Summer films mix the classic with the dumb Previews: The season starts with a splash and departs with a duh.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It began Friday with a tornado and it closes Aug. 30 with morons. What could be more emblematic of the 1996 summer film season: hot air and stupidity. Or of any summer film season.

Yet look closely and -- amid the remade '50s TV series and the big, stupid Arnold movies and the Earth vs. the Flying Saucers thing -- odd emissaries from the empire of literature pop out at odd moments. Jane Austen returns, so does Daniel Defoe (twice) and that's Daniel Defoe, not Willem Dafoe, boys and girls. Hugo is around, too, as in Victor, not as in "cheap Yugoslavian car." And what about Thomas Hardy? What about Carl Hiaasen? James Lee Burke?

OK, on to particulars, with the proviso that these things occasionally change at the last minute, so what we're offering is a snapshot of the schedule at this particular moment in time.

This month

May 17: Next Friday gets off to a wet start with "Flipper," for kids, from the old TV series and a couple of '60s hits. This one boasts both Elijah Wood and Paul Hogan. Also on that day, New Orleans thriller writer James Lee Burke gets his first movie treatment in "Heaven's Prisoners."

May 22: The legendary TV series "Mission: Impossible" gets the big-budget, FX-laden treatment with Tom Cruise as the star and flamboyant stylist Brian DePalma behind the lens.

May 24: The next Friday the openers couldn't be further apart. "I Shot Andy Warhol" is a film bio of the feminist Valerie Solanas, who blasted the self-promoting pop artist. Lili Taylor stars. Then there's "Spy Hard," with Leslie Nielsen taking his brand of deadpan parody into the thriller genre. Finally, the French film "Horseman on the Roof" attempts to re-create the gushy pleasures of the swashbuckler in a tale about an Italian cavalryman pursued across Europe by Austrian spies in the 1830s.

May 31: The month closes out with the first of the Earth vs. Flying Saucers jobs, "The Arrival," in which astronomer Charlie Sheen comes across information that the invasion is imminent; when he reports it, he's sacked. Hmmmm. Then there's "Dragonheart," with Dennis Quaid as a heroic knight opposing a tyrannical king (David Thewlis). Sean Connery's voice is included in the mix, fronted by an animated dragon. In "Eddie," Whoopi Goldberg ends up coaching the New York Knicks. It's a comedy -- I think.

June

June 7: This Friday features Connery's body as well as his voice in "The Rock," in which he plays an escaped prisoner from Alcatraz who leads a team back into the place after it's been taken over by commandos who threaten to fire rockets with nerve gas into San Francisco. Nick Cage is a scientist and Ed Harris a bad guy. Then there's "The Phantom," with Billy Zane as the famous Ghost-Who-Walks from the newspaper comic pages.

June 14: Jim Carrey returns, and you people are expected to line up to defray his $20 million salary so let's not let Jim down. The movie is "The Cable Guy," in which in his usual manic way he flibbers and gibbers until he reaches meltdown. The object of his dementia this time out is poor Matthew Broderick.

The first of the Defoe pix also hits the bijoux that day: That's Pen Densham's "Moll Flanders," from the picaresque tale of the 18th-century prostitute, thief and millionairess, with Robin Wright in a big fat role that she hopes will make her a star.

June 21: Today, two of the biggest wannabes of the summer go head to head, but since each seeks a different audience, it's unlikely they'll do much damage to each other.

The first is the Disney animated feature "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," from the Hugo novel, which has excited some of the best positive buzz since "Beauty and the Beast."

The second has excited some negative buzz, but it may come from the usual suspects, that is, the portion of the industry that hates Arnold. The movie is "Eraser," with Der Schwarzenegger as a U.S. marshal who "erases" the lives of witnesses as part of the federal witness protection program. The trailer was a disaster and made the movie look like a parody; the budget is $100 million and counting.

June 28: Eddie Murphy makes another grasp at retaining his rapidly diminishing stardom, this time in a remake of the Jerry Lewis film "The Nutty Professor." In the original, Jerry got real silly; in this one, Eddie gets real fat. Then there's "Striptease," based on Carl Hiaasen's best-selling novel and Demi Moore's inexhaustible need for attention. She moves, she talks, she acts, she strips; Burt Reynolds is one of the bad boys caught up in this tale of South Florida chicanery.

July

July 3: Everybody is afraid of the aliens landing July 3 in "Independence Day," the second (and bigger) Earth vs. the Flying Saucer film of the summer. This one is just about a flat-out war between Us and Them, with Bill Pullman as the president and Will Smith as a fighter jock who leads the attack against the bad guys in the rubber suits. That same day sees "Phenomenon," with John Travolta as an ordinary guy who becomes a genius when he is struck by lightning. Finally, there's "Harriet the Spy" for kids, and "The Grass Harp," from the Truman Capote story, for adults. All others will be seeing "Independence Day

July 12: Today, many Michael Keatons arrive -- as if one isn't enough! -- in "Multiplicity," a comedy that will generate, I guarantee you, more headlines and more movie reviews containing the pun "Send in the Clones" than any movie in history. I will try not to use the line in July. That day also, "Kingpin" opens, possibly America's first bowling movie. Woody Harrelson plays a con-man pin-buster, with Randy Quaid along as his secret weapon -- an Amish bowling prodigy!

July 17: Another Wednesday opener is "Kazaam," which stars basketball magician Shaquille O'Neal as a 3,000-year-old genie who helps an inner-city youth deal with the gang that is oppressing him.

July 19: Michael J. Fox -- he seems so nice! -- gets the pants scared off of him today in "The Frighteners," and Bill Murray inherits the ranch -- and an elephant -- in the comedy "Larger Than Life." Janeane Garofaloalso stars, and I only mention that because I've finally learned how to spell her very hard name without looking it up.

July 26: The industrial franchise that is John Grisham gets another outing with the arrival of "A Time to Kill," the film version of his first (and initially unsuccessful) novel. Samuel L. Jackson plays a black man in the deep South who kills two whites who are assaulting his daughter. Joel Schumacher directed and others in the cast are Sandra Bullock, Donald Sutherland and Kevin Spacey.

A live-action version of an old fairy tale shows up in "The Adventures of Pinocchio," with Jonathan Taylor Thomas as the wooden-head who yearns to be a real live boy and Martin Landau as his father, Gepetto. Then there's "House Arrest," in which the kids lock parents Kevin Pollack and Jamie Lee Curtis in the basement when they're planning to split. "A Very Brady Sequel" is just what the title threatens. And finally, in "The Fan," Robert De Niro, a Rupert Pupkin for the '90s, menaces baseball player Wesley Snipes.

August

Aug. 2: The big opener this month is "Courage Under Fire," in which Denzel Washington, an Army officer, investigates the life and death of chopper pilot Meg Ryan in the Gulf War as a possible Medal of Honor recipient. Edward Zwick, of "Glory" and "Legends of the Fall," is the director. "The Crow: City of Angels" returns the cryptic figure tragically played by Brandon Lee to the screen; this time out, Vincent Perez gets the role. Finally, "Matilda" features Danny De Vito (who also directed) and Rhea ** Perlman in a version of the Roald Dahl story about a clever little girl who uses magic to escape her awful parents.

Aug. 7-9: This shapes up as the week of the one-word titles. The Wednesday opener is "Jack," from Francis Ford Coppola, with Robin Williams as a boy who gets old fast and turns into Mork. Friday, "Fled" and "Bound" are the featured items, with the first a version of Stanley Kramer's "The Defiant Ones," this time with Stephen Baldwin and Larry Fishburne as the escaped convicts chained to each other; "Bound" features Gina Gershon and Meg Tilly as con-women trying to bilk the Mafia out of $2 million.

A movie with two words in the title also opens: That's "Tin Cup," reuniting Kevin Costner with writer-director Ron Shelton (they teamed on the great "Bull Durham"), this time set against the world of pro golf. Costner is a fallen-from-grace pro who gets one last shot at the tour where he is opposed by Don Johnson.

The last debut that Friday belongs to "High School High," a parody of high school movies, with Jon Lovitz as the new teach at an inner-city high school "so tough it has its own cemetery," according to press notes.

Aug. 14: On this Wednesday, "Alaska" is scheduled, a kids' adventure yarn that follows as Thora Birch and Vincent Kartheiser struggle across the wilderness to rescue their bush-pilot father who's crashed way out there.

Aug. 16: Another ghoulish entree from HBO, "Tales From the Crypt Presents Bordello of Blood," features the next Katharine Hepburn, Erika Eleniak, and the next Sir John Gielgud, Corey Feldman. "Emma," from the Jane Austen novel, also returns with Gwyneth Paltrow in the title role; others in the cast are Greta Scacchi and Polly Walker.

Aug. 23: A big day for English lit as the three films all come from novels penned on the sceptered isle in a different century. The first features Pierce Brosnan in his de rigueur non-Bond follow up role, this time as "Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe"; then there's Jude the Obscure," from that laff-riot guy Thomas Hardy; and, finally, Marlon Brando appears in "The Island of Dr. Moreau," which is derived from an H. G. Wells novel.

Aug. 30: Finally, it all comes to an end this Friday with "The Stupids." It stars Tom Arnold. Is that not somehow fitting?

Pub Date: 5/12/96

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