Hollywood's summer blockbusters

SUMMER GUIDE: SEQUELS, SUPERHEROES, AND SISTERHOOD 

Hollywood's summer blockbusters

Hollywood is still reeling from 2009's screenwriters strike and the global recession — calamities that not even $2.7 billion in worldwide Avatar receipts could remedy. Production companies and studios were shuttered; jobs and budgets were slashed.

But there's an upside to the belt-tightening: Summer — traditionally the season of testosterone-heavy blockbusters — is leaner and more varied this year. There are the usual sequels, superheroes, and remakes, but studios have learned from the success of Sex and the City and Julie & Julia that women buy tickets too, so there are more romantic comedies: Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love, Drew Barrymore in Going the Distance, and Jennifer Aniston in The Switch. The lineup also includes cost-saving hybrids: action-comedies (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The Expendables) and action-romances (Knight and Day, Killers). And, of course, lots of 3-D, that high-tech excuse for higher ticket prices.

Iron Man 2, Robin Hood, and Shrek have already hit theaters, but there are plenty more cinematic thrills coming soon...

May 27: There's been loads of speculation about Sex and the City 2's plot, but let's face it — Sarah Jessica Parker and castmates could recite Congress's health-care bill and women would still storm theaters. Carrie, still married to Big (and still calling him that), travels with her friends to Abu Dhabi, where they ride camels and have romantic adventures. May 28: In the "movies based on video games with world-destroying sandstorms" category, we have Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, in which a rogue prince (Jake Gyllenhaal) teams with a princess (Gemma Arterton) to save the world from villain Ben Kingsley.

June 4: If you've ever read Marmaduke in the newspaper comics page and lamented, "If only that dog could talk," the live-action family flick Marmaduke is for you. The Great Dane not only speaks (in Owen Wilson's voice), he surfs, dances, and frets about his looks. In the action-romance Killers, Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher play a couple on the run from hired assassins. Get Him to the Greek stars British comedian Russell Brand reprising his obnoxious rock star from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. June 11: The A-Team updates the cheesy '80s TV squad from Vietnam to Iraq vets (Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in the Mr. T. role). If that doesn't satisfy your '80s jones, maybe The Karate Kid, a remake of the 1984 movie, will. Jaden Smith (Will's son) plays a Detroit kid relocated to Beijing, where he learns martial arts from a maintenance man/kung-fu master (Jackie Chan). June 18: Summer's most bankable sequel, Toy Story 3, in 3-D, comes 11 years after its predecessor. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen again voice Woody and Buzz, who plot an escape from a daycare center. DC counters Marvel's Iron Man 2 with Jonah Hex, a live-action adaptation of a comic about a Confederate bounty hunter (Josh Brolin). The comedy Cyrus casts John C. Reilly as a divorced loser whose new girlfriend (Marisa Tomei) has a large, overprotective son (Jonah Hill). June 25: Tom Cruise's zany turn in Tropic Thunder showed he can do comedy. In Knight and Day, he plays an unhinged agent saddled with Cameron Diaz after she sees him wipe out a planeload of people. The midlife-crisis comedy Grown Ups trots out pee-in-the-pool gags, with Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider, and Kevin James as high-school buddies who reunite 30 years later. June 30: Twilight part three, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, finds Bella (Kristen Stewart) beset by the usual adolescent dilemma: whether to love vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) or stay BFFs with werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner).

July 2: Will the The Last Airbender revive M. Night Shyamalan's career? With postproduction 3-D, the fantasy-adventure is adapted from Nickelodeon's cartoon series about a boy trying to stop a worldwide war. July 9: Universal's animation entry is the 3-D Despicable Me, which sounds like a Cold War rejoinder to Disney/Pixar's Up: Steve Carell voices Gru, a curmudgeonly Russian supervillain whose plan to steal the moon is complicated by three orphan girls. July 16: Christopher (Dark Knight) Nolan brings noir action to Inception, about an agent (Leonardo DiCaprio) who enters businessmen's minds through their dreams. Disney's The Sorcerer's Apprentice is not another re-release of that dancing-broomsticks cartoon, but a live-action fantasy starring Nicolas Cage as a shaggy wizard battling to save New York. July 23: The lesbian-themed comedy The Kids Are All Right stars Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a couple whose artificially conceived teenagers seek out their donor dad (Mark Ruffalo). Dinner for Schmucks is a promising remake of the French farce The Dinner Game, in which a group of men hold a weekly dinner party where each must bring a pathetic loser. Paul Rudd plays an ambitious executive; Steve Carell is his idiot.

August 6: Middle Men revisits the '90s dot-com bubble, with Luke Wilson as a businessman getting rich via internet porn. Mark Wahlberg teams with Will Ferrell in the buddy-cop comedy The Other Guys, where the inept pair tries to emulate tough cops Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson. August 13: Julia Roberts brings her equine smile to Eat Pray Love, based on Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir about her quest for fulfillment, a book people either adore or deplore for its rampant narcissism. The Expendables, an action thriller about mercenaries hired to overthrow a South American dictator, includes an old-school cast: Sylvester Stallone (who also directed), Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, Steve Austin, Bruce Willis, and Mickey Rourke. August 20: The Switch stars Jennifer Aniston as a single mom whose friend (Jason Bateman) discovers he's the father of her artificially conceived child. Lee O'Malley's comic book becomes Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (August 13), starring Michael Cera as a bassist who must defeat his new girlfriend's seven evil exes. August 27: Drew Barrymore and Justin Long try to make a bicoastal relationship work in the R-rated romp Going the Distance.

SEPTEMBER 3: Robert Rodriguez braises Arizona with Machete, a feature spawned from his fake Grindhouse trailer. Danny Trejo plays a Mexican ex-Federale hired to assassinate an anti-immigration senator (Robert De Niro) who actually calls Mexicans "cucarachas."

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