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Space Jammed

Forget last summer's crowded schedule. There are 105 movies opening this season. Let Summer Sneaks be your guide to the invading hordes.

May 11, 1997|Jack Mathews | Jack Mathews is the film critic at Newsday

Think of the classic stateroom scene from the Marx Brothers' "A Night at the Opera," where so many people are stuffed into a ship's cabin that they begin to tumble out the door. Now, imagine that stateroom as the summer calendar, and instead of people, it is being stuffed with movies . . . lots of movies, lots of big ones, one as big as the Titanic. There are so many movies, in fact, that they begin to tumble into the fall.

There are always too many pictures released during the summer, and always a few big ones, but the summer of 1997 is ridiculous. Between now and the end of Labor Day, about 105 movies will be released, more than 40 of them nationally. And about a quarter of those would seem to have blockbuster expectations.

Fifteen weeks and 30,000 theaters can't hold them all, and some have already come tumbling out. "The Flood," "In and Out," "Alien Resurrection," "Starship Troopers," "The Truman Show," "Edwards and Hunt," "Great Expectations." All originally scheduled for summer, all now set for the fall or beyond.

The jostling for position continues. As this is being written, Paramount's "Titanic" is still resting on the coveted July 2 date, though no one seriously expects it to arrive before the end of that month, if then. It's even possible, say a number of sources, that "Titanic's" appearance may be around Thanksgiving. If director James Cameron does get it ready for a summer launch, "Titanic" will send a shudder through the schedule, no doubt loosing a few films from their current dates, maybe even knocking a couple more into fall.

"Titanic" itself is no sure shot. By July 2, Steven Spielberg's "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" will be five weeks into the box-office ionosphere, and turnstiles will also be spinning for "Speed 2: Cruise Control," "Batman & Robin," "Con Air" and "Hercules." But if all this is shortening the lives--or careers--of studio executives, it's choice news for moviegoers.

The schedule is typically lean of strong dramatic fare, and after Disney's animated "Hercules," there's not a lot for children. But if you're looking for action, you'll find it.

Much of the big action rides the current wave of fascination for science-fiction. Besides "The Lost World," there's "Men in Black," about futuristic immigration officers turning back space aliens; "Contact," about following a blueprint for building an intergalactic spaceship; "Mimic," about scientists who whip up a batch of 6-foot cockroaches; and "Event Horizon," a 21st century solar-system salvage mission.

Closer to home, convicts skyjack the transport plane taking them to a new prison in "Con Air," while Russian neo-nationalists commandeer "Air Force One" with the first family aboard. We'll see a mob war in 1930s New York between Dutch Schultz and a Harlem don ("Hoodlum"), and nascent action stars John Travolta and Nicolas Cage will play an FBI agent and a terrorist who switch identities in John Woo's "Face/Off." And for sheer curiosity value, how we can resist "Cop Land," which co-stars Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro?

As sure as cherry blossoms mark spring in Washington, sequels announce the summer in theaters, and besides the three action Goliaths--"The Lost World," "Speed 2" and "Batman & Robin"--this season includes new episodes of "Free Willy" and "Mortal Kombat." And the major studios' ongoing campaign to make money off TV shows will bring us "Leave It to Beaver." Gosh.

Looking for love? The half-dozen romantic-theme films on the wide-release schedule include: "Addicted to Love," with Meg Ryan and Matthew Broderick providing the chemistry; "My Best Friend's Wedding," from the director of "Muriel's Wedding," with Dermot Mulroney and Julia Roberts; "Picture Perfect," with Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Bacon; " 'Til There Was You," with Dylan McDermott and both Jeanne Tripplehorn and Sarah Jessica Parker; "A Smile Like Yours," with Greg Kinnear and Lauren Holly; and "She's So Lovely," in which Robin Wright must choose between John Travolta and Sean Penn. (Sure, it's easy for you.)

As for laughs, well, there are more than a dozen comedies on the schedule, but only one with a built-in audience--"Out to Sea," with grumpy old men Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau playing bogus dance coaches on a cruise ship. The drama with the hottest advance word may be "Desperate Measures," which stars Michael Keaton as a sociopath whose bone marrow is a perfect match for cop Andy Garcia's dying son.

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