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Summer Movie Preview: July

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IN THE LINE OF FIRE
Starring Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Rene Russo. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen.

Playing a Secret Service agent emotionally scarred by President Kennedy’s assassination, Eastwood gets a chance at redemption 30 years later when assassin Malkovich goes after the new President (no resemblance to the current White House occupant). Shot in Washington, D.C., and L.A. with the full cooperation of the Secret Service, Fire doesn’t exactly sound like a movie loaded with female appeal. But according to director Petersen (Das Boot), that’s exactly what it is, thanks to abundant dry humor, Eastwood’s boyish charm, and Russo as Clint’s take-no-prisoners partner. ”Their relationship is adult and very playful,” Petersen says. ”She always gives back nasty remarks.” Russo says she wrote one such retort herself: When Frank Horrigan (Eastwood) greets her with the patronizing comment ”Secretaries get prettier and prettier,” she snaps back, ”Yeah, and field agents get older and older.”

”There’s tension and drama, but basically Clint makes fun of himself and his age the whole time,” Petersen says. But Eastwood’s most surprising moments in the film may be the serious ones. Filming one particularly heavy scene, in which a guilt-ridden Horrigan recalls his failure to save Kennedy, the actor became distraught, so unhinging Russo that she joined in for some unscripted tears: ”I’ve seen Clint vulnerable, but this is pretty exciting stuff,” she says. (July 9)

Buzz: He shoots! He scores!

ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS
Starring Cary Elwes, Amy Yasbeck, Richard Lewis, Roger Rees, Tracey Ullman. Directed by Mel Brooks.

When Brooks saw Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves two summers ago, his parody alert sounded. Soon after, his dentist’s son suggested a send-up of the Merry Men, and the picture, which the director-producer describes as ”a lot like Blazing Saddles,” was off and trotting. Expect plenty of arrows aimed at both the recent remake and the 1938 version—and, Brooks says, some painfully funny scenes: ”In one, Cary does a great Errol Flynn and slides down a wooden banister with his sword out. But poor Cary-he got, like, a hundred splinters in his ass, and we had to stop and take every one of them out.” Sherwood be a tough way to make a living. (July 28)

Buzz: Fox is hoping this could be Hot Shots! Part Trois, but Brooks’ recent track record (Spaceballs, Life Stinks) does not inspire optimism.

FOR LOVE OR MONEY
Starring Michael J. Fox, Gabrielle Anwar, Anthony Higgins, Michael Tucker. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld.

In this Manhattan-flavored romantic comedy, Fox plays a hotel concierge struggling to make his way in the big city. To reach the top, he first has to suck up to a wealthy but sleazy entrepreneur (Higgins) who claims he’ll bankroll Fox so he can open his own hotel. His sucking-up duties include ”babysitting” Higgins’ mistreated mistress (Anwar, the British beauty whose last tango in New York was with Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman).

”A lot of people say, ‘Sure, (he does comedies) because Casualties of War didn’t make any money,” says Fox, 31. ”But I’m having a real good time doing comedy.” So much so that he’s about to do two more-after acting in the farce Greed, he’ll direct his first feature, Thirty Wishes, a comedy about—you guessed it—turning 30. (July 23)

Buzz: Hotel comedies aren’t exactly guaranteed laugh getters (anyone remember Blame It on the Bellboy?), but never underestimate the popularity of Fox as a struggling yuppie.

FREE WILLY
Starring Lori Petty, Jason James Richter, August Schellenberg, Michael Madsen, Jayne Atkinson. Directed by Simon Wincer.

Two outcasts—a 12-year-old runaway named Jesse (Richter) and a 2-ton whale named Willy—strike up a friendship that has teary-eyed preview-goers predicting an orca-size showing at the box office. Australian director Wincer (Lonesome Dove) used a sort of electronic umbilical cord to maneuver the animatronic whale for oceangoing stunts. For close-ups, Wincer found a 12- year-old orca named Keiko in the Mexico City aquarium where the movie (which is set in Portland, Ore.) was shot. “Some days, Keiko just wasn’t happy, since he’s going through adolescence,” reports executive producer Lauren Shuler-Donner. So how does one appease a temperamental whale? “We bought him a kid’s toy that he loved, a yellow plastic vacuum cleaner. That made him happy again. Like all actors, Keiko loved the perks.” (July 16)

Buzz: It’s Born Free with fins! It’s E.T. with water! But do kids really want to cry at a movie?

RISING SUN
Starring Sean Connery, Wesley Snipes, Tia Carrere, Ray Wise. Directed by Philip Kaufman.

While Michael Crichton’s 1992 thriller about two L.A. cops who uncover a Japanese business conspiracy met with a storm of controversy, the movie version has caused a full-fledged monsoon. True, the author’s other novel hitting the screen this summer, Jurassic Park, has been stealing some of the thunder, but Sun has had several loud clashes of its own.

First the film was attacked by Asian groups who said it perpetuated the book’s Japan bashing. Then director Kaufman reportedly squabbled with Connery, the film’s executive producer, over Sun‘s two-hour-plus length, which Connery thought should be trimmed. But the fiercest war of words was between Kaufman and Crichton, who left after five rewrites. One alleged source of contention: choosing Snipes to play the book’s white narrator. “He seems to be upset with the casting of Wesley, which is pretty racist, if you ask me,” says Kaufman. “If he’s so pissed off, why doesn’t he take his name off the screenplay?” Says Crichton, “The simplest way to answer the notion that I had some criticism about the casting of Wesley Snipes is that the person the character in the book is based on is black. I thought, ‘Oh, how interesting.'” (July 30)

Buzz: The odd-couple casting may be potent, but the mood is awfully weighty. Remember, it’s supposed to be a thriller.

CONEHEADS Starring Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman. Directed by Steve Barron.

Alien Coneheads first invaded planet Earth by way of Saturday Night Live in 1977. Sustained in earthling consciousness since then via cable TV, Aykroyd’s Beldar and Curtin’s Prymaat are following the $121 million-grossing spin-off Wayne’s World onto the big screen. Director Barron (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) recruited Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander and Michael Richards, as well as some more recent SNL regulars (Julia Sweeney, Jan Hooks, Adam Sandler, Phil Hartman, Chris Farley, David Spade, and Chris Rock), to orbit around the alien couple as they encounter marriage trouble in the Jersey hamlet of Paramus. “The mission is clear,” says Aykroyd. “We are here to do a big comedy.” (July 23)

Buzz: Something tells us Beldar’s world is smaller than Wayne’s.

STAKEOUT II
Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Emilio Estevez, Rosie O’Donnell. Directed by John Badham.

It has been six years since John Badham’s $65 million-grossing Stakeout hit theaters. What took Part II so long? According to Disney, writer-producer Jim Kouf didn’t have a story he could really get excited about until late 1991, when he contrived a sequel reuniting Dreyfuss and Estevez as veteran cops, and saddling them with a third wheel: go-getter assistant district attorney Gina Garrett (O’Donnell).

Within two weeks after his script finally arrived at the studio, Badham, Estevez, and Dreyfuss committed to the project. But when O’Donnell first read the script, she didn’t see herself in the part of Gina. “I thought it was more of a Michelle Pfeiffer, pretty-girl thing,” she says. So Badham and Kouf came to see O’Donnell’s Las Vegas stand-up act and rewrote the role. The only problem, O’Donnell says, is that her stunt double was evidently cast before she was. During filming, O’Donnell says, “they call me on my day off and say, ‘Can you come in and run through the woods today?’ And I say, ‘What about my stunt double?’ They say, ‘Oh, no, she doesn’t look anything like you.’ She’s, like, 96 pounds, with blond hair.” (July 23)

Buzz: After six years, now they turn Stakeout into a franchise? We don’t get it. Then again, nobody thought the original would be a hit either.

THE THING CALLED LOVE Starring Samantha Mathis, Dermot Mulroney, River Phoenix, Sandra Bullock, Trisha Yearwood. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich.

Think of it as Singles gone south: This comedy-drama features Mathis (This Is My Life), Phoenix (My Own Private Idaho), Mulroney (Point of No Return), and Bullock (Love Potion #9) as country crooners aching to break into the business. The story was inspired by Nashville’s Blue Bird Cafe, “where every young songwriter tries to get up and perform,” says Mathis, who hung out at the tiny showcase during the production’s three-week stay last winter. Mathis didn’t just dance to the music—she also had to learn to sing and play the guitar, much to her initial terror. “I learned that the most important thing is that the song come from the heart—it’s not all technical,” she says. “I mean, look at Neil Young and Bob Dylan.” And they don’t even two-step. (July 16)

Buzz: Sounds sweet, smart and small. But don’t underestimate the appeal of its country milieu.

HOCUS POCUS Starring Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thora Birch. Directed by Kenny Ortega.

In this comic fairy tale, Midler, Parker (L.A. Story), and Najimy (Sister Act) play three 17th-century witches who make fire burn and caldron bubble when they materialize in modern-day Salem, Mass. Still ticked off about being hanged for their witchy crimes 300 years before, the weird sisters plot their revenge-trying to eat children, cast spells, and generally bring down property values.

But caldrons were not the only things aflame on the set of Hocus Pocus. The makeup used to create the authentic evil-sorceress look left the actresses’ skin resembling a dermatology experiment gone awry. “First they tried this big, moldy stuff that made us look like apple dolls,” says Najimy. “Then for old age they used something called ‘stretch and stipple,’ where they stretch the skin and paint glue over it. It hurt so much, and after a week, Sarah had this really red inflamed cheek, and I was kind of cracked and bleeding.” And that was before they were burned at the stake. (July 16)

Buzz: It’s got impressive star power and haute concept. Too bad they forgot to put in the jokes.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Starring Thomas Ian Nicholas, Daniel Stern, Gary Busey. Directed by Daniel Stern.

Actor-turned-rookie film director Stern (The Wonder Years, Home Alone) sticks with familiar kid stuff in this comedy about a 12-year-old (Nicholas) whose magical arm lands him on the Chicago Cubs. “Joe Roth (then head of Twentieth Century Fox) gave me a script about a Little League player named Henry who wants to play in the major leagues,” says Stern, “and my own son is a Little League player named Henry. It was a very cheap ploy to get me to direct.” (July 9)

Buzz: At best, a bunt single.

POETIC JUSTICE
Starring Janet Jackson, Tupac Shakur. Directed by John Singleton.

What happens to the girlz n the hood when their boyz meet early and violent ends? Singleton’s second directorial effort attempts an answer. Jackson stars as Justice, a young woman who turns down college for cosmetology school and devotes herself to writing poetry after her boyfriend is murdered.

The pressure on director Singleton to prove that 1991’s acclaimed Boyz N the Hood was more than beginner’s luck intensified when the initial word came down that Poetic Justice was long (close to 21 2 hours) and overindulgent. Singleton denies reports that he reshot parts of the film that tested badly. “The people who said that are the same people who said my movie was three hours long. That’s ridiculous.” Test screenings were disappointing, he says, because he hadn’t yet put Justice’s voice-over poetry sequences and soundtrack in place. “I always wait until a month and a half before the movie comes out to pick the music. A lot of people put in the music four months ahead, then when the movie comes out they have old-ass rap music in their movie.” And that’s a no-no when the film stars Ms. Rhythm Nation herself. (July 23)

Buzz: Singleton’s second cut of the film is said to be leaner, tighter, and (sorry, John) just okay.

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