In last year’s summer movie preview, the film staff at The A.V. Club intrepidly mock-predicted the “Death Of The Blockbuster,” only to be greeted with the strongest critical and commercial crop in recent memory, including year-end favorites The Dark Knight and Wall-E. Though the season is already taking a mulligan with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, we’re now flush with a feeling of mock-optimism (and sometimes genuine optimism) about Summer ’09, which almost certainly means the entire studio apparatus is going to collapse by the end of August. So it’s with an excess of enthusiasm and hype that we present to you the least-bad summer ever.
Flashback-tastic premise: Troublemaking rebel James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and stolid, logic-focused alien Spock (Zachary Quinto) meet again for the first time on their maiden voyage on the starship Enterprise in this reboot of the venerable science-fiction franchise.
Why it’s going to be awesome: It’s directed by hitmeister J.J. Abrams. Besides, it’s a Trek movie, and Trek has a massive following among nerds, the pickiest people on the planet. Surely if they enthusiastically embrace something, it must be fantastic.
Why it might be slightly less than awesome: The slick, splashy, effects-and-editing-intensive previews make it look queasily like another eagerly anticipated series revival, The Phantom Menace, which turned out to be very slightly less awesome than longtime fans were hoping.
Angels & Demons
Sacrelicious premise: World-famous Harvard Professor Of Religious Symbology (not a real position) Tom Hanks is on the case again in this sequel to The Da Vinci Code. This time he’s up against the Illuminati (maybe), the amazing power of anti-matter (definitely), and the secret-loving Catholic Church (again).
Why it’s going to be awesome: Author Dan Brown is the master of throwing in just enough historical facts to make it seem like his stories aren’t just crackpot conspiracy theory bullshit. (They are.) Hanks is always a charmingly assured leading man and Ron Howard brings a craftsman’s confidence to every movie he makes.
Why it might be slightly less than awesome: Did you see The Da Vinci Code? Exactly.
Sweet-ass premise: In the grand tradition of Scary Movie, Scary Movie 2, Scary Movie 3, Scary Movie 4, the upcoming Scary Movie 5, and Friedberg and Seltzer’s uninterrupted run of satirical masterpieces, Dance Flick takes aim at a popular subgenre through the story of a rich white girl (Shoshana Bush) hilariously named Megan White who moves to the inner city and has to step it up and bring it on when she falls in with a crew of street dancers.
Why it’s going to be awesome: If you love the comedy stylings of Blankman star Damon Wayans, just wait until you check out the film’s male lead: Damon Wayans Jr.! Dance Flick could offer conclusive proof that hilarity is genetic.
Why it might be slightly less than awesome: Some dour, Wayans- and laff-phobic scolds might argue that the current craze for glib, pop-culture-crazy parodies has run its course.
Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian
Hilarious premise: Ben Stiller returns to the role of a museum security guard who tries haplessly to contain exhibits that come to life after hours. This being a sequel, the action shifts from New York’s Museum Of Natural History to the Smithsonian, where imported old favorites like Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) and Jedediah the cowboy (Owen Wilson) have inadvertently stirred another batch of historical figures and creatures. Turns out that the newly rejuvenated group includes a few troublemakers like Ivan The Terrible, Napoleon, and Al Capone.
Why it’s going to be awesome: Throwing more money, more characters, and more everything into a sequel is a longstanding tradition in bloated Hollywood blockbusters, so it stands to reason that more laughs are a certainty, right? What was funny in the Museum Of Natural History could only be funnier in the Smithsonian, and the addition of Hank Azaria as a lisping Egyptian despot will build on the solid foundation of Williams’ gay hairdresser Teddy Roosevelt. The mugging opportunities for Stiller are limitless.
Why it might be slightly less than awesome: The original Night At The Museum was pretty terrible: A cluttered, effects-crazy slapstick mess that jammed movie magic down the throats of general audiences like so many spoonfuls of castor oil. It was also a massive hit. Sequels to massive hits generally start with the premise that they got it right the first time, especially when all the creative principals return. This could get ugly.
Post-apocalyptic premise: John Connor is no longer a little boy trying to stay alive so that he can one day lead the human resistance against killer machines. Now he’s burly Christian Bale attempting to fulfill his destiny as the savior of humankind. Along the way, he meets a human that might actually be… a Terminator!
Why it’s going to be awesome: In the other Terminator movies, the killers had to smite humans using the weapons of the day. (“Phased plasma rifle in a 40-watt range” was not yet available, as we learned in the first movie.) This time, the baddies will have full strength to crush the resistance: Armies of terminators—some that look human, others that don’t—as well as giant tanks that squash human skulls like ants. Yeah, the humans will probably win (ho-hum), but at least we’ll see some serious carnage on both sides. Also: 99% less Arnold Schwarzenegger in Salvation (he supposedly makes a cameo as his original Terminator self), and this movie is being made in the post-Dark Knight world, so hopefully it’ll be sufficiently dark.
Why it might be slightly less than awesome: Some feel that director McG won’t bring the depth that made the first and second Terminator movies work. (We’re choosing to ignore T3.) But have those people not seen the action-packed Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle? To quote Christian Bale: “McG, you got fucking something to say to [these] prick[s]?!”
Drag Me To Hell
Terrifying premise: Young banker Alison Lohman forecloses on the home of an elderly witch-woman, who looses a demonic curse. Evil Dead director Sam Raimi returns to the genre that made him famous for the first time in 15 years, working from a script he co-wrote with his brother Ivan.
Why it’s going to be awesome: Dude, it’s Raimi! It’s horror! Expect zippy tracking shots and crazy camera-tilts aplenty.
Why it might be slightly less than awesome: Dude, it’s PG-13. Also, the last time Raimi made a can’t-miss, gotta-be-awesome movie, he introduced the world to Emo Spider-Man.
Endearingly oddball premise: A cranky old widower facing eviction comes up with a creative way to hang onto his home and simultaneously fulfill a long-ago promise to his beloved, departed wife: He decides to rig their house up with thousands of balloons and fly it off to a scenic overlook in South America. Things go wackily awry from there.
Why it’s going to be awesome: It’s another film from powerhouse animation studio Pixar, which has the best record for awesomeness in the business. It’s Pete Docter’s directorial follow-up to the reasonably awesome Pixar film Monsters, Inc. Besides, we’ve already seen it. It’s fairly awesome.
Why it might be slightly less than awesome: It might prompt dimwitted children to believe they can fly if they just hold onto enough balloons, which could lead to empty piggybanks and rampant disappointment at best, fractured bones at worst.
Tried-and-true premise: Three dudes (Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, and Bradley Cooper) take their friend to Las Vegas for his bachelor party, and somehow lose him in a night of unspeakable debauchery. They must find him, determine if he accidentally got married, and somehow escape the clutches of Mike Tyson (or something).
Why it’s going to be awesome: When director Todd Phillips hits the right combination of clever and stupid (Old School, Road Trip), nobody does debauched hilarity better. Add Zach Galifianakis to that mix, and the potential for high art blossoms. Finally: Any movie that features Mike Tyson lip-synching to Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” automatically gets a pass for at least 20 bad jokes. Hopefully this one won’t need that pass.
Why it might be slightly less than awesome: Phillips also made Starsky & Hutch and School For Scoundrels, and he appears to be inspired here by both Very Bad Things and Three Men And A Baby. You say that like it’s a bad thing?
Land Of The Lost
Sleestak-friendly premise: Hey, are there any cheesy TV shows that haven’t been turned into movies yet? There’s one? And it has dinosaurs in it? When can we start rolling?
Why it’s going to be awesome: Sid and Marty Krofft’s fondly remembered Saturday-morning series seems like it could be a pretty good vehicle for star Will Ferrell, who has a great supporting cast behind him in the form of Danny McBride (Eastbound And Down) and Anna Friel (Pushing Daisies). Also, the special effects look enjoyably cheesy.
Why it might be slightly less than awesome: Ferrell’s brand of comedy needs the right hand to guide it and director Brad Silberling’s last effects-heavy comedy, Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events, doesn’t inspire as much confidence as it might.
Theoretically funny/heartwarming premise: Single dad Eddie Murphy spends more time with his Blackberry than his seven-year-old daughter, even though his career has been circling the drain. But high-concept magic steps in to solve both problems when his daughter’s drawings predict the financial future, and he turns to her for market tips.
Why it’s going to be awesome: The concept of seemingly random, unrelated sketches predicting major events worked like gangbusters for The Number 23 and Knowing, and it can work again here. Though Murphy has been criticized for squandering his talent on lame, toothless, pandering children’s fare, it should be noted that Imagine That is rated PG for “brief questionable behavior,” so there’s hope that the old Eddie will be back, however briefly, doing something questionable. Also, the little girl is adorable.
Why it might be slightly less than awesome: Dr. Doolittle and Dr. Doolittle 2. The Nutty Professor and Nutty Professor II: The Klumps. Shrek, Shrek 2, and Shrek The Third. Daddy Day Care. Norbit. Meet Dave.
The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3
Pulse-pounding premise: When clever mercenary John Travolta hijacks an NYC subway train, transit officer Denzel Washington tries to find a way to keep everybody on-board safe while he tracks the bad guys down. Tony Scott directs a script by top-shelf scribes Brian Helgeland and David Koepp, who promise “more motivation” for the action than previous versions of this story.
Why it’s going to be awesome: Well it was pretty awesome back in 1974, when Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw matched wits in the original big-screen version of Morton Freedgood’s novel. (Fun fact: Quentin Tarantino took the idea to name Reservoir Dogs’ bank robbers “Mr. Pink,” “Mr. Brown,” and so on from this movie.)
Why it might be slightly less than awesome: It wasn’t quite so awesome when the novel was adapted again for TV in 1998, with Edward James Olmos and Vincent D’Onofrio. Also, this is a Tony Scott project, and he’s bound to find some way to inject look-at-me-directing style to scenes that don’t need it.
Adorable premise: High-powered publishing executive (read: ballbuster) Sandra Bullock suddenly finds her job in jeopardy when her visa is denied and the Department Of Immigration threatens to send her back to Canada. She improvises by forcing her assistant (Ryan Reynolds) to marry her, but when the feds get suspicious, they have to spend a weekend together at his family’s place in Alaska.
Why it’s going to be awesome: What worked for Green Card can work again here, right? And with Bullock involved, you can bet there will be no downer ending where the foreigner in this relationship gets deported anyway. But even if you consider Bullock the undisputed queen of vacuous, disposable romantic comedies, The Proposal still has a ridiculously talented supporting cast to squander: Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Oscar Nuñez, Aasif Mandvi, and Betty White.
Why it’s going to be less than awesome: Bullock has cruised on her innate likeability since her breakthrough role in Speed, but when has she ever been in anything of value? (And don’t say Crash. We’re warning you.) Betty White gets the one funny line in the trailer—likening finding Bullock’s breasts in loose-fitting dress to “an Easter egg hunt”—but even a comedic pro like her can only do so much.
Old Testament-astic premise: Michael Cera and Jack Black are losers adrift in the ancient world. That’s it. Is it enough?
Why it’s going to be awesome: Maybe! Black and Cera are both funny, if occasionally overexposed, actors and we’re always excited to see a new film from Harold Ramis, especially one produced by Judd Apatow, co-written by Office writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, and co-starring David Cross, Paul Rudd, Hank Azaria, and others.
Why it might be slightly less than awesome: Heard any good Abraham and Isaac jokes lately?
My Sister's Keeper
Test tube-busting premise: Based on a novel by Jodi Picoult, this Nick Cassavetes-directed tearjerker stars Cameron Diaz as a mother so devoted to her leukemia-ridden daughter that she conceives a genetically engineered child via IVF in order to make sure she’ll have a spare kidney on-hand. But when the younger daughter (played by Abigail Breslin) reaches adolescence, she hires attorney Alec Baldwin to legally emancipate her from her family and her medical responsibilities.
Why it’s going to be awesome: Who wouldn’t want to spend a beautiful summer day thinking about dying kids?
Why it might be slightly less than awesome: Cassavetes and screenwriter Jeremy Leven have reportedly modified one or more of Picoult’s jarring plot twists. (Spoiler alert: They’ve actually been on Earth this whole time!)
Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen
Too-sophisticated-for-the-Gobots premise: In this adrenaline-fueled thrill ride, the evil talking robot/vehicles known as the Decepticons come back for their revenge against the heroic Autobots. The original production team—including director Michael Bay, stars Megan Fox and Shia LeBeouf, and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman—all return in this low-budget, heartfelt labor of love.
Why it’s going to be awesome: Has Michael Bay ever disappointed? Besides, Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen features Darius McCary reprising his role as “Jazz,” the “soulful,” “urban,” “street” Transformer who was all “Skiddely-bee-bop, getting’ jiggy with it, recycling 2 the extreme!” If this film is half as beloved as Shia LeBeouf’s previous sequel, last summer’s Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, it will be gross over a trillion dollars, easy. Also, robot/cars smashing things and blowing shit up! What’s not to love?
Why it might be slightly less than awesome: There are some people who feel Transformers was not a very good movie and that Michael Bay is the epitome of dumb, shallow Hollywood hackery. Those people are wrong. And un-American. Go back to Russia, comrade! No shiny talking robot-car movie for you!