ON THE SCREEN: A SUMMER OF LOVE AND LAUGHTER Season trends: movies by black directors and a lack of police flicks

THE BALTIMORE SUN

He's tall, he's strong, he's wearing green tights and he's frightening. Can it be the Jolly Green Giant?

Nope, not sanctimonious enough. It's Dances With Success himself, Kevin Costner, whose "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves" is held to be the one with all the arrows in its quiver for summer. Only Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Terminator 2: Judgement Day," with a body count of three billion (the world ends) and budget of $90 million, is believed to have much of a chance to stop the Robin-meister.

But beneath the big boys, there are other interesting textures for this year's summer movie crop, which began emerging this weekend. One is a distinct lack of cop movies and other shoot-em-ups, though Arnold's gun-o-rama may take up the slack all by itself. It looks to be a summer of romance and chuckles, with love stories and comedies filling up the docket. The other subplot is the beautifulness of black as a whole slew of young African-American directors -- Topper Crew, Matty Rich and John Singleton -- get a shot at the big time.

Here's a look at the movies of summer, with the usual proviso that things may change suddenly.

Next weekend, "Soapdish" opens, a presumably bitchy, wisecracking backstage look at soap opera production, from the same Robert Harling who wrote the bitchy, wisecracking "Steel Magnolias." Sally Field, the wrong Kevin (Kline, in this case) and Whoopi Goldberg are among the stars. Also opening is "Ambition," written by and starring Lou Diamond Phillips as a writer who becomes obsessed with his subject, a serial killer.

On June 7, the big-ticket item is a cowboy comedy called "City Slickers," with Billy Crystal, Bruno Kirby and Daniel Stern as suburban New Jersey guys who sign up for a "vacation" cattle drive in the far west and get the trip of their lives. Then there's Spike Lee's controversial "Jungle Fever," a chronicle of the pains of an interracial love affair with Wesley Snipes and Annabella Sciorra. Also, Christina Applegate of "Married . . . With Children" makes her movie debut in a comedy with the promising title "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead."

On June 14, the right Kevin (Costner) arrives, as directed by the wrong Kevin (Reynolds) in "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves." Great trailer, and Reynolds is a supple, athletic director, as he proved in "The Beast." But reportedly he and the right Kevin did not get on well on the set, even though they were old hunting buddies, and reports from preview audiences are mixed. Then there's Morgan Freeman as Robin's Arab sidekick exactly as we have just finished fighting a war against Arabs and are presumably pretty sick of them. So this one might not be the sure thing everybody's betting on.

Three films open on June 21. The biggest is probably "Dying Young," already picked by some as the surprise No. 1 of the season (to beat out Mr. Hood). The ever-wondrous Julia Roberts plays a working-class companion to a rich boy dying of cancer; they fall in love; he tries to find -- I'm so broken up I can hardly write -- someone new for her. Joel Schumacher, who directed Roberts in "Flatliners," runs the show.

Also scheduled is "The Rocketeer," originally Disney's big-ticket item for the summer but now being retooled, imagewise, into a kind of kid's thriller. It's about a racing pilot who discovers a rocket pack in the year 1938 and is pursued by Nazis. Bill Campbell and Jennifer Connelly star; Joe Johnston, who directed "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids," helms. And finally, there's Topper Crew's "Talkin' Dirty After Dark," about young comedians at a comedy club in L.A.

A week later, June 28, "Naked Gun 2 1/2 : The Smell of Fear" arrives, and here's hoping it's one half as funny as its predecessor, which would make it the funniest movie of the summer. Leslie Nielsen, the faded '70s authoritarian hack, returns to his newfound stardom parodying the characters he played for real back them; he's Detective Frank Drebbin, moron first class. That day also, "Straight Out of Brooklyn" opens. Matty Rich tells a troubling story of angst and tragedy in the projects of Brooklyn; the film won a special award at the Sundance Film Festival.

On July 3, the other Big One arrives. Called the most expensive movie ever made, with a budget that approached $90 million, it's "Terminator 2: Judgement Day." Possibly the money was inflated by paying Arnold Schwarzenegger twice, since he plays two roles, a bad Terminator and a good Terminator. Linda Hamilton returns and so does writer-director James Cameron, who started the whole thing (and his own career) back in 1987 for a mere $8 million.

The other opener on that terminatin' weekend is a sequel to "Problem Child," which merely adds the "II" to the title. John Ritter, Jack Warden and Michael Oliver return. Why? Why ask why?

Ten days after her husband's movie hits, on July 12, Mrs. James Cameron steps up into the big time. She's Otherwise and primarily known as Kathryn Bigelow, and her "Point Break" looks hot, with Keanu Reeves as an FBI stud and Patrick Swayze as the surfer-mystic and bank robber he's pursuing. Bigelow is a very good director, though you couldn't tell it from "Blue Steel." But check out her seminal "Near Dark," a lot of movie for very little money.

Also on that day: The rerelease of Disney's "101 Dalmations" and the new Mike Nichols-Harrison Ford collaboration, "Regarding Henry," with Ford as an obnoxious '90s-style corporate lawyer who is returned to childish vulnerability after a gunshot wound in a crime. Also scheduled is "Boyz in the Hood," from 23-year-old director John Singleton and not to be confused with "Robin Hood." No men in green tights here -- it's set in the mean L.A. neighborhood known as Compton and is a coming-of-age story. Larry Fishburne stars.

The two films up for release on July 19 are suspicious. In the first, the brat pack does gangsters. It's "Mobsters," with Christian Slater, William Greico and Patrick Dempsey as very young New York bad boys, making their first fun forays into crime. And, speaking of young men making fun forays into crime, what about "Bill and Ted's Bogus Adventure," a sequel to their "Excellent Adventure," with Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter repeating. Very suspicious.

And I'll bet "Dutch" opens that Friday, too, though it's not yet officially scheduled (the other weekends are too busy). Starring Ed O'Neill of "Married . . . With Children," the John Hughes film is a blue-collar reality check for a little spoiled rich boy.

On July 26, it's one of those movierama orgies where one cafeel one's eyes melting like the Nazi's at the end of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." First, Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, far more interesting together than they've ever been apart, return in "Another You." One is a con man; one is a pathological liar.

Then there's "Hot Shots! An Important Movie," yet another in the movie parody genre; this one goes after aviation movies in general, "Top Gun" in particular. Jim Abrahams directed; the stars are Charlie Sheen and Lloyd Bridges.

And there's "Lame Ducks," about three stooges who think they're the Marx Brothers, with John Turturro, Mel Smith and Bob Nelson. Finally, "Livin' Large," the fourth comedy of the weekend, about a black TV reporter who is horrified as his image turns whiter and whiter. It was directed by Michael Schultz.

Are we having fun yet? Well, there's more fun for all in August. On the second, more comedies arrive: Michael J. Fox stars in "Doc Hollywood" as a hotshot plastic surgeon who's stuck in a small town while heading to practice in Tinseltown. Then the Stubble Twins, Don Johnson and Mickey Rourke appear in "Harley-Davidson and the Marlboro Man," which looks tres strange: Set in 1996, it's about two drifters who try to save a rock-and-roll bar from developers.

"Return to the Blue Lagoon" returns to the Blue Lagoon. Teen-agers in bikinis. Pirates. Jungle.

Then, perhaps most promisingly, the Tallulah of our timesKathleen Turner, appears in the movie she herself produced from one of mystery writer Sarah Paretsky's books. Turner plays title role in "Warshawski," about a woman P.I. investigating a murder. On that same day, Turner's co-star in "Body Heat" all those years ago, stars in "The Doctor." That's William Hurt, and he plays a high-powered medico who finds the tables turned when he develops health problems and becomes a patient.

On Aug. 9, show biz history is made when Jean-Claude Van Damme appears as twins in "Double Impact." Best reserve your seats now. And get those tuxedos rented. There's an animated feature about a dog who thinks he's Rodney Dangerfield, called "Rover Dangerfield"; the Rod-man himself does the narration. In "Body Parts," Jeff Fahey plays a psychologist who gets a homicidal killer's body part grafted onto him; naturally it begins to take over his personality. And I know what you're thinking, you dirty pig, but it's an arm. Eric Red, a Kathryn Bigelow chum and directer of "Cohen and Tate," is the director. "Defenseless," with Barbara Hershey as a defense lawyer, may also open on that date.

On Aug. 16, it's "Bingo," a comedy about the world's most intelligent dog, with Cindy Williams and David Rasche. Then there's "Other People's Money." Based on the stage play which stopped off in Baltimore a while back, the Norman Jewison film stars Gregory Peck and Danny De Vito. It's a black comedy about a corporate takeover, exploring not only the boardroom battles but also their impact on the working-class families at the bottom of the pyramid.

Finally, as we limp toward a well-earned Labor Day, there's "The Butcher's Wife," a romantic comedy with Demi Moore, Jeff Daniels, George Dzundza and Mary Steenburgen; she's a country girl who marries a big-city butcher and goes back to Greenwich Village. She's also a clairvoyant. Hmmm.

In "True Idenity," a black man, running from the Mafia disguises himself as a white man and learns what it's like to be a Caucasian in today's world. British comedian Lenny Henry makes his film debut; it was directed by Charles Lane, the black director who made such an impression in "Sidewalk Stories." Finally . . . Hulk Hogan . . . "Suburban Commando" . . . he's from outer space, see, and he hides . . . in suburbia.

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Summer releases

(Dates are subject to change)

May 31: "Soapdish," "Ambition."

June 7: "City Slickers," "Jungle Fever," "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead."

June 14: "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves."

June 21: "Dying Young," "The Rocketeer," "Talkin' Dirty After Dark."

June 28: "Naked Gun 2 1/2 : The Smell of Fear," "Straight Out of Brooklyn."

July 3: "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," "Problem Child II."

July 12: "Point Break," "101 Dalmatians," "Regarding Henry," "Boyz in the Hood."

July 19: "Mobsters," "Bill and Ted's Bogus Adventure."

July 26: "Another You," "Hot Shot! An Important Movie," "Lame Ducks," "Livin' Large."

Aug. 2: "Doc Hollywood," "Harley-Davidson and the Marlboro Man," "Return to the Blue Lagoon," "Warshawski," "The Doctor"

Aug. 9: "Double Impact," "Rover Dangerfield," "Body Parts," "Defenseless" (tentative).

Aug. 16: "Bingo," "Other People's Money."

Aug. 23: "The Butcher's Wife," "True Idenity," "Suburban Commando."

TBA:: "Dutch," "Barton Fink"

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