Running, chasing, fighting and blowing up

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Don't expect much in the way of simpler cinematic pleasures over the next few months: Summer 2003 is shaping up as a pulse-pounding, heart-stopping, slam-bang action-thriller kind of season, with superheroes, super villains and even a super horse vying for their share of the megaplex dollar.

Fans of more restrained fare may want to keep an eye on the Charles and Rotunda Cinematheque theaters, whose fluid schedules make most anything possible. For the rest of you, here are 10 films to watch for this summer, listed by release date:

1. Finding Nemo (Friday): Pixar studios, the antic geniuses responsible for Toy Story and Monsters, Inc., return with this tale of an overprotective dad clownfish searching for his son, who's been whisked away to a dentist's-office aquarium. Featuring the voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Willem Dafoe and Allison Janney.

2. Hollywood Homicide (June 13): Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett are moonlighting L.A. cops -- grizzled vet Ford's a real-estate agent when he's off-duty, hotshot rookie Hartnett's a yoga instructor -- who team up to find the murderer of a rap star. Ron Shelton (Bull Durham) directs his own screenplay.

3. The Hulk (June 20): From the same comics company that brought you X-Men, Daredevil and Spider-Man comes this not-so-jolly green giant, an ill-tempered behemoth who was a regular-Joe scientist named Bruce Banner until a massive dose of gamma rays did nasty things to his molecules. Eric Bana (Chopper) is Banner, computer-generated special effects star as The Hulk. Also stars Jennifer Connelly as Banner's girlfriend, Betty Ross, and Nick Nolte as his father. Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) is the director.

4. Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (June 27): McG returns to direct, while Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu are back as the world's sexiest (not to mention high-steppingest) sleuths. Not back is Bill Murray as Bosley; he's replaced by Bernie Mac. All that, plus Demi Moore as fallen Angel Madison Lee, and an appearance by TV Angel Jaclyn Smith ... how can this miss?

5. Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde (July 2): Smart-beyond-her-good-looks Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) is out of law school and on the job, arguing for animal rights in a case inspired by her little Chihuahua, Bruiser. Can Elle win the hearts of the Washington court system as easily as she won the respect of Harvard Law School?

6. Bad Boys II (July 18): Will Smith and Martin Lawrence join the summer-sequel parade, returning as Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett, adrenalized cops out to make the streets of Miami safe -- this time, from a band of underground Ecstasy dealers. Jerry Bruckheimer once again produces, so count on lots of stuff to get blown up real good.

7. Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (July 25): Super-babe Lara, who started life as a video game, returns in the form of Angelina Jolie, whose massive upper-leg muscles proved the real star of the original movie (that, and the fact that Jolie looks amazingly like the animated Croft). Here, she's after the legendary Pandora's Box, going to all sorts of exotic locales and battling all manner of evil to get it.

8. Seabiscuit (July 25): Funny Cide may be the horse of the hour after winning two-thirds of the Triple Crown, but Hollywood hopes that changes this summer with this film, about the 1930s racehorse who became something of an idol to Americans everywhere, what with his Everyhorse background and unexpected success. Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper star.

9. Gigli (Aug. 1): A couple of unknowns named Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez (nice-looking kids, though; bet they'll go far) star in what will most assuredly be the most mispronounced American movie title of the year (they say "Jeely," not "Jiggly" or "Giggly"). Affleck's a down-on-his luck hit man whose latest victim is supposed to be a prosecutor's mentally challenged son; Lopez plays the lesbian contract killer sent in to ensure the job is done right.

10. Freddy vs. Jason (Aug. 15): Ever wonder what would happen if the immortal evildoers of Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street went at it?

Five other releases to watch for: the animated Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (July 2); Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (July 9), with Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush; The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (July 11), with Sean Connery; Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (July 25); and S.W.A.T. (Aug. 8)

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