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Sizzling Summer
The calendar may still indicate spring, but the summer movie season has been backing up for years and now kicks off at the end of April.

by KYW Film Critic Bill Wine

Weekend after weekend, the summer movies chase audiences rather than awards, depending on word-of-mouth publicity rather than glowing reviews, emphasizing action and special effects rather than writing or acting prowess, frequently inspired by comic books rather than novels.

What follows is the countdown of high-profile titles opening for your viewing pleasure this summer and hoping to become must-see attractions and staying in theaters long enough to approach blockbuster status.

A few will make it, most will not. But those that do will emerge from this lineup. Enjoy.

Avengers: Infinity War (Now Playing)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: The Avengers and their allies take on the despotic Thanos in an effort to—what else?—save the universe in this comic book-inspired, action-adventure fantasy sequel.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Elizabeth Olsen, Chadwick Boseman, Bradley Cooper, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Tom Holland, Anthony Mackie, Paul Bettany, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Director brothers Anthony and Joe Russo earlier collaborated on Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War.

REASON TO SEE IT: Captain America: Civil War was swell. REASON TO SKIP IT: But Captain America: The Winter Soldier was not.

HIT OR MISS: The primed audience seems ready to kick off the summer early by making this one a hit.

Life of the Party (May 11)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: A comedy about a woman who goes back to college after her husband suddenly departs, joining her already-enrolled daughter on campus for her senior year.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Melissa McCarthy, Debby Ryan, Gillian Jacobs, Julie Bowen, Maya Rudolph, Chris Parnell, Stephen Root, Jacki Weaver, Christina Aguilera

BEHIND THE CAMERA: McCarthy’s real-life husband, Ben Falcone, directs from a screenplay McCarthy co-wrote with Falcone, who also directed his spouse in Tammy and The Boss.

REASON TO SEE IT: McCarthy is a unique comedy talent— and not just because of her hilarious Sean Spicer bit.
REASON TO SKIP IT: But her collaborations with her hubby have been uneven.
HIT OR MISS: McCarthy’s fan base may not be crowded enough to turn this effort into a smash.

Deadpool 2 (May 18)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: A comedic action-adventure fantasy about a disfigured cafeteria chef who travels around the world as a mercenary with uncanny special skills.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Brianna Hildebrand, Zazie Beetz, Terry Crews, Eddie Marsan

BEHIND THE CAMERA: David Leitch, a former stunt coordinator, directs his second feature, having helmed last year’s Atomic Blonde.

REASON TO SEE IT: Deadpool demonstrated just how truly funny a superhero fantasy could be, and Atomic Blonde had its moments.

REASON TO SKIP IT: If I want comedy, I’ll go to a comedy. HIT OR MISS: Audiences embraced the first one, but the element of surprise is gone. This one could go either way.

Book Club (May 18)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: A comedy about four members of a monthly book club whose lives are impacted by their reading of 50 Shades of Grey.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, Don Johnson, Alicia Silverstone, Richard Dreyfuss, Ed Begley Jr., Wallace Shawn

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Bill Holderman, a producer making his directing debut, co-wrote the screenplay with Canadian actress Erin Simms, making her screenwriting debut.

REASON TO SEE IT: Wow, what an impressive cast.

REASON TO SKIP IT: First-time director and first-time screenwriter? Uh-oh.

HIT OR MISS: “Modest hit” would be the accomplishment here, but stranger things have happened.

Show Dogs (May 18)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: A family comedy in which a Rottweiler police dog goes undercover in a dog show  along with his human partner.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Stanley Tucci,  Natasha Lyonne, Alan Cumming, Will Arnett, Shaquille O’Neal, Gabriel Iglesias, Ludacris

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Among the comedies ex-editor Raja Gosnell, the director, has directed prior to this one are Home Alone 3, Never Been Kissed, Yours, Mine & Ours and The Smurfs.

REASON TO SEE IT: Dog flicks are actor-proof and critic-proof.

REASON TO SKIP IT: Read those directing credits again.

HIT OR MISS: The family audience may show up on command even if the film rolls over and plays dead. But don’t hold your breath.

Solo: A Star Wars Story (May 25)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: A science-fiction fantasy that focuses on Han Solo’s initial encounter with Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Paul Bettany, Warwick Davis, Thandie Newton, Clintent Howard, Jon Favreau

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Veteran director Ron Howard won two Oscars as the director and producer of A Beautiful Mind and was Oscar-nominated as the director of Frost/Nixon.

REASON TO SEE IT: The Star Wars mythology continues to compel us, and Ron Howard is a talented, accomplished and dependable director.

REASON TO SKIP IT: If you couldn’t care less whether the force is still with us or not, just keep walking.

HIT OR MISS: It may not be a smash, but some fans are already in line.

Ocean’s 8 (June 8)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: A heist comedy and a spinoff of the malecentric Ocean’s Eleven franchise in which one Debbie Ocean rounds up a criminal crew for an extravagant caper to take place at the Met Gala in New York City.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Dakota Fanning, Matt Damon, Sarah Paulson, Katie Holmes, Helena Bonham Carter, James Corden, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Director and co-screenwriter Gary Ross has been Oscar-nominated for the scripts for Seabiscuit, Dave and Big.

REASON TO SEE IT: Four reasons: The name cast, the fun factor in Ocean’s Eleven, Ross’s track record and the feminizing premise.

REASON TO SKIP IT: It seems inevitable that it will come up short compared to its predecessor.

HIT OR MISS: In this case, the collective reviews may make or break it.

Incredibles 2 (June 15)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: The animated sequel to the 2004 hit about a family of undercover suburban superheroes finds Dad looking after the kids while Mom is away— yep—saving the world.

MAJOR PLAYERS: The voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Brad Bird, Isabella Rossellini, John Ratzenberger, Sophia Bush, Jonathan Banks

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Brad Bird (Ratatouille), who wrote and directed the Oscar-winning original, returns to doentertainment

REASON TO SEE IT: The dazzling original with its family theme was under-appreciated.

REASON TO SKIP IT: But 2004 was a long time ago, and we’ve had a lot of superhero movies since then.

HIT OR MISS: With Bird at the helm, the family audience may be ready to respond in a big way.

Tag (June 15)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: A group of former classmates organizes an elaborate annual game of tag that takes them all over the country in this peripatetic ensemble comedy.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Jeremy Renner, Isla Fisher, Annabelle Wallis, Jon Hamm, Rashida Jones, Jake Johnson, Leslie Bibb, Ed Helms, Brian Dennehy, Hannibal Buress, Nora Dunn, Sebastian Maniscalco

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Debuting director Jeff Tomsic, with a background directing mostly television episodes, tells a true story based on a Wall Street Journal article.

REASON TO SEE IT: Um, let me get back to you on that.

REASON TO SKIP IT: Could a movie premise be any thinner? Could a debuting director have more of an uphill climb? HIT OR MISS: This has “miss” written all over it. Or perhaps we have a big surprise in store.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (June 22)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: This fifth installment—and the middle entry in the second trilogy—in the Jurassic Park franchise of science-fiction thrillers finds the island’s volcano erupting, which threatens to lead to the extinction of the created dinosaurs.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeff Goldblum, Ted Levine, Rafe Spall, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, BD Wong, Geraldine Chaplin

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Spanish director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible, A Monster Calls) takes the directorial reins from Colin Trevorrow, who co-scripted this installment.

REASON TO SEE IT: The franchise is 4-for-4 and Pratt seems right at home—what’s not to like?

REASON TO SKIP IT: Enough already with the dinosaurs. And why switch directors?

HIT OR MISS: The last one, Jurassic World, was a deserved monster hit. Could easily happen again.

Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 6)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: The sequel to 2015’s Ant-Man is another science fiction, fantasy-adventure that finds tiny superhero Ant-Man fighting alongside The Wasp as they undertake a crucial mission.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judy Greer, Walton Goggins, Laurence Fishburne, Randall Park, Michael Pena

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Peyton Reed (Down With Love, The Break-Up, Yes Man)  returns to the same director’s chair he sat in during the  original.

REASON TO SEE IT: Paul Rudd is a likable and effective actor, and the original was pretty darn good.

REASON TO SKIP IT: We’ve just had too many similar properties and it’s likely to be a rehash of the earlier outing. HIT OR MISS: Because it feels more or less unnecessary, because there’s no clamor for it, it may just die on the vine.

Skyscraper (July 13)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: An action thriller about a hostage captured in China and the efforts of a former FBI hostage rescue team leader who now assesses skyscraper security to save him.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Dwayne Johnson, Pablo Schreiber, Neve Campbell, Byron Mann, Vivian Full, Paul McGillian

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber has previously delivered Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, We’re the Millers and Central Intelligence—comedies all.

REASON TO SEE IT: Johnson is Hollywood’s ultimate bankable star these days and he’s good in any genre.

REASON TO SKIP IT: Johnson is everywhere, which is three places too many.

HIT OR MISS: Johnson in a summer-season disaster flick with a come-hither title and a Die Hard feel? Can’t miss.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (July 20)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: A musical sequel set in a Greek villa during which a pregnant young woman learns about her mother’s past while ABBA takes care of the soundtrack. MAJOR PLAYERS: Meryl Streep, Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Christine Baranski, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Andy Garcia, Dominic Cooper, Julie Walters, Cher

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Director Ol Parker previously directed Imagine Me & You and Now is Good, neither of them musicals.

REASON TO SEE IT: If you loved the first one, of course you’re in: Hey, it’s Meryl Streep in a musical. ABBA dabba do. REASON TO SKIP IT: If you hated the first one, of course you’ll pass: Yikes, it’s Meryl Streep in a musical. ABBA dabba don’t.

HIT OR MISS: The first one was enough of a hit to justify a sequel. Likely that will be the case again.

The Equalizer 2 (July 20)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: The sequel to 2014’s The Equalizer, based on a TV series, looks back in on Robert McCall, who once again comes out of retirement to rescue those who need rescuing. MAJOR PLAYERS: Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, Jonathan Scarfe, Sakina Jaffrey

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Director Antoine Fuqua also directed Denzel Washington in Training Day (for which he won the Best Actor Oscar),  The Equalizer and The Magnificent Seven.

REASON TO SEE IT: Denzel, who’s always worth watching. REASON TO SKIP IT: Washington has done stronger work in several award-winning and/or critically lauded roles.

HIT OR MISS: Washington is certainly a bankable star, but this one is likely to sit humbly on his résumé as an also-ran.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout (July 27)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: The sixth installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise of high-tech suspense thrillers centers around the team of agents and allies racing against time to right a mission gone wrong.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Angela Bassett, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Vanessa Kirby, Michelle Monaghan, Alec Baldwin

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Director Christopher McQuarrie (The Way of the Gun, Jack Reacher)—who wrote and directed the last entry, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation—won the Oscar for his screenplay for The Usual Suspects.

REASON TO SEE IT: There have been more ups than downs in this entertaining franchise and Cruise remains a viable leading man of action.

REASON TO SKIP IT: Six? We need six of these? Really? What is there left to say or see or show?

HIT OR MISS: A mid-summer staple if ever there were one. As franchises go, this one may still have a considerable amount of gas in the tank.

The Spy Who Dumped Me (August  3)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: Friends get involved in espionage after one of them finds out that her ex was a spy. MAJOR PLAYERS: Mila Kunis, Gillian Anderson, Justin Theroux, Kate McKinnon, Sam Heughan, Fred Melamed

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Co-writer and director Susanna Fogel previously created the romantic comedy Partners.

REASON TO SEE IT: The title’s a grabber and the premise is promising. REASON TO SKIP IT: The stars just aren’t imposing enough to render this one high profile.

HIT OR MISS: Unless there’s a bandwagon for folks to jump on, this should make for a quiet theatrical run.

The Meg (Aug. 10)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: After escaping an attack by what he believes is an enormous shark, a rescue diver must face his fears to save people trapped in a sunken submersible.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Jason Statham, Ruby Rose, Rainn Wilson, Robert Taylor, Cliff Curtis, Jessica McNamee

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Director Jon Turteltaub’s résumé includes Cool Runnings, While You Were Sleeping, Phenomenon, Instinct, National Treasure and Last Vegas.

REASON TO SEE IT: Does action icon Jason Statham still have a following? We’ll find out. REASON TO

SKIP IT: We already know that even if he does, we’re not interested. And who knows, with Jaws on pause, if the “novel of deep terror” this film is based on is a hidden gem. Hmmm.

HIT OR MISS: Nah: swing and a miss.

The Happytime Murders (Aug. 17)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: When the cast of puppets on a 1980s kids’ TV show starts being murdered, a disgraced LAPD private-eye puppet investigates.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Elizabeth Banks, Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale, Leslie David Baker, Ryan Gaul, Pamela Mitchell, Mitch Silpa

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Director Brian Henson (son of Jim) was also at the helm of The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island.

REASON TO SEE IT: Family comedies don’t come much more charming than the Muppet flicks. And this one has a neo-noir feel, perfect for grownups who’d rather be more than chaperones at the movies.

REASON TO SKIP IT: Sounds too grown up for the kids and too childish for the adults. HIT OR MISS: Given the level of creativity characteristic of the Muppet empire, this one could create some family-audience excitement.

Replicas (Aug. 24)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: A science-fiction mystery in which a scientist obsesses about bringing back from the dead family members who died in a tragic traffic accident.

MAJOR PLAYERS: Keanu Reeves, Alice Eve, John Ortiz, Thomas Middleditch, Emily Alyn Lind, Amber Rivera

BEHIND THE CAMERA: The director is Jeffrey Nachmanoff, who also directed Hollywood Palms and Traitor.

REASON TO SEE IT: Diehard Keanu Reeves fans, listen up. REASON TO SKIP IT: Reeves’ star is just not bright enough these days. Hey, The Matrix is nearly 20 years ago.

HIT OR MISS: Depends on what else is out there late in the summer, but likely an also-ran.

Kin (Aug. 31)
GENRE AND PLOTLINE: A science-fiction thriller about an ex-con and his brother who are pursued by a vengeful criminal.

MAJOR PLAYERS: James Franco, Zoë Kravitz, Carrie Coon, Dennis Quaid, Mark O’Brien, Jack Reynor

BEHIND THE CAMERA: Australian co-writers and co-directors Jonathan and Josh Baker, twin brothers, make their feature debut.

REASON TO SEE IT: Franco and a zippy title.

REASON TO SKIP IT: Franco, a titled zippy.

HIT OR MISS: Sci-fi hits sometimes crop up out of nowhere, but not this time.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 2 (May 2018).

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