Springtime for hit-or-miss

A rundown of what to expect in film in the first few months of 2008

Usually spring is the dumping ground for the orphans, films that Hollywood has lost its faith in, or the sad-sack entries that were never really expected to do all that well in the first place. The orphans fulfill what little value they offer by bookmarking the screens of the multiplexes in the gray months that lead off to the explosion of summer spectacle. They are generally considered nothing more than filler, getting a brief run on the screen before being rushed to DVD until the next polished sequels from high-stakes franchises start shouldering the second-stringers aside.

This year could be different. Not that the spring line is expected to be more impressive this time around, but because if the Hollywood writers’ strike keeps dragging along, we’ll finally find out how bad a summer blockbuster can be without a script doctor on set to apply paramedic writing to a project that was rushed into production.


So here’s the thing: If the strike continues on into the coming months, this spring’s offerings may very well be the last of the competently written fare we’ll see going into the 2009 Oscar considerations. Well, aside from the promise of more foreign films and independents snatched up to fill the void. Wouldn’t that be something? Multiplex audiences having to deal with subtitles and a noticeable lack of CGI?


With that in mind, let’s take a peek at what the Academy may very well be considering at this point next year …

This week kicks it all off with a bang, a preternatural wail and a whole lot of shaky-cam. Cloverfield is a project that has been both shrouded in mystery and the object of viral marketing at its most calculating. What we do know is that it’s a flick about a giant monster that goes all Godzilla on New York City, recorded by the cell phones of citizens dodging its leathery footfalls. The good news is that it’s produced by JJ Abrams, the brain behind Lost. The bad news is that it’s produced by JJ Abrams, the guy responsible for the last Mission: Impossible entry. Cloverfield‘s competition is Teeth, a black-humored indie horror film about a high school girl who discovers that she has a bad case of teeth in the wrong place ("Recommended by four out of five dentatas!"), and Mad Money, with Katie Holmes, Queen Latifah and Diane Keaton teaming up as Federal Reserve workers with a scheme to knock over their place of employment. Also slated is the romantic comedy 27 Dresses.

<i>The Hottie and the Nottie</i>

The following week is spearheaded by the sturm und drang of Stallone resurrecting his John Rambo character. Advance word has been good (for the folks who liked the previous entries), and the red-band trailers promise one of the wettest (goriest) non-horror movies of the year. It’ll be a gory week, as Rambo shares theater space with Untraceable, a glossy riff on torture porn about a “1337” serial killer with the mad skillz to have his victims die due to hits on his untraceable Web site. For the more timid, there’s the inspirational step-dancing drama How She Move. And, ahem … Meet the Spartans, from the folks behind Epic Movie. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve probably seen everything amusing in the movie.

Yet another J-horror remake (well, Chinese, if you wanna get technical) leads off February. This one stars Jessica “Don’t It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue?” Alba, who plays a blind concert violinist who finds that The Eye transplanted into her orbit offers a view into the netherworld. And the ghosts aren’t too happy about being spied on. Will Alba finally get her Oscar with this one? Also for your consideration is Strange Wilderness, an underachiever comedy about a couple of knobs tracking Big-Footage to save their television show, and Over Her Dead Body, a romcom featuring Eva Longoria as a cockblocking ghost. And The Trailer Park Boys movie, although the chances of it hitting a screen at Tinseltown are pretty slim.


Feb. 8 promises to be the cruelest week, with only Matthew McConaughey, Martin Lawrence or Paris Hilton as your options. For what it’s worth, McConaughey stars in the romantic action movie Fool’s Gold (a seeming Romancing the Stone wannabe), Lawrence finds he doesn’t need the fat suit anymore in Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins, and Hilton is hideously miscast in The Hottie and the Nottie. Although, who knows? Perhaps buried deep within her vacuous, non-producer frame actually lurks an actress. Is she a good enough actress to play a hottie without massive CGI? Stay tuned …

Mid February sees wannabe next family-fantasy franchise The Spiderwick Chronicles offering up the story of three kids who find that a creepy old house is the portal into fantasyland. For the too-cool-for-school kids, there’s Step Up 2: The Streets, another inspirational step-dancing drama. You know it’s got cred because it uses a number instead of a word. Word. Jumper promises to be this week’s The Matrix, with Sam Jackson and friends going all bullet time as they use a pan-dimensional flux (or something) to spontaneously jump from one point to another. For zombiephiles (and there are more of them than you think … and they’re coming to get you, Babs) comes the promise of the long-awaited release of George Romero’s Diary of the Dead. If gut-crunching mayhem isn’t your idea of good times for a date, there’s also the Ryan Reynolds romcom, Definitely Maybe.

<i>Other Boleyn Girl</i>

Or maybe not. Fortunately, February is the shortest month, and it nears the end with Vantage Point, a Rashomon ("That’s not the way I remember it!") -styled thriller about four different POVs on an attempted hit on the POTUS. For those jonesin’ for their “twee,” Frenchie director Michel Gondry drops by with Be Kind, Rewind. Jack Black and Mos Def accidentally erase all the videos in a video store and have to re-enact iconic film moments to cover their asses. Lowering the already painfully lowered brow, there’s also Witless Relocation, the new Larry the Cable Guy movie.

Actually, for all its shortness, February will just keep goin’ and going. The 29th sees Will Farrell dropping by with yet another madcap sports-themed comedy, Semi-Pro. This time it’s basketball. Fill in the blanks, we should be good at this by now. The alternative is the eye-candy appeal of The Other Boleyn Girl, featuring Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson. Unfortunately, it’s a period piece, which means lots of talking and lots and lots of clothing. And then there’s Eric Bana for those who prefer a different kind of fruit.

<i>Be Kind, Rewind</i>

March opens with a roar, with Roland Emmerich’s (Independence Day) CGI-happy 10,000 B.C., about a mammoth hunter and his crazy-assed adventures. Also, Martin Lawrence and Raven go on a College Road Trip. ‘Nuff said there. And an Uma Thurman romcom called The Accidental Husband.

Mid-March rolls along with what will probably be the most messed-up mainstream movie of the year, a remake of the German horror … um, psychological thriller Funny Games, starring Naomi Watts. Trust me: if it’s a faithful remake (and it has the original director at the helm), it’s messed up. Although probably not as messed up as the Jim Carrey-voiced animated bastardization of Horton Hears a Who, but that’s on a whole different level.

<i>Funny Games</i>

March 21 sees Owen Wilson on his own again, this time as eponymous Drillbit Taylor, an incompetent soldier of fortune hired to deliver some payback by a couple of beleaguered high schoolers. And then there’s yet another movie from the inexplicably popular Tyler Perry. This one is called Meet the Browns, and it’s about—aw, hell, it’s a Tyler Perry movie.

The month ends with the American release of Run, Fatboy, Run. The good news is that it stars Simon Shaun of the Dead Pegg as a fatboy who tries to lose weight to impress an ex-girlfriend. The bad news is that it’s directed by a Friend, David Schwimmer. And before the summer round of superhero movies kicks off, there’s Superhero! Yes, it’s a spoof of superhero movies. On the other hand, it’s produced by one of the guys responsible for Airplane! Hence the exclamation point. Also closing March is the return of Kevin Spacey in 21, a “Based on a True Story” story about gambling MIT students, and Stop Loss, a drama about a soldier who refuses to go back to Iraq when ordered to.


Damn … these are the last of the polished scripts written before the strike? It’ll be interesting to see what their big-budget counterparts look like in the multiplex, this summer, propped upon first-draft narratives. Fun times ahead for those with a taste for schadenfruede.