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SUMMER SNEAKS

Let the Invasion Begin

Jim Carrey, Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robin Williams lead the charge--but they're steering clear of 'Independence Day.'

May 12, 1996|Jack Mathews | Jack Mathews is the film critic for Newsday

Outlined against a silver multiplex screen, the Four Horsemen ride again. In dramatic lore, they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Schwarzenegger, Williams, Carrey and Cruise.

With apologies to Grantland Rice and Notre Dame, Hollywood's big guns are about to thunder across the plains. The summer movie season is upon us, even if summer isn't, and we will soon be inundated with everything from killer tornadoes (no, not tomatoes), to invasions from outer space (possibly even cyberspace), to a chase through post-apocalypse Los Angeles (but not in a white Bronco).

We'll see John Travolta in "Phenomenon" playing an ordinary man struck smart by a mysterious light, and a family so stupid, their mail is simply addressed to . . . "The Stupids." Demi Moore will take it off, take it all off, as a single mom in a go-go mode in "Striptease." Rosie Perez will hit the boards as a taxi dancer in "Somebody to Love," and in "Joe's Apartment," a mini-musical if there ever was one, we'll see a chorus of 50,000 song-and-dance cockroaches.

There will be aquatic pets ("Flipper"), metaphorical birds ("The Crow: City of Angels"), cuddly polar bears ("Alaska") and a 10th century dragon so cool he will sound like Sean Connery ("Dragonheart").

There will be big things, like the elephant in "Larger Than Life," the genie played by Shaquille O'Neal in "Kazaam," the creature from the museum of natural history in "The Relic" and Eddie Murphy as "The Nutty Professor." And, as a summer '96 special, an entire sports section. We'll golf with Kevin Costner and Don Johnson in "Tin Cup," play some basketball for fan-turned-coach Whoopi Goldberg in "Eddie," go bowling with Woody Harrelson and Randy Quaid in "Kingpin" and learn from obsessed baseball buff Robert De Niro why "The Fan" is short for "fanatic."

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But the real news, or most of the profits, should come from a handful of movies led by the Four Horsemen of the Box-Office Blitz. Tom Cruise hits first, as the team leader for Brian De Palma's adaptation of TV's "Mission: Impossible," opening May 22. Jim Carrey follows as the repairman from hell in "The Cable Guy," June 14. Arnold Schwarzenegger arrives the next week, as G-man John Kruger, whose talent for protecting people in the federal witness protection program has earned him the nickname "Eraser." And in August, Robin Williams stars in Francis Ford Coppola's "Jack" as a man stricken with a malady that causes him to age at four times the normal human rate.

The biggest gun of all, however, is likely to be no one at all. Not from the live-action world, anyway. The Disney folks have another animated musical coming in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," and the last time their animators drew a hunchback, it was for "Beauty and the Beast." The idea of seeing Esmeralda and Quasimodo cut a rug around the belfry may not make your heart flutter now, but wait till you hear the music sure to give Alan Menken another set of Oscars for his trophy case.

Also competing for the big bucks will be Edward Zwick's "Courage Under Fire," starring Denzel Washington and Meg Ryan, and Joel Schumacher's "A Time to Kill," adapted from the first of the John Grisham lawyer-lit trove that has already produced hit screen versions of "The Firm," "Pelican Brief" and "The Client."

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As for themes, the summer is weighted in favor of fantasy, but there are still some action films. Kurt Russell returns, 15 years after "Escape From New York," to reprise his John Wayne-inspired Snake Plissken in "John Carpenter's Escape From Los Angeles." And Leslie Nielsen spoofs action films in "Spy Hard."

There are plenty of buddy action films, too. Morgan Freeman and Keanu Reeves team up in "Chain Reaction," a high-tech thriller directed by the Andrew Davis ("The Fugitive"). Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage are unlikely allies, an ex-con and an FBI agent, trying to reclaim Alcatraz from terrorists, in "The Rock." Laurence Fishburne and Stephen Baldwin are chums on the run, escaped cons, in "Fled." And, in the "Thelma & Louise" class, or maybe not, Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon plot together to swindle the mob in "Bound."

But it's going to be hard to avoid the array of science fiction, mythology, meteorology and horror fantasies clogging the summer pipeline. We've already mentioned several. "Dragonheart," "Phenomenon," "Kazaam," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." Children can also look forward to a live-action version of "The Adventures of Pinocchio," with Martin Landau as Gepetto and Jonathan Taylor Thomas as his living handicraft, and "Harriet the Spy," a Nickelodeon-Viacom co-production starring Michelle Trachtenberg ("The Adventures of Pete & Pete") as an 11-year-old girl spying on her parents.

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