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Summer Sneaks

Summer movie season offers a brief, brainy break in the action

Critic's Notebook: Amid the usual big-impact films, quieter fare is also set to flourish.

April 29, 2012|By Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times Film Critic
  • Alec Baldwin, left, and Jesse Eisenberg in Woody Allen's "To Rome With Love."
Alec Baldwin, left, and Jesse Eisenberg in Woody Allen's "To… (Philippe Antonello, Sony…)

Year-round schooling. Baby boomers date-nighting. Insatiable appetites DVRing, VODemanding, online streaming. March madness game changing ("Hunger Games," not basketball, $358 million and counting).

A short way to say popcorn is not just for summer anymore.

Moviegoers — young (the summer staple) and old (increasingly coming back to the five-and-dime, Jimmy Dean…) — want a constant flow. The idea that audiences are more intrigued, or less pressed in the summertime, or that there are movie mood swings tied to weather patterns anymore is just downright silly. We are a totally wired nation of want it all, all the timers.

In recent years, arguments have been made for not over-stuffing summer. And there is a sense that the sand is shifting, ever so slightly. Consider the number of films targeting the oldest of the baby boomers. In a typical summer, one or two offerings might make it into the mix, but six? The docket includes a range: quirky British fare with Judi Dench in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"; quirky U.S. style with Kathleen Turner in "The Perfect Family" and Jane Fonda in "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding"; a marriage drama with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones in "Hope Springs"; inspiration from Morgan Freeman in "The Magic of Belle Isle"; and last but not least, major well-aged muscle with Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Norris, Willis and crew in the action-smack-down of "The Expendables 2."

Another indicator that the seasonal lines are softening is that Woody Allen's latest romance, "To Rome With Love," lands in June. While that might seem to argue against the point, his films are usually dropped into fall or spring, when the adult palette is thought to be whetted. But his surprising late spring success last year with"Midnight in Paris," which sustained at the box office well into the summer, had to factor in.

Admittedly, those are just the barest of fresh breezes with only a few smart documentaries and dramas trying to share the beach umbrella. For the most part, the summer is shaping up as recent summers usually have, packed with popcorny films that promise an entertaining escape.

With luck, a few of the many tentpole contenders — "The Avengers," "Men in Black 3," "Battleship," "Dark Shadows,""Prometheus," "The Amazing Spider-Man," "The Dark Knight Rises"— will show inventiveness and wit and avoid last year's malaise ("Conan the Barbarian,""Green Lantern"and "Green Hornet," to name a few). And will Bourne's intelligent action stay smart with "The Hurt Locker's" Jeremy Renner as the new agent on board? So much to ponder.

Will the broad-stroke comedies leave us laughing? It's an eclectic bunch that includes Mark Wahlberg and his BBF (best bear forever) in "Ted," Sacha Baron Cohen hoping to regain the "Borat" magic in "The Dictator," Ben Stiller jesting with space aliens in "Neighborhood Watch" and "Magic Mike's" male-stripper story vying for "Hangover" status with the famously former male stripper Channing Tatum as its star.

There are high hopes hanging on the adaptation of the Broadway hit "Rock of Ages." Meanwhile animation has the requisite sequels — "Madagascar" and "Ice Age." But it's the warrior princess story of "Brave" and the off-center "ParaNorman" that look the most intriguing. Meanwhile, the "Snakes on a Plane" award for funniest title goes to"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter."

Still, it's too bad we have to wait until December to see high-end material like Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" or Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby." Until then, there is always "Piranha 3DD. …"

betsy.sharkey@latimes.com

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