By our count, there are but two sequels waiting to have oil rubbed on their backs this summer -- one featuring an evil lord named Vader, the other featuring an evil lord named Schneider -- so the season has that going for it, which is nice.
But in lieu of sequels come comic-book superheroes (Batman, the Fantastic Four) and small-screen retreads (Bewitched, cursed with the worst trailer ever, and The Dukes of Hazzard, which not even General Lee's been waiting for) and big-screen redos (The Pink Panther, Bad News Bears, The Longest Yard, The Honeymooners, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and War of the Worlds), which doesn't even take into account Jiminy Glick in Lalawood, which is barely a movie anyway.
Of the 130-something movies scheduled to play this summer, a few will warm the hearts of the most air-conditioned critic. Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers, with Bill Murray and Jessica Lange and Sharon Stone; Ron Howard's Cinderella Man, starring Russell Crowe as boxer Jim Braddock and Paul Giamatti as his trainer; and Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm, with Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, arrive without action figures and Happy Meals -- and bless their sunburned souls for trying to make art during a season of commerce. Perhaps it won't be such a long, hot summer after all. -- Robert Wilonsky
The following previews are written by Luke Y. Thompson, Robert Wilonsky and Bill Gallo.
Starring: Russell Crowe, Paul Giamatti and Renée Zellweger
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman
What it's about: Ditched by his ugly sisters, Cinderella Man (Crowe) begs his fairy godmother to make him beautiful so he can go to the ball. Ah, if only. Instead, it's a Depression-era boxing movie, in which Crowe gets paid to punch people in the face.
Why it will be fabulous: Paul Giamatti might get to win that Oscar next year for his strong supporting turn.
Why it will be dreadful: Five words: "A film by Ron Howard."
MAD HOT BALLROOM
Directed by: Marilyn Agrelo
What it's about: Documentary focusing on New York City public school kids who compete to be the best ballroom dancers. Since "Mad Hot" is contemporary parlance, and the ballroom somewhat retro, we can probably expect some amusing scenes in which the kids deride these dances as old-fashioned, only to realize that one can still be cool and like square stuff too.
Why it will be fabulous: It's Spellbound, but with ballroom dancing!
Why it will be dreadful: Who cares about ballroom dancing?
Starring: Michelle Krusiec and Joan Chen
Written and directed by: Alice Wu
What it's about: A conservative Chinese-American widow (Chen) in a gossip-heavy Queens neighborhood has been living a secret love life, as has her lesbian daughter (Krusiec). When circumstances bring the truth out into the open, how will they both cope?
Why it will be fabulous: The folks at Sony Classics generally have a better eye for quality art-house than most.
Why it will be dreadful: Name the last good movie Joan Chen was in.
Starring: John Leguizamo, Damian Alcazar and Alfred Molina
Written and directed by: Sebastian Cordero (Rodents)
What it's about: An ambitious TV reporter from Miami sets out for Ecuador in search of a serial killer known as the "Monster of Babahoyo."
Why it will be fabulous: Cordero has an obvious taste for the macabre, and this suspense thriller appears to indulge it again. The violence is said to be both extreme and inventive, the tension high.
Why it will be dreadful: If the gore overwhelms, audiences may not stomach this visceral exercise.
Starring: Daniel Auteuil, José Garcia and Sandrine Kiberlain
Directed by: Pierre Salvadori
Written by: Salvadori, David Léotard and Benoît Graffin
What it's about: Antoine (Auteuil) is the maître d' at a fancy Paris restaurant who, one night, stumbles across heartbroken Louis (Garcia) trying to hang himself. After Antoine saves Louis, he tries to get the poor kid a job at the restaurant as a sommelier -- and then tries to get him the girl who dumped him (Kiberlain), only Antoine finds himself falling in love with the beauty as well.
Why it will be fabulous: The synopsis of this 2003 French offering makes it sound like Cyrano de Bergerac set in a restaurant -- a cross between a slapstick comedy and a melodramatic romance, which sounds as perfect as a cold glass of Pernod on a hot August day.
Why it will be dreadful: Uh, subtitles? Really, the only reading some of us do in summer takes place beside a beckoning body of water.
Starring: Cecile de France, Maiwenn Le Besco and Philippe Nahon
Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Written by: Aja and Gregory Levasseur
What it's about: Two young women on vacation in the French countryside are terrorized by a psychotic killer who wears workman's overalls.
Why it will be fabulous: This no-holds-barred French slasher has already been a horror hit internationally.
Why it will be dreadful: The version being released here has been trimmed for an R rating and dubbed into English.
THE LORDS OF DOGTOWN
Starring: Heath Ledger, Emile Hirsch and Johnny Knoxville
Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen)
Written by: Stacy Peralta
What it's about: Another of Peralta's cinematic valentines (this one lightly fictionalized) to the 1970s beach-fun culture in Venice, California.
Why it will be fabulous: If you didn't get your sun-kissed fill from Peralta's Dogtown and Z-Boys and Riding Giants, this may be the summer movie for you.
Why it will be dreadful: You've more than likely had your fill of Peralta's surf-and-skate cheerleader act.
Directed by: Don Argott
What it's about: Paul Green, founder of the Paul Green School of Rock Music in Philly, teaches a bunch of kids between the ages of nine and seventeen how to get their Axl on in this documentary that was a big hit at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin -- the home, incidentally, of Richard Linklater, whose School of Rock was the fictional version of this very true story.
Why it will be fabulous: Kids rock.
Why it will be dreadful: Star pupil C.J. Tywoniak loves himself a good guitar solo.
THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS
Starring: Amber Tamblyn, Blake Lively, Alexis Bledel and America Ferrera
Directed by: Ken Kwapis (Dunston Checks In)
Written by: Delia Ephron and Elizabeth Chandler
What it's about: Based on a popular novel by Ann Brashares, this teen-girl flick is the story of four friends whose lives go in separate directions. To keep in touch, they pass around a pair of pants that happens to be a perfect fit for all four of them.
Why it will be fabulous: It has the coolest title of the year by far.
Why it will be dreadful: One pair of pants that fits four different adolescent girls equally well?
THE ADVENTURES OF SHARK BOY AND LAVA GIRL IN 3-D
Starring: Caydon Boyd, Taylor Dooley and David Arquette
Written and directed by: Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Spy Kids)
What it's about: In a pre-adolescent fantasy, a boy's imaginary friends -- superheroes all -- spring to life and pitch in to get him through a series of harrowing adventures.
Why it will be fabulous: Rodriguez likes playing with toys, and 3-D Nouveau should fit the bill.
Why it will be dreadful: Let's just say that unless you're an eleven-year-old diving into a box of gummy bears, you'd better bring a book.
5 x 2
Starring: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Stéphane Freiss and Géraldine Pailhas
Directed by: François Ozon
Written by: Ozon and Emmanuele Bernheim
What it's about: The five stages of romance between a man and a woman.
Why it will be fabulous: There's probably explicit sex.
Why it will be dreadful: Lousy title, lousy premise...it's an uphill slog toward the explicit sex.
Starring: Glenn Close, James Marsden, Jesse Bradford and Isabella Rossellini
Directed by: Chris Terrio (Book of Kings)
Written by: Amy Fox
What it's about: Yet another drama set in New York and following characters whose stories intersect.
Why it will be fabulous: The cast -- also featuring Rufus Wainwright, George Segal and Eric Bogosian -- is pretty impressive.
Why it will be dreadful: It's helmed by Chris Terrio and not, say, Robert Altman or John Sayles.
Starring: Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Epps, Gabrielle Union and Regina Hall
Directed by: John Schultz (Like Mike)
Written by: Danny Jacobson, Saladin Patterson, Barry W. Blaustein, David Sheffield and Don Rhymer
What it's about: Hollywood's latest raid on vintage TV: Cedric puts a new ethnic spin on Jackie Gleason's beloved loudmouth Ralph Kramden.
Why it will be fabulous: Cedric's ability to play blue-collar could send this one to the moon.
Why it will be dreadful: Nobody can channel the spirit of The Great One. Do you get the feeling you'll pine for the murky black-and-white images and canned laughs that once emanated from your old Philco?
HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE
Starring: English dub features the voices of Lauren Bacall, Christian Bale, Billy Crystal and Blythe Danner
Written and directed by: Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away), from the novel by Diana Wynne Jones
What it's about: Animated fantasy in which a young woman is transformed by a curse into an old hag and winds up in servitude at the castle-cum-vehicle of an infamous wizard.
Why it will be fabulous: If you don't like Miyazaki, you might not be human. If you don't know Miyazaki, now's the time.
Why it will be dreadful: The late, normally great Phil Hartman was a blemish on Disney's English dub of Miyazaki's Kiki's Delivery Service. Billy Crystal may be likewise here.
MR. AND MRS. SMITH
Starring: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie
Directed by: Doug Limon (The Bourne Identity)
Written by: Simon Kinberg
What it's about: An unhappy married couple who earn their paychecks as assassins learn that they've been hired to kill each other.
Why it will be fabulous: The Pitt-Jolie twosome should be fun to watch under Limon's fast-action framing.
Why it will be dreadful: This promises to be a plot-heavy romp that could easily fire blanks.
Starring: Christian Bale, Katie Holmes, Morgan Freeman and Liam Neeson
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: David Goyer (Blade)
What it's about: This relaunching of the moribund franchise tells how Bruce Wayne (Bale) became the Dark Knight after seeing his parents executed in a Gotham City alley. In this version, Bruce heads to the Himalayas to train (with Neeson, shades of The Phantom Menace) and returns to Gotham to find a bad city run by a good cop, Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), and overrun with creepy villains, chief among them The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy).
Why it will be fabulous: No Joel Schumacher, no Alicia Silverstone, no Batnipples. Did I mention no Joel Schumacher?
Why it will be dreadful: Because origin stories are boring, and because the idea of sitting through one more Liam Neeson "training session" is about as appealing as sliding down the Batpole naked.
MY SUMMER OF LOVE
Starring: Nathalie Press, Emily Blunt and Paddy Considine
Written and directed by: Paul Pavlikovsky (Last Resort), from the novel by Helen Cross
What it's about: A working-class Yorkshire girl (Press) befriends a rich girl (Blunt). Lesbian hijinks ensue. Considine is a born-again ex-con who comes between them.
Why it will be fabulous: That one shot in the trailer of the two leads in wet underwear. Yeow!
Why it will be dreadful: It's called My Summer of Love.
THE PERFECT MAN
Starring: Heather Locklear, Hilary Duff and Chris Noth
Directed by: Mark Rosman (A Cinderella Story)
Written by: Gina Wendkos (Jersey Girl)
What it's about: A teenage girl (Duff) and her best friend try to invent the perfect man for Mom (Locklear) by using the best friend's uncle (Noth) as a prototype.
Why it will be fabulous: Styx lead singer Dennis De Young plays a Dennis De Young impersonator. Props for that, at least.
Why it will be dreadful: Hilary Duff and good movies simply don't interact.
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine
Written and directed by: Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally)
What it's about: A spin-off of the sitcom: A TV producer revives the classic show and inadvertently casts a real witch in the title role. Enter Kidman.
Why it will be fabulous: If the acidic journalist and fictioneer Ephron has put some punch into it, this could prove to be dark fun. The cast is certainly high-octane, and the plot-tinkering sounds interesting.
Why it will be dreadful: The reason this was canceled is that the one-joke premise grew stale. It's no fresher today.
HERBIE: FULLY LOADED
Starring: Lindsay Lohan, Matt Dillon, Breckin Meyer and Michael Keaton
Directed by: Angela Robinson
Written by: Thomas Lennon & Ben Garrant and Alfred Gough & Miles Millar
What it's about: Maggie Peyton (Lohan) is the latest owner of the possessed Volkswagen Beetle, which first appeared in 1968's The Love Bug. With her old man (Keaton) cheering her on, and with the competition (Dillon) doing everything he can to sabotage the antique, Maggie enters Herbie in a NASCAR race against the likes of Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Gee, wonder who wins.
Why it will be fabulous: It's written by Lennon and Garrant, creators of Reno 911!, and Gough and Millar, responsible for Smallville and Spider-Man 2 story.
Why it will be dreadful: Written by Lennon and Garrant, who penned The Pacifier and Taxi, and Gough and Millar, responsible for Lethal Weapon 4 and Showtime.
LAND OF THE DEAD
Starring: Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento and ZOMBIES!
Written and directed by: George Romero
What it's about: The creator of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead finally gets to make a new big-budget zombie movie, after the mediocre Dawn remake made a pretty penny. Continuing the Romero Dead saga, the film envisions a post-apocalyptic world in which humans live in fortified cities while trying to ignore the fact that every place outside their walls is inhabited by flesh-hungry zombies.
Why it will be fabulous: It's a sequel that's been requested for 20 years -- almost as long as Revenge of the Sith. And Romero is not the kind of director who will go soft.
Why it will be dreadful: John Leguizamo? Why?
MARCH OF THE PENGUINS
Directed by: Luc Jacquet
Written by: Jacquet and Michel Fessler
What it's about: Documentary that follows a year in the life of a flock of emperor penguins at the North Pole.
Why it will be fabulous: Penguins are well-liked birds, and some of the footage looks amazing.
Why it will be dreadful: Giving them French voices sounds like a bad idea...let's hope it's done sparingly and tastefully.
ME AND YOU AND EVERYBODY WE KNOW
Starring: John Hawkes (The Perfect Storm), Miranda July (Jesus' Son), Myles Thomson and Brandon Ratcliff
Written and directed by: Miranda July
What it's about: An uptight single father (Hawkes) freaks out when he meets a wild and spontaneous woman (July). Meanwhile, his seven-year-old son is having an Internet romance with a stranger, and his fourteen-year-old son has problems of his own.
Why it will be fabulous: Uhhhhh...
Why it will be dreadful: When a little-known actress makes her directorial debut and casts herself as the spontaneous free spirit, watch out. Sounds an awful lot like ego gratification.
WAR OF THE WORLDS
Starring: Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning and Tim Robbins
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: David Koepp and Josh Friedman, based on the novel by H.G. Wells
What it's about: A family fights for survival amid an invasion of "alien tripod fighting machines."
Why it will be fabulous: Expect lots of special-effects dazzle in the Close Encounters/Jurassic Park style, and more of Spielberg's characteristic empathy for the little guy.
Why it will be dreadful: Tom Cruise.
Starring: Martin Lawrence, Horatio Sanz, Megan Mullally and Breckin Meyer
Directed by: Steve Carr (Daddy Day Care)
Written by: Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
What it's about: A misbehaving college basketball coach (Lawrence) is fired and winds up having to coach a losing middle-school team.
Why it will be fabulous: It could do for Martin Lawrence what School of Rock did for Jack Black. That's clearly the intent, anyway.
Why it will be dreadful: Gee, um...Martin Lawrence?
Starring: Tommy the Clown, Tight Eyez, Swoop, and Big X
Directed by: David LaChappelle
What it's about: Documentary about an up-and-coming style of street dancing called "krumping."
Why it will be fabulous: Sooner or later, everyone's gonna be doing it, so you might as well get the skinny first.
Why it will be dreadful: Just to be clear -- David LaChappelle is a fashion photographer, and not the comedian who says "I'm Rick James, bitch!"
Starring: Stéphanie Michelini, Yasmine Belmadi, Edouard Nikitine and Josiane Stoléru
Directed by: Sébastien Lifshitz
Written by: Lifshitz and Stéphane Bouquet
What it's about: A three-way polysexual relationship between an ex-hooker (Michelini), a Russian deserter (Nikitine) and a gay hustler (Belmadi).
Why it will be fabulous: They probably all get naked, so there's something for everyone.
Why it will be dreadful: They probably all get naked. This is not always a good thing.
Starring: Simon Abkarian and Joan Allen
Written and directed by: Sally Potter (The Tango Lesson)
What it's about: Two unnamed characters begin a love affair that changes their lives.
Why it will be fabulous: Abkarian looks like Super Mario, which may lead to unintentional laughs.
Why it will be dreadful: Sally Potter films usually appeal to a specific niche crowd. And bore the crap out of everyone else.
Starring: Mungo McKay, Felicity Mason and Rob Jenkins
Written and directed by: Michael & Peter Spierig
What it's about: The small town of Berkeley, Australia, gets infected with Zombie Plague From Outer Space!
Why it will be fabulous: The lead actor's name is "Mungo," and he fights zombies.
Why it will be dreadful: Conservatives may be disappointed that it isn't Berkeley, California, being destroyed.
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Pete Postlethwaite and Ariel Gade
Directed by: Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries)
Written by: Rafael Yglesias (From Hell)
What it's about: American remake of Ringu director Hideo Nakata's other movie about a malevolent drowned girl ghost with hair in her face and the power to manipulate water.
Why it will be fabulous: The original is one of the scariest movies ever, and Salles is no slouch.
Why it will be dreadful: Nakata's original came out three years ago, and since then, audiences may have overdosed on that whole "long black hair covering the face" bit. Also, both of the Hollywood Ring movies and The Eye cribbed liberally from the original already.
Starring: Michael Chiklis, Jessica Alba and Julian McMahon
Directed by: Tim Story
Written by: Michael France, Simon Kinberg and Mark Frost
What it's about: Four astronauts -- Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) and sister Sue (Alba), Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and Ben Grimm (Chiklis) -- are bathed in gamma rays during an outer-space trip and are transformed, respectively, into the Human Torch, Invisible Woman, the stretchy Mr. Fantastic and the hideous Thing. The superhero team, a 44-year-old Marvel Comics institution, battles its armor-clad nemesis Doctor Doom (McMahon); chaos ensues, duh.
Why it will be fabulous: Because Marvel has managed to do the superhero movie thing right with the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises.
Why it will be dreadful: Then again, The Punisher, Daredevil, Elektra and Hulk were super-awful, and the trailer looks fantastically horrid.
Starring: Lili Taylor, Courtney Love, Spalding Gray and Noah Emmerich
Directed by: Bob Gosse (Niagara, Niagara)
Written by: Gosse and Wendy Hammond
What it's about: Lili Taylor leaves her husband for Courtney Love. Presumably, this is someone's fantasy, somewhere.
Why it will be fabulous: Conspiracy theorists have new proof that Love drove Spalding Gray to suicide.
Why it will be dreadful: That's Bob Gosse, not Fosse.
Directed by: Henry-Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro
What it's about: This documentary about quadriplegic rugby players, who manhandle and mangle their opponents from souped-up wheelchairs that look as though they were rescued from a post-apocalyptic garbage dump, tells of Team U.S.A.'s struggle to capture the title at the 2004 Athens games.
Why it will be fabulous: It is fabulous, so much so that when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, the members of Team U.S.A. were treated like movie-star royalty at every party they attended. And they attended a lot of them. (These guys love to party.)
Why it will be dreadful: It won't be. Seriously. Don't worry.
Starring: Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson
Written and directed by: Ingmar Bergman
What it's about: A sequel to Bergman's 1973 drama Scene From a Marriage, 30 years on, in which Marianna (Ullmann) and Johan (Josephson) meet again, having had no contact since then.
Why it will be fabulous: Apparently this guy Bergman has quite the reputation in cinematic circles.
Why it will be dreadful: Bergman's own description of the film is this: "The drama consists of ten dialogues that follow a particular pattern, and it's an attempt at analysis of a difficult situation." Yikes.
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY
Starring: Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore and Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: John August
What it's about: Charlie Bucket (Highmore, Depp's Finding Neverland co-star) finds one of the golden tickets that allows him to tour the candy factory of demented sweets-maker Willy Wonka (Depp). Also on the treacherous tour are the usual suspects, including Charlie's Grandpa Joe, Veruca Salt, Augustus Gloop and the Oompa-Loompas.
Why it will be fabulous: There's no music this time, and Burton promises to go deeper and darker than Mel Stuart did in his 1971 Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.
Why it will be dreadful: Because as much as you and I and everyone else loves Johnny Depp, he ain't no Gene Wilder. And because, alas, "Pure Imagination" is a swell song that will be missed.
Starring: Lisa Kudrow, Tom Arnold, Steve Coogan, Jesse Bradford and Maggie Gyllenhaal
Written and directed by: Don Roos
What it's about: A Sundance surprise fave this year, this is a portmanteau about a dozen or so folks whose lives collide in tales tragic and comic. In one story a father (Arnold) and his gay-but-fighting-it son (Jason Ritter) turn out to be sleeping with the same woman (Gyllenhaal). In another connected tale, Kudrow plays an LA abortion counselor being blackmailed by a would-be documentarian (Bradford) who says he's found the child she secretly gave up for adoption years ago (the result of her sleeping with her now-gay stepbrother, played by Coogan) and insists he wants to film their reunion for his film-school application. Fun!
Why it will be fabulous: Roos wrote and directed The Opposite of Sex.
Why it will be dreadful: Roos wrote and directed Bounce.
HUSTLE & FLOW
Starring: Terrence Howard, DJ Qualls, Ludacris and Taryn Manning
Written and directed by: Craig Brewer
What it's about: In the sweaty climes of Memphis, a pimp named Djay (Howard) aspires to hip-hop stardom like his idol Skinny Black (Ludacris). He enlists a skinny white kid (Qualls) and a heavy-set pal from way back (Anthony Anderson) to record his autobiographical rhymes; meanwhile, Djay has to deal with the three prostitutes who live with him -- one he kicks out, one he uses to get the equipment he needs and one he falls in love with. Hope turns to tragedy turns to triumph in the most overwrought, hackneyed hit to come out of Sundance this year.
Why it will be fabulous: Terrence Howard, also starring in the ensemble drama Crash, is stunning -- worth the price of admission, especially if you can get the early-bird discount.
Why it will be dreadful: Sold for $9.5 million at Sundance this year -- money that went to its producer, John Singleton, not its writer-director. And because it is dreadful, in a seriously-that-can't-be-happening kind of way.
THE WEDDING CRASHERS
Starring: Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams and Christopher Walken
Directed by: David Dobkin (Shanghai Knights)
Written by: Steve Faber & Bob Fisher
What it's about: Two wild and crazy guys keep crashing wedding parties in order to score with chicks, but when they hit up the wedding of a presidential candidate's (Walken) daughter, one falls in love while the other meets a psycho obsessive girl.
Why it will be fabulous: Any movie that envisions Christopher Walken as a presidential candidate must ipso facto be fabulous.
Why it will be dreadful: Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson aren't the most picky actors in the world when it comes to scripts.
THE BAD NEWS BEARS
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Sammi Kraft and Ridge Canipe
Directed by: Richard Linklater (Before Sunset, Dazed and Confused)
Written by: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, based on the screenplay by Bill Lancaster
What it's about: A broken-down, beer-guzzling Little League coach (Thornton) takes on a diamondful of hopeless-but-feisty kids who start to win and, with that, renew the old man's spirit.
Why it will be fabulous: Thornton has a way of giving an edge to icons. If he can make Santa hip, he can do the same for sandlot ball.
Why it will be dreadful: It's awfully hard to top 1976's original Bears as a baseball movie -- or as an endorsement of redemption. Sorry, unless the kids shoot steroids, this is bound to seem corny.
THE DEVIL'S REJECTS
Starring: Sid Haig, Shari Moon and Bill Moseley
Written and directed by: Rob Zombie
What it's about: This sequel to House of 1,000 Corpses sees the homicidal Firefly clan on the run from the law, and a genre shift from horror to crime movie (though the '70s stylings are still fully in play).
Why it will be fabulous: House had several loose ends that needed tying up, including the true nature of the mysterious Dr. Satan...
Why it will be dreadful: ...Dr. Satan isn't even in this sequel, and it looks like there's no interest on Zombie's part in resolving anything from the first go-round.
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi and Michael Clarke Duncan as "The Big Bald Black Guy"
Directed by: Michael Bay
Written by: Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci (Mission: Impossible III) and Caspian Tredwell-Owen (Beyond Borders)
What it's about: In the future, residents of a secluded facility all dream about going to "The Island," allegedly the last uncontaminated place on Earth. Naturally, it's all a lie: The Island is really a place where they get harvested for their vital organs. When amusingly named protagonist Lincoln Six-Echo (McGregor) learns this uncomfortable truth, a bunch of chases and explosions and really quick edits ensue.
Why it will be fabulous: Michael Bay made The Rock.
Why it will be dreadful: He also made Armageddon and Pearl Harbor.
THE BROTHERS GRIMM
Starring: Matt Damon and Heath Ledger
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Written by: Ehren Kruger
What it's about: A fictionalized fantasy about the German fairy-tale authors, here portrayed as con men who lift fake curses, only to encounter a genuine form of black magic that will force them to deal with things they've only written about.
Why it will be fabulous: After Gilliam's aborted Don Quixote effort, The Brothers Grimm sees him back in fantasy mode, which is what he does best.
Why it will be dreadful: Its release was postponed for a year, as Miramax's Harvey Weinstein tried recutting it. His version then scored lower with test audiences than Gilliam's did.
MUST LOVE DOGS
Starring: Diane Lane, John Cusack, Stockard Channing, Christopher Plummer and Dermot Mulroney
Written and directed by: Gary David Goldberg
What it's about: Romantic comedy based on a novel by Claire Cook, in which a teacher in her forties (Lane) tries to find love through the personals. She ends up meeting John Cusack.
Why it will be fabulous: Most guys wanna get with Diane Lane, and most women wanna get with John Cusack. And neither is repellent to the same sex, which is a plus.
Why it will be dreadful: Every hack film columnist in America is already preparing to write, "If you really like this movie...you Must Love Dogs!"
Starring: Kelly Preston, Kurt Russell, Lynda Carter and Bruce Campbell
Directed by: Mike Mitchell (Surviving Christmas)
Written by: Paul Hernandez and Bob Schooley & Mark McCorkle (Kim Possible)
What it's about: In a world full of superhumans, the teenage son of Captain Stronghold (Russell) and Josie Jetstream (Preston) tries to navigate the hurdles of adolescence while training at a school for heroes.
Why it will be fabulous: TV's original Wonder Woman plays the school principal, while the impossibly square-jawed Campbell is head coach.
Why it will be dreadful: There's no way it'll be better than The Incredibles, though it might rip it off some.
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Jessica Biel and Josh Lucas
Directed by: Rob Cohen
Written by: Cohen and W.D. Richter (Big Trouble in Little China)
What it's about: After a super-advanced stealth fighter is struck by lightning, the onboard computer takes on a life of its own and decides to initiate the next world war.
Why it will be fabulous: WarGames meets Short Circuit? How could it not be?
Why it will be dreadful: Okay, yeah, it's made by the director of xXx and The Skulls, so it might be pretty bad.
Starring: Courteney Cox-Arquette and James LeGros
Directed by: Greg Harrison (Groove)
Written by: Benjamin Brand
What it's about: A photographer (Cox-Arquette) seems to be losing her mind as she repeatedly replays, in her mind, the events that led up to her boyfriend (LeGros) getting shot.
Why it will be fabulous: It's about time Cox-Arquette branched out.
Why it will be dreadful: Is Cox-Arquette capable of branching out?
Directed by: Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette
What it's about: Ostensibly it's about 100 comedians (from Bob Saget to Robin Williams to Gilbert Gottfried to Phyllis Diller) telling the same infamous ribald joke about 100 different ways -- but it's much, much more. It's more like a comedy jam session, during which several generations of stand-ups reveal their technique and approach, using "The Aristocrats" (a joke about a family of would-be performers auditioning for an agent, more or less) as their springboard.
Why it will be fabulous: Because Sarah Silverman's telling of the joke is worth the price of admission alone, and because you'll remember why you or anyone else thought Gottfried was funny in the first place. And because Saget has the foulest mouth this side of Ashley Olsen. And because the South Park clip kills.
Why it will be dreadful: It's about twenty minutes too long, but you'll have laughed yourself into a coma by the end, so you won't really mind or even notice.
Starring: Bill Murray, Sharon Stone, Tilda Swinton, Jessica Lange and Julie Delpy
Written and directed by: Jim Jarmusch
What it's about: Murray plays Don Johnston (heh), an aging, sweatsuit-sporting lothario who's dumped by his young girlfriend (Delpy) just as he receives news of a twenty-year-old son he never knew. (Shades of The Life Aquatic, but still....) Jeffrey Wright (Basquiat) is the pal who convinces Murray to take a trip down Amnesia Lane to see his old lovers, including Stone and Swinton and Lange and other all-stars, and find out if any of them might be the mother.
Why it will be fabulous: Did you not just read the synopsis?
Why it will be dreadful: Seriously, read it again. And then rent Coffee and Cigarettes, for the Bill Murray scene with The RZA and The GZA. Dreadful. Hardly. Then again, Dead Man does kinda suck.
THE DUKES OF HAZZARD
Starring: Seann William Scott, Johnny Knoxville, Burt Reynolds and Jessica Simpson
Directed by: Jay Chandrasekhar (Club Dread)
Written by: Jonathan Davis, John O'Brien, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Erik Stolhanske and Paul Soter
What it's about: Based on the TV series, in which two lovable good ol' boys tooled around Hazzard County in their bright orange Dodge Charger, finding trouble at every turn.
Why it will be fabulous: Chandrasekhar reportedly keeps the proceedings as delightedly mindless as their boob-tube inspiration.
Why it will be dreadful: Burt as the Duke boys' nemesis Boss Hogg could be the high point of this low-concept fare.
Directed by: Werner Herzog
What it's about: Thankfully, not another Dan Haggerty movie. Rather, a documentary about animal activists who lived with grizzly bears for a time, and felt like they were making a connection. Then they were mauled to death.
Why it will be fabulous: Herzog is a mad genius.
Why it will be dreadful: Unless you really despise animal activists, it sounds like one hell of a downer.
THE PINK PANTHER
Starring: Steve Martin, Kevin Kline, Beyonce Knowles and Jean Reno
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Written by: Len Blum, Steve Martin, Michael Saltzman and Glen Bloomberg
What it's about: A new take on Peter Sellers' surpassingly incompetent French detective in which Jacques Clouseau (Martin) tackles a case combining a murdered soccer coach, a priceless diamond and the usual selection of beautiful women.
Why it will be fabulous: It takes les grandes balles for Martin to assail the rich life and high art of Inspector Clouseau.
Why it will be dreadful: Can The Jerk out-bumble Peter the Great? The smart money says non.
UNKNOWN WHITE MALE
Directed by: Rupert Murray
What it's about: Documentary about a man who woke up one day with no memory of his life at all.
Why it will be fabulous: Hard to say, really -- the director's unknown, and little is known about the movie.
Why it will be dreadful: Ditto; who knows? But if it is, maybe you too can wake up one day with no memory of it.
UNTITLED MIKE JUDGE PROJECT (formerly 3001)
Starring: Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Dax Shepard and Stephen Root
Directed by: Mike Judge
Written by: Mike Judge and Etan Cohen
What it's about: Similar in premise to TV's Futurama, this comedy sees an average joe (Wilson) and a prostitute (Rudolph) accidentally frozen for 1,000 years. When they awaken in the future, they find that society has become so dumbed-down that they are now the smartest people alive.
Why it will be fabulous: Uh, huh-huh, Mike Judge rules!
Why it will be dreadful: Pick a title, already, buttmunch! Don't make me kick your ass!
Starring: Michael Showalter, Elizabeth Banks and Michelle Williams
Written and directed by: Michael Showalter (The State)
What it's about: A contemporary homage to'50s screwball romantic comedies, chronicling the two weeks prior to the wedding of Elliot Sherman (Showalter), who's normally the type of guy who never gets the girl.
Why it will be fabulous: Showalter used to be on The Daily Show, so he should know funny.
Why it will be dreadful: Contemporary attempts at retro-screwball rarely work.
DEUCE BIGALOW: EUROPEAN GIGOLO
Starring: Rob Schneider and Eddie Griffin
Directed by: Mike Bigelow (a newcomer hired purely for his surname, apparently)
Written by: Rob Schneider and David Garrett & Jason Ward (Corky Romano)
What it's about: Sequel to the comedy that introduced the phrase "man-whore" into the wider lexicon. This time, Schneider's hapless Deuce is tricked into prostituting himself in Amsterdam, as more-experienced hookers are being murdered.
Why it will be fabulous: The first one was surprisingly amusing.
Why it will be dreadful: Amusing films are a rarity in the Rob Schneider canon.
Starring: Andre 3000, Tyrese, Mark Wahlberg and Chiwetel Ejiofor
Directed by: John Singleton
Written by: David Elliot (The Watcher) and Paul Lovett
What it's about: Four adopted brothers team up to find out if their mother was murdered, and if so, to get revenge. Inspired by the John Wayne western The Sons of Katie Elder, and updated to modern-day Detroit.
Why it will be fabulous: Ejiofor and Andre 3000 have shown a lot of promise as actors.
Why it will be dreadful: Aside from Boyz N the Hood, Singleton really isn't all that great.
THE SKELETON KEY
Starring: Kate Hudson, John Hurt and Gena Rowlands
Directed by: Iain Softley
Written by: Ehren Kruger
What it's about: A young woman (Hudson, natch) moves into an old Louisiana house to take care of an elderly, paralyzed man (Hurt). But there's voodoo curses in them thar woods.
Why it will be fabulous: It's from the writer of The Ring and the director of The Wings of the Dove.
Why it will be dreadful: Of course, that same writer and director brought us The Ring Two and K-PAX, respectively.
Starring: Steve Howey, Mike Vogel, Sophia Bush and Aaron Carter
Directed by: Steve Boyum
Written by: Ken Solarz
What it's about: Supercross racing, duh. Two brothers (Howey and Vogel) race their way through the supercross circuit and, most likely, fall off their bikes a lot and fall in love with the myriad young hotties cast in this looks-like-it-was-made-in-1988 feature, which also stars pop "singer" Carter and Robert Carradine. (See, it was made in 1988.)
Why it will be fabulous: Who doesn't like to see sitcom stars in racing movies going around and around a dirt track?
Why it will be dreadful: Okay, you can put your hands down now.
Starring: Ian McKellen, Natasha Richardson, Hugh Bonneville and Marton Csokas
Directed by: David Mackenzie
Written by: Patrick Marber
What it's about: Stella Raphael (Richardson) is married to Max (Bonneville), a psychiatrist at an asylum for the criminally insane. She becomes infatuated with Edgar Stark (Csokas), a sculptor who mutilated and then murdered his wife -- so of course Stella and Edgar wind up having an affair after he starts working in the couple's asylum-grounds garden. Eventually Edgar escapes to London, Stella follows him, and the poor lad goes bonkers all over again.
Why it will be fabulous: It's based on Patrick McGrath's best-selling novel, which is chilling, and was penned by Marber, whose Closer ranks a close second when it comes to curdling the blood.
Why it will be dreadful: Bet you twenty quid it's a bummer. With an English accent, to boot.
THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN
Starring: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Catherine Keener and Seth Rogen
Directed by: Judd Apatow
Written by: Apatow and Carell
What it's about: Pretty much what it sounds like: Andy Stitzer (Carell) is an action-figure-collecting geek content to play with plastic people till his co-workers set out to get him laid. Turns out the woman he winds up with is Trish (Keener), who has grandkids herself and isn't terribly interested in sex, which is fine with Andy.
Why it will be fabulous: Carell, late of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, is carving out a nice niche as the discomfiting dweeb with turns in Anchorman and NBC's The Office. And having Apatow on board ain't bad either: He worked on The Larry Sanders Show and Freaks and Geeks and created Undeclared -- a brilliant hat trick, in all. And it's R-rated, which is comedy gold.
Why it will be dreadful: Carell's range is A to A, which might be somewhat, uh, limiting. And you can see the punch line coming from three months away, can't you?
Starring: Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Ex-Xena and Buffy scribe Carl Ellsworth
What it's about: An airplane passenger with a fear of flying (McAdams) is blackmailed by her seatmate (Murphy) into becoming his accomplice in a murder plot. She has until the plane lands to try to stop him without endangering her fellow passengers or her father, who's held hostage by Murphy's allies.
Why it will be fabulous: Carl Ellsworth writes well about smart, butt-kicking chicks.
Why it will be dreadful: It already was dreadful back when it was called Turbulence and starred Lauren Holly.
ROMANCE & CIGARETTES
Starring: James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Steve Buscemi and Christopher Walken
Written and directed by: John Turturro
What it's about: Believe it or not, it's a musical. A "savage" one. The plot involves Gandolfini's character, who goes by the name of Murder, having to choose between his wife (Sarandon) and his mistress (Winslet).
Why it will be fabulous: It's just insane enough to work.
Why it will be dreadful: Love those actors, but can they sing?
Starring: The voices of Ewan McGregor, Ricky Gervais, John Cleese, John Hurt and Tim Curry
Directed by: Gary Chapman
Written by: Jordan Katz
What it's about: British CG-animated feature about carrier pigeons in the Royal Air Force during World War II.
Why it will be fabulous: In addition to the above names, Jim Broadbent, Rik Mayall, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Williams offer their pipes.
Why it will be dreadful: Even if it's not a visual masterpiece, all those voice talents can't go wrong at once...can they?
Starring: Sammo Hung and Zhang Ziyi
Directed by: Tsui Hark
Written by: Choi Lee Man and Tsui Hark
What it's about: Yet another highly acclaimed Hong Kong action epic that Miramax has been holding onto for years. It's the sequel to 1983's Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain, but don't sweat it if you never saw that one -- the plot's a minor detail. Something about a mystical realm and forces of good and evil, with lots of fights choreographed by the master, Yuen Wo Ping.
Why it will be fabulous: It's been out internationally for four years, and HK fanatics have been yelling its praises ever since.
Why it will be dreadful: Miramax (or whoever's left in its place these days) still has time to screw things up with bad editing and a lousy dub.
Starring: Cole Hauser, Morris Chestnut and Piper Perabo
Directed by: Bruce Hunt (second unit director on The Matrix and Dark City)
Written by: Michael Steiberg (Sleep with Me) & Tegan West
What it's about: Mysterious monsters in a cave hunt down and eat a group of divers trapped in there. Morris Chestnut presumably has flashbacks to Anacondas.
Why it will be fabulous: Cole Hauser is one of the great bad actors of our time, doing his father proud.
Why it will be dreadful: It's a PG-13 monster movie, which means bloodless kills. So what's the point?