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THE MOVIES : Who will get to the bank first? : THE LINE FORMS HERE

May 27, 1990|NIKKI FINKE | Finke is a Times staff writer

"Dick Tracy" is hotter than a revolver. "Days of Thunder" has the makings of a tornado. "Another 48 HRS." is another hit. "Presumed Innocent" is presumed good. "Quigley Down Under" should have stayed there. And "Problem Child" has problems galore.

Who's saying these things about this summer's movies? Why, almost everyone, naturally. Because the Hollywood Grapevine--also known as The Buzz, The Heat, The Word-of-Mouth, The I-Heard-It-at-a-Party-From-Someone-Who-Knows-the-Assistant Director--is hard at work praising and punishing the newest bundle of movies about to be dropped at the doorsteps of theaters everywhere.

Sometimes it's downright uncanny how accurate The Buzz can be. After all, the word in years past on "Ishtar," "Jaws: The Revenge," and "Who's That Girl?" was all dead-on awful. But just when the Industry is getting a little too cocky about its ability to predict sure-fire hits and misses, along comes a sleeper like last year's "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" to blow every handicapper's system out of the water.

Which all goes to show that, in the end, people in the entertainment industry probably could obtain as accurate a preview of summer films by reading tea leaves or sorting Tarot cards as by conversing with one another.

But, then, what would they have to talk about at Mortons?

Without a doubt, this summer's most-buzzed movie is "Dick Tracy." "Everybody at this point is picking 'Dick Tracy' as the big one of the summer," says John Krier, president of Exhibitor Relations, which supplies industry news to movie-theater owners. However, any movie with this much heat has to generate some controversy. And The Buzz is that maybe kids aren't going to identify with what was a fading comic strip, especially one that didn't have a preceding TV show. Also, the highly stylized look of the film is questionable in this age of realism. As for the film's stars, Madonna and Warren Beatty, both badly in need of a hit, the word is they look great.

"But as far as Madonna's acting career goes," warns Alex Ben Block, editor-in-chief of Show Biz News, an entertainment industry newsletter, "Hollywood still has to ask, 'Who's That Girl?' "

"Days of Thunder" promises to be as big, or even bigger, at the box office because it re-teams Tom Cruise with "Top Gun" producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. "They have a good feel for what the public wants, and Tom is the hottest star around," says Jan Wood, executive vice president and head film buyer for Pacific Theaters chain. The only cautionary note being heard is that no race-car movie has ever made big money.

By all accounts, this summer's sequels seem like sure things. Unlike last year's disappointing "Ghostbusters II," these are being touted as better than (or at least equal to) the originals. "Another 48 HRS." features Murphy in exactly the role his fans like to see him in--wisecracking, funny and action-packed--all those things he seemed to forget about in his last movies. But some pundits, like Gordon Weaver, an independent movie marketer, are worried about the "long gap" in time between the original and the sequel.

The good word on "RoboCop 2" is that exhibitors at the annual ShoWest convention of movie exhibitors gave its trailer a huge round of applause. And like "Die Hard 2," it should benefit from huge videocassette sales of the original, which was like a two-hour trailer for the sequel. Most Hollywood experts think both Mel Gibson movies have heat. The only question is, which has more?

Word is that Carolco spent a fortune on "Air America," partly because Gibson wanted a rewritten script that was funnier and less political. "I think Mel Gibson in an action picture is a hot ticket," Krier says. But The Buzz on Gibson's comedic debut in "Bird on a Wire" is even stronger amid reports of good research screenings.

More good word-of-mouth surrounds "Cadillac Man," even though problematic sneak previews sent the producer and director scurrying back to New York City to reshoot some key opening scenes. Described as " 'Tin Men' meets 'Tucker,' " (though those films didn't do well), this movie features a funny and fast-talking Robin Williams.

"Quick Change" at this point can only be termed a definite maybe, in part because Bill Murray co-directed it. In the beginning, no fewer than four studios wanted distribution rights to the film, but now "I hear enthusiasm seems to have waned a bit," says Block, who worries it's another "Scrooged." Others note that Time-Warner is "high" on the movie and its placement early in the summer.

Expected to do better is "Total Recall." Arnold Schwarzenegger and director Paul Verhoeven (from "RoboCop") are red hot, though The Buzz wonders about the film's sci-fi elements.

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