Maybe the reason summer movies tend to be so bland, bloated, and generic is that we're a captive audience. Where else are we going to go on a blazing 100-degree day? And the truth is, maybe our standards are lowered ever so slightly by that cool rush of conditioned air -- not to mention the scent of buttered popcorn and sight of multicolor candy wrappers lining those glass cases. This summer, movie audiences' high tolerance for sequels, remakes, and retreads will be put to the test, but there are enough potential gems scattered throughout the schedule to attract even the most jaded filmgoers. -- Frank Houston
Live Free or Die Hard
Cast: Bruce Willis, Timothy Olyphant, Justin Long, Maggie Q.
Director: Len Wiseman
Twelve years and many flops after Die Hard with a Vengeance, Willis competes for box office gold as maverick cop John McClane, who takes on a cyber terrorist (Olyphant) with the help of a computer-geek sidekick who just happens to be played by Mac ad kid Justin Long.
Summer movie sequels
Death at a Funeral
Cast: Ewen Bremmer, Peter Dinklage, Matthew MacFadyen
Director: Frank Oz
It's a black comedy about a proper British funeral where the mourning family is slowly coming unhinged, thanks to accidental drug trips, unexpected trysts, and the unnerving appearance of the dead patriarch's secret gay lover. Great trailer.
Cast: Claire Danes, Toni Collette, Vanessa Redgrave, Patrick Wilson, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close
Director: Lajos Koltai
Novelist Michael Cunningham (The Hours) wrote the screenplay for this star-packed adaptation of Susan Minot's exquisite 1999 novel, in which a dying woman flashes back to a wedding 40 years earlier at which she fell madly, and tragically, in love.
Voice cast: Patton Oswalt, Brian Dennehy, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo
Director: Brad Bird
Pixar Animation and the director of The Incredibles team up to tell the inspiring tale of Remy the Parisian rat, who dreams of being a master chef in a world that doesn't always respond enthusiastically to a rodent in the kitchen. Even a cute one.
Director: Michael Moore
After taking on the car industry (Roger & Me), the gun industry (Bowling for Columbine), and the war industry (Fahrenheit 9/11), Michael Moore shifts his obsessive gaze to the American health care system. Hey, insurance companies: No publicity is bad publicity, right?
License to Wed
Cast: Robin Williams, Mandy Moore, John Krasinski
Director: Ken Kwapis
Sadie (Moore) dreams of marrying her fianc' (Krasinski) at her family's church, but it's all booked up for the next two years. Except: There is one open day, and to score it, the couple must survive a marriage-prep course devised by a most unorthodox pastor, played by the ever-unorthodox Robin Williams.
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, Anthony Anderson
Director: Michael Bay
Imagine if those nimble robot action figures gathering dust under your kid's bed decided to bulk up, rise up, and take over Earth. With the director of Pearl Harbor and Armageddon at the helm, expect a long, noisy war.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson
Director: David Yates
An obscure British import, for which there's very little advance publicity.
Cast: John Travolta, Queen Latifah, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken
Director: Adam Shankman
Filmmaker John Waters's lifelong dream of invading the suburban multiplexes of America finally comes true with this big-budget version of the hit Broadway play, which in turn was based on Waters's nonmusical 1988 comedy. In full drag, Travolta plays a Fifties mom, continuing a tradition set by the late, great, and much-missed drag queen Divine, to whom the part will always truly belong.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Jessica Biel
Director: Dennis Dugan
About Schmidt and Sideways writers Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor go seriously mainstream, teaming up with co-writer Barry Fanaro (Kingpin) for this broad comedy about two perpetually single New York firefighters who pretend to be lovers in order to receive domestic partnership benefits.
I Know Who Killed Me
Cast: Lindsay Lohan, Julia Ormond, Neal McDonough, Brian Geraghty
Director: Chris Sivertson
After escaping from a sadistic serial killer, a young woman named Aubrey Fleming (Lohan) awakens from a coma to say she is not who authorities believe she is, and that the real Aubrey Fleming is still out there, in danger.
The Simpsons Movie
Director: David Silverman
Please be funny.
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony
Director: Leon Ichaso
Latin singing sensation Anthony stars as the wildly popular Sixties and Seventies salsa star Hector Lavoe, who couldn't overcome his addiction to cocaine and heroin. J. Lo plays Lavoe's wife.
Cast: Andy Samberg, Isla Fisher, Sissy Spacek, Ian McShane
Director: Akiva Schaffer
Saturday Night Live star Samberg plays Rod Kimble, a motorcycle stuntman who plans to jump fifteen buses to raise money for a lifesaving operation his abusive stepfather (McShane) desperately needs. Once said stepfather is healthy, Rod plans to kick his ass.
The Bourne Ultimatum
Cast: Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, Joan Allen, David Strathairn
Director: Paul Greengrass
In the final film of the Bourne trilogy, former CIA assassin Jason Bourne (Damon) dodges bullets and flying cars (again) while investigating (again) the mysteries of the past he can't remember (again). Regression therapy might have been easier.
Cast: Jim Belushi, Peter Dinklage, Brad Garrett
Director: Frederik Du Chau
In this live-action family comedy, a lab accident gives a beagle superpowers and the ability to speak (via Jason Lee's voice). So when evildoers descend on the city, it's Underdog -- complete with a cool cape -- to the rescue.
Rush Hour 3
Cast: Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker
Director: Brett Ratner
The funny cop and the whirling dervish cop head to Paris to break up a Chinese crime gang. Quick, go rent the first two and bone up on the backstory.
Cast: Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert DeNiro, Peter O'Toole
Director: Matthew Vaughn
A young Englishman follows a falling star and ends up in the fantasyland of Faerie, where the star is a beautiful girl (Danes) being hunted by an evil witch (Pfeiffer). Based on a graphic novel by the revered sci-fi/fantasy writer Neil Gaiman.
Cast: A.J. Bowen, Justin Welborn, Anessa Ramsey, Scott Poythress
Directors: David Bruckner, Dan Bush, and Jacob Gentry
Told in three parts by three different directors, this horror film discovers what happens when a mysterious electronic transmission ignites a city populace's murderous aggressions.
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
In the umpteenth riff on Jack Finney's classic 1955 novel, The Body Snatchers, a Washington, D.C. psychiatrist (Kidman) comes to believe that the reason people around her are acting stranger than usual is that aliens have taken over them.
Cast: Christina Ricci, Catherine O'Hara, Peter Dinklage, James McAvoy, Reese Witherspoon
Director: Mark Palansky
It's a modern-day fable about a young woman afflicted with a pig snout of a nose, the result of a family curse that can be broken only if she finds love, within herself as well as from without.
Cast: Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Seth Rogen, Bill Hader
Director: Greg Mottola
This one is a coming-of-age comedy about two lifelong buddies (Cera and Hill) -- nerds and virgins both -- who head off to separate grad schools and, on one fateful night, try to score with beautiful women. It's produced by Judd Apatow (The 40-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up) and directed by Mottola, whose debut film was the terrific indie comedy Daytrippers.
Cast: Jason Biggs, Isla Fisher, Joe Pantoliano
Director: Michael Ian Black
After losing the girl of his dreams, Anderson (Biggs) spontaneously proposes to a waitress (Fisher), who accepts. Will love blossom?
Cast: David Koechner, Bradley Cooper, Matthew Lawrence
Director: Tom Brady
In this spoof of inspiring sports movies, the unluckiest coach in sports (Koechner) gets one last chance when he takes over a talentless football team with the worst record in history.
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Good Luck Chuck
Cast: Dane Cook, Jessica Alba
Director: Mark Helfrich
Poor Chuck (Cook) becomes a babe magnet for all the wrong reasons after word gets out that for some mysterious reason any woman who sleeps with him is destined to fall in love with the next man she meets.
Balls of Fury
Cast: Dan Fogler, Christopher Walken, George Lopez, Maggie Q
Director: Robert Ben Garant
At the behest of the FBI, agent Randy Daytona (Fogler), a former Ping-Pong champ, re-enters the fray on a secret mission to defeat his father's archrival and possible killer (Walken). Watching Walken ping his pong might be worth the price of admission.
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Brad Dourif, Scout Taylor-Compton, Tyler Mane
Director: Rob Zombie
In what amounts to sacrilege to many serious horror fans (including this one), rocker turned filmmaker Rob Zombie (House of 1000 Corpses) remakes John Carpenter's 1978 horror classic, sending young Michael Myers out into his suburban neighborhood, slashing wildly, but with more psychological justification, or so promises Mr. Zombie.