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Summer Movie Preview: May

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Just what is it that Arnold Schwarzenegger is pondering? Could it be the demise of the traditional sequel-heavy summer-movie season? That’s right, aside from second helpings of three comedies (Hot Shots!, Stakeout, and Weekend at Bernie’s) and yet another ”final” visit from Jason, your local multiplex will be 100 percent sequel-free. But don’t be fooled into thinking Hollywood is coming up with original ideas. Do any of these blockbuster wannabes sound familiar? Sharon Stone in an erotic thriller? Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in megabuck action movies? Clint Eastwood as a maverick lawman? A special-effects-driven adventure from Steven Spielberg? As for comedy, how about a big-screen version of a Saturday Night Live sketch, Meg Ryan in a Nora Ephron-penned romance, and Whoopi Goldberg’s third annual early-summer farce?

MAY

CLIFFHANGER
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Janine Turner, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker. Directed by Renny Harlin.

The good news for Turner, making her starring film debut in this action- adventure, was that she got to kiss Stallone. The catch was that the smooch took place on an icy, 12,000-foot precipice in the Alps, with the mercury hovering at 20 below. ”I’ve never been colder in my life,” says the Northern Exposure actress. ”By the time I kissed Sly, my lips were numb.”

For Stallone, the mountaintop scene was strangely symbolic: After two dud comedies (Oscar and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot), he’s hoping his role as a stoic mountaineer battling archvillain John Lithgow will re-establish his footing as an action star. And Carolco Pictures, which narrowly averted bankruptcy last year, has bet as much as $70 million that it will.

Director Harlin (Die Hard 2) was so sure his actors could perform many of the dizzying stunts that he strapped himself into a harness to demonstrate the simplicity of one peak-to-peak rescue. ”I try to surprise the audience by moving the camera,” says Harlin, referring to one shot that starts with Stallone on a rock face and pulls back to reveal a 4,000-foot drop below him. In that sequence, audiences will see the cliff but not the hanger: The safety cables that secured Stallone were digitally erased in postproduction. (May 28)

Buzz: The dialogue is so clunky, you’ll be glad that action speaks louder than words. A lot louder: Cliffhanger‘s dazzling stunt sequences (have you seen that trailer?) leave no doubt who this summer’s real last action hero is.

SLIVER
Starring Sharon Stone, William Baldwin, Tom Berenger, Polly Walker. Directed by Phillip Noyce.

Sex! Sin! Scandal! And that’s just the backstage story. Throughout filming, Stone, who stars as a Manhattan book editor seduced into a life of voyeurism by her Peeping Tom neighbor (Baldwin), was understandably uptight about proving herself worthy of all the hype she ignited in last year’s Basic Instinct. The tension might have been to blame for her well-publicized on-set squabbles with Baldwin.

”Whenever a man or woman hits it big,” says her understanding producer, Robert Evans (Urban Cowboy, Chinatown), ”it’s a very confused time. They’re terribly nervous about their next movie. I was with John Travolta during Urban Cowboy. It was the same thing.”

But shooting Sliver was only half the battle. Director Noyce had his own struggles with the ratings board-some of them concerning the coital liaisons between Baldwin and Stone—and the disappointing test screening that led to extensive reshoots. Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas’ dark, ambiguous ending (the killer got the girl and they flew into a volcano together) was replaced by a more upbeat closing that had the final test audience cheering. During reshoots, the high-strung Evans was rushed to the hospital with high blood pressure, but he says the worry was worth it. ”Thank God for the reshoots,” he spin-controls. ”They made the picture 40 percent better, I have to admit it.” (Now playing)

Buzz: They like to watch—but will you? Curiosity should ensure a big opening, but for Sliver to have staying power, that new ending had better be a turn-on.

MADE IN AMERICA
Starring Whoopi Goldberg, Ted Danson, Paul Rodriguez, Will Smith, Nia Long, Jennifer Tilly. Directed by Richard Benjamin.

While rumors of a burgeoning romance between stars Goldberg and Danson had tabloid readers spellbound last winter, Benjamin—who was directing them in this comedy about a young woman who goes looking for her father in a sperm bank—wasn’t all that surprised. “I knew (they had chemistry) in the first reading,” says Benjamin. “When he came into the room and the two of them were standing next to each other, I said, ‘This works!'” The story was originally written for two white lead actors. When Goldberg and Danson stepped into the roles of the mother and found father, Holly Goldberg Sloan retailored her script to accommodate the racial change. Carrie Fisher then was called in to help with Goldberg and Danson’s romantic patter. A few of the racially charged lines Sloan wrote for Goldberg (e.g., “I don’t like white people”) led to some extensive PC debates among the director, stars, and writer. “But we didn’t want to make it bland,” says Benjamin. “We couldn’t close our eyes to a totally obvious social situation (in the plot).” (May 28)

Buzz: The laughter at press screenings has not exactly been deafening. And though Goldberg’s momentum off Sister Act should fuel America for a couple of weeks, we wouldn’t start filming that sequel just yet.

SUPER MARIO BROS.
Starring Bob Hoskins, Dennis Hopper, John Leguizamo, Samantha Mathis, Fisher Stevens, Richard Edson. Directed by Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel.

When codirectors Jankel and Morton (the minds behind TV’s Max Headroom) set out to bring the enormously popular video game Super Mario Bros. to the screen, they had to work backward. “Normally the movie ends up as the game,” says Jankel. “We needed to create a world that would explain the game—in essence, a prequel.” The $42 million result stars Hoskins and Leguizamo as Mario and Luigi, a couple of plumbers-turned-superheroes who stumble through a time-warp portal into Dinohattan, a garbage-heaped, dried-out wasteland of a parallel universe where the citizens are dinosaurs, deadly fireballs fly through the air, and an insane lizard king (Dennis Hopper) plots to destroy life as we know it. Although Mario was filmed in North Carolina, its lower- Manhattan, burned-out-shell-of-a-city look is no accident. “The tone that we were trying for,” says Christopher Francis Woods, Mario’s visual-effects designer, “was one of a city like Manhattan taken to the nth degree-everything someone from the Midwest would say about New York.” (May 28)

Buzz: Yeah, we know: It’s got great sets. Isn’t that what they said about Toys?

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Starring Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Robert Sean Leonard, Kate Beckinsale. Directed by Kenneth Branagh.

Branagh and Oscar winner Thompson, the cinematic couple of the hour, team as the verbally jousting Benedick and Beatrice in Shakespeare’s comedy about love won, lost, and won again.

While the company spent seven weeks in the small Tuscan town of Greve last summer, toiling in the middle of a 100-degree heat wave, the romance of Italy wasn’t entirely lost: “As a married man, I was safe from all that,” laughs Branagh. “But I would suspect that the young bucks were as prone to all that sunshine and Chianti as the next person.” With Much Ado, Branagh—whose last attempt to commit Shakespeare to film, 1989’s Henry V, won him Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Actor—hopes to prove that Shakespeare has box office appeal. “You know,” Branagh says pointedly, “he was writing blockbusters.” (Now in limited release, opens nationally May 28)

Buzz: With rapturous reviews from New York and L.A. and enough comedy and star power to play between the coasts, it should be the summer’s preeminent art-house hit.

HOT SHOTS! PART DEUX
Starring Charlie Sheen, Valeria Golino, Lloyd Bridges, Richard Crenna, Brenda Bakke. Directed by Jim Abrahams.

When the first Hot Shots! took aim at Top Gun in 1991, the domestic box office take soared to $68 million. This time around, director Abrahams is taking a more Sly approach, reuniting Sheen, Golino, and Bridges for a skewering of Rambo.

Despite the on-screen yuks, Golino says, the mood on the set was decidedly disciplined: “On the first Hot Shots, Charlie and I had this problem where we couldn’t stop laughing,” she says. “But it got Jim really nervous and annoyed, so (this time) we had to laugh between takes.”

Director Abrahams apparently was of the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do camp. During a scene in which Bridges, as the President, is host to Japan’s prime minister, the actor had to “throw up in his lap, sort of inspired by George Bush,” Abrahams says. “But as Lloyd is gagging, you can hear me in the background laughing.” It got so bad that the director had to have Bridges come in later and loop choking noises over the giggles. “I think Francis Coppola sits in a van someplace and watches it all on a video screen. Maybe I should do that.” (Now playing)

Buzz: With this many gags, it won’t matter that half of them fall flat. And it’s shrewdly timed as the summer’s first action-movie spoof.

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