf-life has passed as she’s now forced to accept Ashton Kutcher as a co-star in What Happens in Vegas, a comedy that probably exists only because of Sin City product placement funding. Two strangers have to get married to get the payout on a quarter shared and played. Being generous: UNDERDOG.

May 16
Is the public sick of the Lord of the Rings wannabes yet, or is there still a little elf juice left? Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian promises to test this question once and for all. If it underperforms, The Suits are gonna start second guessing next year’s The Hobbit. Still, the C.S. Lewis franchise has those of faith in the amen corner, so this is still: ALPHA DOG.

<i>Pineapple Express</i>

May 22
Is Harrison Ford too old to be taken serious cracking a bullwhip? Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull doesn’t seem sure itself, so it throws in teen-bait Shia LaBeouf as Indiana Jones’ son. Even George Lucas has come out and said not to expect much from the flick. Still, this is most likely the ALPHA DOG of Alpha Dogs … aside from a grumpy millionaire with a pleather fetish.

Its only competition is Uwe Boll’s Postal—a post-9/11 satire based on a sociopathic videogame about a postal worker who shoots up a small town. I don’t even know if this is a mammal, let alone categorizing it in dog terms; I suppose it is the UNDERDOG of underdogs.

May 30
Continuing the recurring motif of taking nearly forgotten small-screen properties and trying to resuscitate them on the big screen, Sex and the City goes the PG-13 route as it explores the menopausal days of the cosmo-swilling Big Apple girls. The Golden Girls get jiggy. DOG.

Its competition for the weekend is the bunker horror The Strangers. A young couple have the eponymous villains stalking them in a remote manor—or, judging from the masked vogueing displayed in the trailer, a remote manner. But the trailer is admittedly creepy and, being the first horror film of the summer, this one is the ALPHA DOG.

June 6
Apologizing for last year’s so-called comedy that must not be mentioned, Adam Sandler returns to form with You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, as a Mossad agent who goes undercover in a hair salon. It’s been a while, so Sandler’s backwards baseball cap posse will probably make this an ALPHA DOG.

Jack Black provides the voice of the Kung Fu Panda, an animated family film about … well, the title says it all. Kung fu + pandas = box-office gold. ALPHA DOG.

<b>Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull</b>

June 13
To be honest, this weekend sets up two UNDERDOGS. M. Night Shyamalan has a serious backlash going for him, but the apocalyptic The Happening goes out sans trick ending. Looks creepy. And in an attempt to reboot the franchise, The Suits seem to have allowed Edward Norton to take all the elements that made The Hulk tank and reapply them to The Incredible Hulk.

June 20
Steve Carell steps into the telephone shoes of the secret agent Maxwell Smart. Remember Get Smart? If not, don’t worry … no one under the age of 40 does, either. Still, the trailer is pretty funny in a slapsticky way, so this looks to be an UNDERDOG. Especially since its competition is …

… Mike Myers. Haven’t he and his stupid accent shtick gone away yet? The Love Guru says no, as he takes on a Hindu accent for the chucks. DOG.

June 27
Pixar rips off Short Circuit and throws the robot into space with WALL-E. But it’s Pixar, so ALPHA DOG.

Wanted is another adaptation of a graphic novel no one has heard of. But it’s from the Russian director of the stylish vampire sci-fi Night Watch, has Angelina Jolie and lots of shootouts, so … UNDERDOG.

July 2
Teaming the director of the unfriendly Very Bad Things with the friendly Will Smith in a comedy about a cranky, alcoholic superhero promises that Hancock will at least be entertaining. ALPHA DOG in an UNDERDOG secret identity.

<i>Sex and the City</i>

July 11
After Hellboy underperformed, no one really expected a sequel. But here’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Guillermo del Toro racked up some cred with Pan’s Labyrinth, so maybe the big red dude has a chance. UNDERDOG.

An Eddie Murphy comedy with him as the vehicle for an invading race of tiny aliens. Meet Dave promises to be Pluto Nash II. As in DOG, Dog, Dog.

July 18
Vying for the summer Alpha-ALPHA DOG against Grandpa Jones, The Dark Knight has a serious viral marketing edge. And a lot of folks really liked the disjointed but flashy spectacle of Chris Nolan’s reboot. Also, it has the drive-by morbid curiosity of watching a dead actor (Heath Ledger) in his final, oddly synchronistic role.

A musical starring Meryl Streep based on the ABBA back catalog? Mamma Mia! is a movie title that sums it up better than I could. DOG.

Then there’s Space Chimps. Just because they couldn’t be bothered to take time to find a better name … DOG.

July 25
The Longshots is another damned Ice Cube family comedy, this time directed by Fred Durst, that Limp Bizkit dude who used up a half-hour of his 15 minutes. DOG.

<i>The Dark Knight</i>

Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly are a couple of aging live-at-home slackers who have to move in together when they become Step Brothers as their respective parents get married. Funny concept … ALPHA DOG.

Fox and Dana are back on the case with The X-Files: I Want to Believe. Not exactly the most optimistic title for a franchise a decade past the last airing. UNDERDOG. I, too, want to believe.

Aug 1
Brendan Fraser is back with The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Rachel Weisz ain’t. Hopefully, since it’s been so long since the interminable last entry, they’ve spent some time on the CGI. Features Maria Bello, Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh, so maybe this is an UNDERDOG.

The Midnight Meat Train is one unsavory title, but it was one of Clive Barker’s nastier short stories. And horror looks to be a seriously underrepresented genre this summer. If audiences can bring themselves to say the title to the cute box-office clerk, this is an UNDERDOG.

Aug 8
The International represents the director of Run, Lola, Run making his Hollywood debut. Clive Owen plays an Interpol agent who’s looking to break up a crime ring. UNDERDOG.

Two stoners witness a mob hit and go on the run. Pineapple Express is the name of their brand of weed that ties them to the crime scene. It’s Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, so their stoner faithful should show up. ALPHA DOG.

Then there’s Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. Why?

Aug 15
Well, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is Lucas’ cartoon version of what anchors the whole Star Wars mythos. ALPHA DOG, despite the fact that Lucas still insists on writing despite his most faithful followers telling him that he’s just not that good at it. It looks pretty, though.

Meanwhile, Ben Stiller continues on with his constipated shtick as a member of a war movie cast that gets thrown into an actual war zone. Tropic Thunder looks like The Three Amigos in camouflage. UNDERDOG.

Aug 22
Still looking for a project as good as her comedic riffs, Anna Faris bides her time as The House Bunny, a Playboy bunny who ends up as house mother to a sorority house full of female nerds. NEERRRRRDS! UNDERDOG. Just because it’s Faris. Who deserves better.

And, continuing the tradition of actors’ wigs getting bigger as they grow balder, Nicolas Cage sports the big hair in Bangkok Dangerous as he plays a hitman who begins to have second thoughts about his current job. DOG, just because the premise is such a cliché. And the wig looks silly.