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Spring 1997 Movie Preview

Including inside looks at “The Devil’s Own,” “Jungle2Jungle,” “Star Wars,” “Volcano,” “Inventing the Abbotts,” and “Addicted to Love”

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Spring may be in the air, but it sure smells a lot like summer. Judging from the avalanche of big-budget would-be blockbusters rumbling into theaters over the next few months — Volcano, The Devil’s Own, The Saint, and the rest of the Star Wars trilogy — Hollywood seems to be skipping a season. There’s even a crop of goofy, summery comedies, like Jim Carrey’s Liar Liar and Howard Stern’s Private Parts. Moviegoers accustomed to more adult spring fare shouldn’t lose heart, however. John Singleton’s racially explosive Rosewood, David Lynch’s cerebral Lost Highway, and The Graduate (again!) are here for you. And what better way to sort through the hype and hoopla than with our insider’s guide to the movies about to be sprung.

FEBRUARY

ROSEWOOD

[Starring] Ving RHAMES, Jon VOIGHT, Don CHEADLE, Elise NEAL, Esther ROLLE
[Director] John SINGLETON

The story of a small black Florida town that became the scene of racial riots and lynchings in 1923 is hardly typical material for a Hollywood epic. So it’s easy to understand why, when producer Jon Peters pitched Singleton’s film to Warner Bros., the studio’s reaction was, Get Star Power. Denzel Washington was among the top choices for the role of Mann, a drifter stirred into facing down the Ku Klux Klan when a false accusation of assault causes the peaceful town to erupt in violence. When scheduling difficulties ruled him out and other actors passed, Pulp Fiction‘s Rhames — already in line for a smaller part — won his first major starring role. While Rhames says it took so long to cast him because ”they looked at actors who were more palatable to white audiences,” Singleton defends the studio: ”Warner Bros. usually makes star movies, and I’m not averse to that.” Singleton adds that some of Rhames’ competition bowed out ”because I think they were afraid of it. The people who came to the picture were the ones with the conviction and courage to do it.”

Those characteristics were called upon during the seven months much of the cast and crew spent in Sanford, Fla. Living with the story, which screenwriter Gregory Poirier based on survivor accounts then fleshed out with inventions (including the character Mann), was difficult enough for the actors. In addition, ”the conditions were hard,” says Cheadle, who took over the role Rhames vacated. ”They carved the [sets] out of the woods and swamps. There were water moccasins, our second assistant director got bitten by a snake, it rained, and the roads got washed out…and we were in the deepest South. One actor was in a bar, and when the guy next to him heard that he was making the story of Rosewood, said, ‘What’s wrong with the KKK?”’

Several survivors of Rosewood, who were children when the lynchings occurred, were on the set and relived the desperation that caused many to hide in the swamps, waiting for help. ”I almost felt like I owed it to the survivors and all who passed away to bring the truth to the story,” says Rhames. (Feb. 21)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] Singleton’s reputation, as he freely admits: ”I feel like this movie marks the maturation of me as a filmmaker. I understand now why people make safe movies. This isn’t one.”

SMILLA’S SENSE OF SNOW

[Starring] Julia ORMOND, Gabriel BYRNE, Robert LOGGIA, Richard HARRIS, Vanessa REDGRAVE
[Director] Bille AUGUST

You thought Fargo looked cold? Think again. To shoot this big-screen version of Peter Hoeg’s best-selling novel, Danish director Bille August carted his crew to the ice-coated isle of Greenland, which straddles the Arctic Circle. Average temperature: -40[degrees]F — cold enough that it threatened to freeze the batteries in the cameras. ”I did a lot of jumping up and down and huddling in a little hut,” says Ormond. Adds August: ”You learn very quickly to dress right and not to take any risks, because it’s not a game at all. It can be a matter of life and death.”

An icy death, in fact, propels the plot of Smilla’s Sense of Snow. Ormond plays a reclusive Copenhagen scientist investigating the mysterious death of a young boy who has inexplicably fallen from the roof of his apartment building to the snow-covered street below. But Smilla is more than a thrilla. Part of the novel’s power is its internal narrative—a dense psychological portrait of the title character. August (Pelle the Conqueror) went through three screenwriters trying to capture that delicate balance of nail biting and navel gazing. (The third, Primal Fear‘s Ann Biderman, “understood the combination,” August says, and wound up penning the final version.) Along the way, August did tweak a few elements of the novel: Smilla’s Danish father, for instance, eventually turned into an American, played by Independence Day‘s Loggia.

Meanwhile, Ormond spent months plunging into the role of Smilla, whose roots trace back to Greenland’s Inuit hunters. Ormond interviewed glaciologists; chatted with doctors about the chilly symptoms of hypothermia (“Do you shiver manically?” she explains. “No, you sort of go limp”); and even ate whale with an Inuit woman. “It was chewy,” she reports. “And oddly enough it tastes kind of coconutty.” Does this mean Ormond sought a gritty alternative after the Hollywood glitz of Sabrina? “If your intuition kicks in while reading a script,” she says, “you should go with that. I just look for something that hits me in the stomach.” Which could explain the whale meat. (Feb. 28)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] After fiascoes like First Knight and The House of the Spirits, respectively, Ormond and August need Smilla to thaw out their careers.

DONNIE BRASCO

[Starring] Al PACINO, Johnny DEPP, Anne HECHE, Michael MADSEN, Bruno KIRBY, James RUSSO
[Director] Mike Newell

The “social clubs” of Brooklyn, those smoky, all-male hangouts that sometimes front for Mob activities, would seem a world apart from the tony garden parties of English director Newell’s Four Weddings and a Funeral. But if many in Hollywood were surprised when producer Mark Johnson (Rain Man) turned to him to bring Donnie Brasco to the screen, Newell wasn’t at all nonplussed. “It reminded me very strongly of Arthur Miller, the way drama is made out of little people’s lives,” he says. “It seemed to me a very juicy script.” Adapted by Paul Attanasio (Quiz Show) from Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia, the 1989 memoir written by former FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone, the movie tells how Pistone infiltrated the Mob in the late 1970s, befriending aging wiseguy Lefty Ruggiero. To convince Pacino that Lefty wouldn’t be a replay of his celebrated gangsters like Michael Corleone and Scarface‘s Tony Montana, Newell told him, “He’s a great American archetype, like Willy Loman—a man who works for a dream all his life but at the end finds all he has is a cheap, gold-plated watch.” The real-life goodfellas who hung around the set were only too happy to toast Pacino. “The boys invited us all to dinner on the Lower East Side one night,” says Newell, “and I think Al was rather moved by it because they were so respectful of him.” Says Madsen, who plays one of Lefty’s cohorts, “There’s a built-in attraction to Al playing a character involved in organized crime.” Meanwhile, Depp, who plays the title character, and Heche, who appears as his long-suffering wife, had meetings with the Pistones. “One of the things that was important about our relationship was that Joe’s life really scared his wife,” says Heche. “His emotional life was so reserved because he was so afraid for their lives. When Johnny took that on on-screen, it was so different from anything we’ve seen him do. To see his temper start to flare and then immediately recoil—he did it quietly, just like the man is in real life. You just know you’d be scared out of your mind if he ever got mad at you.” (Feb. 28)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] Depp, who’s played more than his share of boy-men, needs to prove he’s matured into adult roles; Newell has to prove that he can tackle subjects beyond neurotic Englishmen.

TOUCH

[Starring] Skeet ULRICH, Bridget FONDA, Christopher WALKEN, Tom ARNOLD, Janeane GAROFALO
[Director] Paul SCHRADER

This Elmore Leonard adaptation is bloody, though not in the way the crime novelist’s name usually suggests. It’s about a modern-day stigmatic (Ulrich) whose dripping palms get caught in a seriocomic tug-of-war between a huckster (Walken) and an evangelist (Arnold). “The subject matter would lend some people to think that it’s a heavy or spiritual film,” says Schrader (who, after writing the screenplay for 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ, is no stranger to the territory). “In fact it’s very secular, possibly profane. It has Leonard’s colorful characters and dialogue; it just doesn’t have that crime element.” It also has that helpful flavor-of-the-month element in Ulrich, whose celebrity status has been boosted by Scream. (Feb. 14)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] Ulrich’s burgeoning It Boy status won’t much rise or fall based on this oddball entry.

ABSOLUTE POWER

[Starring] Clint EASTWOOD, Gene HACKMAN, Laura LINNEY, Ed HARRIS, Scott GLENN, Dennis HAYSBERT, Judy DAVIS, E.G. MARSHALL
[Director] Clint EASTWOOD

Just about everyone associated with Absolute Power uses the same word: fast. Castle Rock picked up the project fast, plunking down $1 million for the galleys of David Baldacci’s first novel. Eastwood made the movie fast, shooting scenes the way Dirty Harry shoots bullets. “If we had more than two or three takes per setup,” Haysbert says, “he’d get a little restless.” In fact, Eastwood worked at such a speedy clip that he polished off Power 17 days early. Which is not to say the movie feels fast. A relatively hushed and unhurried thriller—and the second of three best-sellers Eastwood is directing (along with 1995’s The Bridges of Madison County and the upcoming Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil)—Power involves a master thief (Eastwood) who witnesses the President of the United States (Hackman) in an act of crime so insidious it makes Whitewater look like a faux pas. Suddenly a suspect, Eastwood’s graying burglar seeks help from his estranged daughter (Linney) and slyly dodges a cop (Harris). Meanwhile, back at the White House, two Secret Service agents (Haysbert and Glenn) cope with a cover-up, a crisis of conscience, and a whole lot of gear underneath their coats. “You’ve got the handcuffs, a collapsible baton, a pistol, two extra clips of ammunition, maybe an Uzi submachine gun, a Kevlar vest, and a two-way radio with a mike clipped to the inside of your palm,” Glenn recalls. “We had a couple of crowd scenes where people really thought I was a Secret Service man, and I let ’em think it.” (Feb. 14)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] After the disappointing returns on Ghosts of Mississippi and Extreme Measures, Castle Rock needs an absolute hit.

FOOLS RUSH IN

[Starring] Matthew PERRY, Salma HAYEK, Jon TENNEY, Jill CLAYBURGH
[Director] Andy TENNANT

“Okay, so I didn’t get all Matthew’s jokes,” Hayek says about the rumored on-set tension with her costar. “But I really like him. I swear.” At least on screen, Hayek (From Dusk Till Dawn) and Perry (Friends) kiss and make up in this romantic comedy about a New York business guy who marries a Mexican woman after getting her pregnant during a one-night stand in Vegas. According to Perry, there certainly was tension on the set—most of it happening in his head. “I’ve never been a lead in a movie, and suddenly I’m in Las Vegas pretending I know what the hell I’m doing,” says the actor, who reportedly earned $1 million for Fools. “But I was terrified.” Imagine how producer Doug Draizin felt. “This movie’s based on my life,” he says. “My wife and I met on a blind date in Vegas, wound up in bed, and next thing I know, I’m turning my pool-table room into a nursery.” (Feb. 14)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] Perry should hope Fools fares better than Draizin’s marriage; he and his wife got divorced shortly before filming began.

LOST HIGHWAY

[Starring] Bill PULLMAN, Patricia ARQUETTE, Balthazar GETTY, Robert LOGGIA
[Director] David LYNCH

How difficult is it to explain exactly what’s going on in Lynch’s most enigmatic movie since Eraserhead? Even the cast is at a loss. “If someone were to ask me what the story line is,” admits Loggia, the picture’s volatile gangster villain, “I would be hard-pressed to tell them.” As would just about anybody who doesn’t live inside the celebrated director’s head. But here’s our best attempt at describing a plotline that makes Twin Peaks‘ arc look like the model of linear logic: Pullman is a brooding sax man who’s insanely jealous of his knockout brunet wife, played by Arquette. Midway through, he inexplicably turns into Getty, a brooding kid who’s insanely protective of his knockout blond lover…played by Arquette. Sounds like somebody had some bad pizza just before bedtime. But Lynch resists characterizing his mystery-horror-noir as simply a “dream,” allowing that it has “a dreamlike feel, but it’s gotta be anchored in reality in some way.” Well, the film does have a few tangible elements, including some very real-looking sex and violence. “I don’t think this is a movie for everybody,” says Arquette. “I would not try to advertise it in a way that [suggests] this is for the faint of heart.” Or the faint of patience. (Feb. 21)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE ] Wider audiences might riot over the movie’s supernatural inconclusiveness, but cultists may celebrate Lynch’s blatant defiance of mainstream conventions. A Trent Reznor-driven soundtrack will help deliver the youth vote.

BOOTY CALL

[Starring] Jamie FOXX, Tommy DAVIDSON, Vivica A. FOX, Tamala JONES [Director] Jeff POLLACK

Coscreenwriter Takashi Bufford (Set It Off) wrote this “unabashed sex farce” with a calculator by his side, intending the comedy, about two pals whose double date is interrupted by a search for condoms, to be his low-budget directorial debut. But when Columbia bought it and hype ensued over the competing “condom” movies—Warner’s Rescue Me is still awaiting release—the budget ballooned to $8 million and he ceded the director’s chair to the more seasoned Pollack (Above the Rim). Foxx (The Jamie Foxx Show) says he took the project on because of one scene in which he impersonates everyone from Bill Cosby to Jesse Jackson in the act of making love, but he may have some added incentive: Think of the possible merchandising tie-ins. (Feb. 26)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] If this condom movie doesn’t work, none of them will.

BLOOD & WINE

[Starring] Jack NICHOLSON, Michael CAINE, Judy DAVIS, Stephen DORFF, Jennifer LOPEZ
[Director] Bob RAFELSON

Back when Nicholson and Rafelson joined forces for 1970’s landmark Five Easy Pieces, they joked about “doing 10 movies together covering the migration of one character,” says the director. Some joke. Today, having shot seven films with Hollywood’s King Leer, Rafelson sees Blood & Wine as part of an “informal trilogy” that started with Nicholson’s dysfunction-junction roles in Pieces and 1972’s The King of Marvin Gardens. This time, Nicholson plays a Miami wine merchant who spars with his wife and stepson (Davis and Dorff), secretly beds a Cuban nanny (Lopez), and buddies up with Caine’s paunchy, wheezing safecracker to swipe jewels and skip town. Caine describes the mood as “tropical menace.” Thanks to a friendship that survived even their last fiasco, 1992’s Man Trouble, Rafelson and Nicholson worked in a kind of shorthand. “What’s easy about the relationship is that when we are tempestuous with one another,” Rafelson says, “we also know that’s going to get worked out within an hour.” Of course, that friendship didn’t keep the star’s salary from doubling Blood‘s budget to $22 million. True to its title, Blood has plenty of violent patches (Caine’s character boasts one of the goriest smoker’s coughs in movie history), but Caine argues that the Floridian film noir deals with blood ties between people rather than blood-splattered ties on people: “It’s emotionally driven, rather than driven by explosions, stunts, and all the hoopla that we normally see in films.” (Feb. 21)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] A smashing performance could raise Caine’s Hollywood fortunes.

THAT DARN CAT

[Starring] Christina RICCI, Doug E. DOUG, George DZUNDZA
[Director] Bob SPIERS

Is Disney taking a turn for the noir? The studio’s remake of the 1965 family caper comedy about a cat and a kidnapping seems influenced more by Heathers than by Benji. Starring the turn-your-smile-upside-down Ricci (The Addams Family, Casper) in what the actress refers to as “a stereotype of teenage angst,” the film is directed by the man who helmed British television’s comedic celebration of alcohol and drugs, Absolutely Fabulous. “I see the vague connection to Ab Fab,” acknowledges Spiers. “It has an edge and takes a few unusual twists.” If Spiers was supposed to take a more straightforward domesticated path with Cat, he “wasn’t really aware of it until I went to the first preview screening and it was filled with 6- and 9-year-olds. Then I thought, ‘Uh-oh, I think I was supposed to make a family film here.'” (Feb. 14)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] Spiers consequently cut a couple of scenes, but it’s still unclear whether or not children will think Ricci and Spiers’ sophisticated humor is absolutely fabulous.

VEGAS VACATION

[Starring] Chevy CHASE, Beverly D’ANGELO, Randy QUAID
[Director] Stephen KESSLER

The Griswold clan attempt perfect family vacation No. 4. “The kids are 48 and 51,” jokes star and family head Chase, who was originally kicking around his own idea called A Swiss Family Griswold when Warner Bros. exec Bill Gerber suggested Las Vegas. “I said, ‘That’s it!'” recalls Chase. “I thought putting the quintessential American family in the midst of all that gambling and sin would be fun.” High jinks that include Siegfried & Roy’s tigers, the Hoover Dam, and Christie Brinkley ensue as Clark loses the family’s money. Director Kessler says he aspired to recapture the feeling of the 1983 original. Among the highlights, according to Kessler: “Wayne Newton acting brilliantly in sensitive scenes.” (Feb. 14)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] A little luck may be needed to keep up with its predecessors. Its last outing, 1989’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, made a healthy $71.1 million.

MARCH

THE DEVIL’S OWN

[Starring] Harrison FORD, Brad PITT, Treat WILLIAMS, Natascha McELHONE, Margaret COLIN, Ruben BLADES
[Director] Alan J. PAKULA

Somebody got to Pitt, and quick, after the star of The Devil’s Own brutally dissed his own movie in the Feb. 3 issue of Newsweek, calling it an ”irresponsible bit of filmmaking.” Within days, Pitt was trying to clarify himself in a statement, saying that he was referring only to the problems during development and elaborately praising the action movie, in which he stars as an Irish Republican Army soldier given refuge by Ford’s unsuspecting New York City cop. Says a source close to the movie with ties to Pitt, ”They really put pressure on him to back off and say something positive, and he did.”

You want positive, talk to the director. ”I have respect for both of them,” Pakula says of his male leads. ”I couldn’t have asked for anything more out of them on this movie.” But Pakula won’t comment on the film’s budget (which is said to have ballooned from $60 million to $90 million) or the script problems and denies reports that the two male stars clashed on the set. Nor will he address Pitt’s rather harsh complaints.

Of course, Pitt wasn’t the only naysayer. The buzz on The Devil’s Own has been bad from the start, with the New York tabloids chronicling its every false move. Ford reportedly wanted his role beefed up and sexed up, apparently to compete with his Sexiest Man Alive costar. And Pitt said he was unhappy when the original screenplay was ”tossed” and a squad of script doctors (Pakula, Terry George, and Robert Mark Kamen among them) kept churning out revisions long after filming had begun. Pitt, unlike Ford, was required to be on location in both Manhattan and Ireland and had good reason to grouse when the movie went months over schedule, postponing the start of his upcoming Seven Years in Tibet. (Pitt and Ford were even called back for two days of reshoots in early February, but studio execs were tight-lipped as to why.) ”There was tension on that set, no doubt about it,” says the source.

But it sounds as though that tension was broken, especially whenever Pitt’s fiancee, actress Gwyneth Paltrow (Seven, Emma), happened to visit the set. ”He’d just stop everything and light up,” recalls Pakula. (March 26)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] The bedeviled Sony Pictures, now on an upswing thanks to its blockbuster hit Jerry Maguire, needs another ace. Bradmania won’t hurt.

THE SAINT

[Starring] Val KILMER, Elisabeth SHUE, Rade SERBEDZIJA
[Director] Phillip NOYCE

Who knows what evil lurks…no, wait, that’s the Phantom, or is it the Shadow? Anyway, the latest antediluvian action hero to be resurrected for the big screen is Simon Templar, a.k.a. the Saint. For those of you who don’t remember the Leslie Charteris novels, or the flicks of the ’30s and ’40s starring George Sanders (among others), or even the 1960s TV series starring Roger Moore, don’t worry about it — this $68 million potential franchise starter has little to do with any of them. ”We started from scratch,” explains director Noyce (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger). ”We started with the assumption that nobody cares about the series or even knows about it.” The plot, set vaguely in the near future, and stretching from Russia to London, tells the tale of the playboy hero’s conversion from scoundrelly thief to debonair do-gooder — and it sounds like there were parallels behind the scenes.

Kilmer has a reputation for being a terror on the set; last May, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY reported that the actor showed up late for calls, stabbed a lit cigarette into the face of a crew member, and was generally considered to be a man behaving badly while filming The Island of Dr. Moreau. But all reports from the Saint set say that Kilmer couldn’t have conducted himself better–even during the film’s reshoots last month. “He worked seven days a week and made enormous contributions to the film,” notes producer Mace Neufeld. Says Shue (who plays a gorgeous electrochemist who charges Templar’s batteries—and, by the way, discovers the secret formula for cold fusion): “I had heard of his bad reputation, but I just figured he was deemed difficult because he cared about the work—and it turned out that I was right.” Ditto the director: “He was thoroughly professional,” Noyce insists. “If I have one complaint, it’s that he tends to be obsessive about getting things perfect—which is the way all the best actors are.” (March 14)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] Kilmer needs to prove that bolting the Batcave didn’t kill his career. But has he seen Michael Keaton’s recent cinematic efforts?

PRIVATE PARTS

[Starring] Howard STERN, Robin QUIVERS, Mary McCORMACK, Fred NORRIS, Jackie MARTLING
[Director] Betty THOMAS

Talk about typecasting. Stern stars as himself in this semi-satirical biopic based on his hugely popular 1993 autobiography, which recounts his rise from small-time radio schnook to the self-proclaimed “King of All Media.” “I wanted to make a movie more than anything in the world,” says Stern, “but I rejected something like five scripts. Every other week the studio would come to me with a script that was more over-the-top than the last. All of the sudden they’d have Richard Simmons chasing me through my house, babysitting my kids. But I wanted the film to seem real. I didn’t want to make some dumb-ass Pauly Shore-type thing.” According to director Thomas, it was a role Stern was, well, born to play. “He’s a natural,” she says. “I was a little worried that he’d have a hard time acting like a jerk in front of the camera, but he had no trouble whatsoever.” (March 7)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] Stern’s future on the big screen, for one thing. If he can lure a wider audience than his radio fans, we smell a sequel.

LIAR LIAR [Starring] Jim CARREY, Jennifer TILLY, Maura TIERNEY, Amanda DONOHOE
[Director] Tom SHADYAC

At last, a comedy designed to showcase Carrey’s more sensitive, poignant side—the side that doesn’t yodel through his butt cheeks. The concept: Carrey plays a sharky lawyer who keeps disappointing his ex-wife (Tierney) and young son (Justin Cooper) until he gets zapped by a magic spell (his son’s birthday wish) that makes him tell the truth and nothing but the truth for an entire day. “It could have been a one-joke movie, but with Jim we could take it in all sorts of directions,” says Shadyac, who directed Carrey in his star-making Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. “It’s similar in tone to Mrs. Doubtfire. It’s the movie that proves Jim can act in a human dramatic role but still deliver big laughs.” But some things never change: “You never forget you’re on a Jim Carrey movie,” cracks Tilly. “The whole thing revolves around him. There’s no such thing as your close-up, because the camera is always on him—in case he gets an unexpected moment of brilliance.” (March 21)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] After The Cable Guy, Carrey’s $20 million price tag is looking a bit large. Audience response to Liar‘s trailer, however, has been favorable.

SELENA

[Starring] Jennifer LOPEZ, Constance MARIE, Edward James OLMOS
[Director] Gregory NAVA

Selena, the Tejano superstar who was murdered in 1995 by the president of her fan club, can still draw a crowd. When the film’s producers conducted an open call for concert-scene extras in San Antonio, more than 32,000 Selena fans showed up to watch star Jennifer Lopez lip-synch. “I’ll never forget when Jennifer first came out that day dressed like Selena and people just started to cry,” says Nava (El Norte, My Family). “It was a profoundly moving moment.” Over 60,000 extras appear in the movie, which reportedly cost $20 million, and nearly 9,000 women vied for the title role. Also on hand were Selena’s family members, who worked closely with the filmmakers. “It was tough,” says Lopez. “Selena had so recently died and, as happy as we were to be doing a movie with a Latina lead, we couldn’t ever be totally happy.” (March 21)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] If the movie doesn’t sing, there will be a lot of disappointed Selena fans.

CRASH

[Starring] Holly HUNTER, James SPADER, Deborah UNGER, Rosanna ARQUETTE, Elias KOTEAS
[Director] David CRONENBERG

As in the aftermath of an auto wreck, there is now an eerie quiet attending Cronenberg’s not-new film Crash. It was almost a full year ago that this tale of Canadian car-crash fetishists began its own course toward collision. With its morbid melding of carnage and carnality, the movie polarized Cannes last May. Then in the fall—while British politicians were attempting to ban Crash in the U.K.—Fine Line head honcho Ted Turner delayed its scheduled U.S. opening. “I yanked it,” Turner said unapologetically, while Hunter and Cronenberg cried censorship. It’s not hard to see why the NC-17 Crash provoked such outrage. Its characters get off on recreating crashes like the ones that killed James Dean and Jayne Mansfield. “People wait for the sex to be over and the plot to begin, but the sex is the plot,” says Hunter. In the end, though, Turner allowed Crash to shift out of park. And Cronenberg has cooled off as well. The film has already earned $18 million overseas, double its $9 million budget. “It’s so bizarre to have the U.S. be probably the last country in the world to see the movie,” says Cronenberg, who’s saddened by his film’s loss of momentum. But, the director adds, “I think all of that could be assuaged by a good healthy opening.” (March 21)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] If moral outrage outpaces box office receipts, Turner could be seeking vindication.

GENTLEMEN DON’T EAT POETS

[Starring] STING, Alan BATES, Trudie STYLER, Theresa RUSSELL, Steven MACKINTOSH
[Director] John-Paul DAVIDSON

In what is becoming a tradition for famous British couples, Styler produces while husband Sting stars. But with its pitch-black plot involving murder, bisexuality, and cannibalism, Gentlemen is way more extreme than the Elizabeth Hurley-Hugh Grant endeavor Extreme Measures. Based on Patrick McGrath’s 1989 novel The Grotesque, the film stars Sting as a butler named Fledge who serves various family members in their chambers (Bates and Russell star as the master and lady of the house). “Trudie always managed to be busy in the office when Fledge was making love to the other characters,” Sting recalls. Says Styler, who plays a supporting role as well: “As a woman, I didn’t care for it very much. As a producer, I cared for it a lot.” For Sting’s part, watching Styler in action gave him a newfound appreciation for his wife’s abilities. “It was obvious to everyone on the set that I worshiped the ground she walks on,” he says. “I don’t think this caused too many problems, apart from the crew having to step over me once or twice.” (March 7)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] With such flops as Plenty and The Bride in his repertoire, Sting needs both critical accolades and ticket sales if he wants to jump-start his movie career.

CITY OF INDUSTRY

[Starring] Harvey KEITEL, Stephen DORFF, Famke JANSSEN
[Director] John IRVIN

Keitel stars as—hey, what a stretch—a gangster who is drawn into an elaborate jewelry heist. Problem is, one of his partners (Dorff) isn’t keen on sharing the profits, and a cat-and-mouse game through the L.A. underworld ensues. “I wanted to make it suspenseful rather than a bash-’em-up movie,” says Irvin (Widow’s Peak). “It’s more complex than just brute force and firepower.” Janssen (Goldeneye), who plays Keitel’s ally, has a different take on things. “It used to be more of a love story,” she says, “but test [audiences] laughed when Harvey and I kissed, so those scenes are gone. I guess once you get the guys and the guns, nothing else is important.” (March 7)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] If Janssen shines among the guys and guns, she could prove there’s life after Bond.

LOVE JONES

[Starring] Nia LONG, Larenz TATE, Isaiah WASHINGTON, Bill BELLAMY, Lisa Nicole CARSON [Director] Theodore WITCHER Their careers took off with ‘hood movies, but this time Tate (Menace II Society) and Long (Boyz N the Hood) have hung up their guns to hang out in Chicago’s black bohemian scene and fall in love. “Audiences haven’t been exposed to this side of African-American life,” says director Witcher. “It was a hump to get over, getting the studio to believe we’re on the edge of a new cycle.” The film shared the audience award at Sundance, however, which bodes well. Chief among its charms is the elevated mercury between its two stars, though the pair have wildly different takes on the source of their chemistry. Says Tate: “We had this brother-sister relationship.” Says Long: “He’s a great kisser.” (March 14)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] Even after the disappointing Preacher’s Wife, love jones could help turn lights green for more nonviolent movies with black actors.

JUNGLE2JUNGLE

[Starring] Tim ALLEN, Martin SHORT, JoBeth WILLIAMS Lolita DAVIDOVICH, Sam HUNTINGTON
[Director] John PASQUIN The last time Allen (Home Improvement) and director Pasquin got together—for The Santa Clause—they made $145 million. Disney hopes to continue the winning streak by teaming them for this remake of the 1994 French film Little Indian, Big City. The big city in this case is New York, and Allen stars as a Wall Street exec who imports his son, who’s been raised in the jungles of Venezuela. Pasquin says he aged the son from the original “so he would give Tim a harder time.” Speaking of hard times, the production—which was filmed in Venezuela, Connecticut, and New York City—had to reshoot an entire day’s work when an assistant director left a canister of film in a Manhattan cab. (It was never recovered.) Jokes Short, who plays Allen’s corporate partner, “Thankfully, it wasn’t a scene where someone has to cry for 12 takes in a row.” (March 14)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] Nestled between Private Parts and Liar Liar, Jungle could open respectably—as long as no one links it to the widely panned French original.

COMMANDMENTS

[Starring] Aidan QUINN, Courteney COX, Anthony LAPAGLIA
[Director] Daniel TAPLITZ

It’s Seven with a heart! After losing his wife and his job, misanthropic Manhattanite Seth Warner (Quinn) decides to retaliate by systematically breaking each of the Ten Commandments. In the course of adultery, he falls in love with his sister-in-law (Cox). “Seth’s life is just a f—ing mess,” says Quinn. “And any New Yorker can relate to life being a mess. You only have to live here one day.” Cox’s life underwent something of an upheaval itself: She took countless cross-country flights to shoot the film on the East Coast, smack dab in the middle of Friends‘ 1995-96 season (she filmed Scream after Commandments wrapped). Employing understatement, she notes that “it was harder to do this movie than not do it.” Not so understated is the film’s sometimes obvious biblical imagery and larger-than-life minor characters. Explains LaPaglia, who plays Cox’s husband: “You’re talking about the [Bible], you gotta have a whale.” (March 28)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] With Cox’s post-Scream movie career on a roll, she could use another winner. With a change in distributors that pushed back the release, however, Commandments doesn’t seem blessed so far.

APRIL

THAT OLD FEELING

[Starring] Bette MIDLER, Dennis FARINA, Danny NUCCI, Paula MARSHALL, Gail O’GRADY
[Director] Carl REINER

Midler fans who’ve always wanted a sequel to the 1987 hit Outrageous Fortune are finally getting it. Sort of. Screenwriter Leslie Dixon thought better of doing an outright Fortune sequel because Midler and Shelley Long — whose clashes during filming were no secret in the industry — would both have had script approval. ”By the time we got the script where they both liked it,” says Dixon, ”we would’ve had to call it Outrageous Whales of August.”

Five years ago, however, she completed the comedy That Old Feeling with Midler in mind. In this one, Midler is a mercurial movie star, and instead of warring with the uptight Long, she’s warring with her Get Shorty costar Dennis Farina, who plays her very estranged ex-husband. Reunited at their daughter’s wedding, they fight and fall back in love while Midler tries to avoid a persistent member of the paparazzi (Nucci).

Dixon wrote the movie on spec after watching her own divorced parents act friendly to each other, and it immediately met with the star’s approval (”It’s a bedroom farce,” says Midler, ”but it has very high aspirations”). But Midler was locked into an exclusive contract with Disney at the time, so Dixon waited until she was available. ”I couldn’t think of anyone else,” says Dixon. ”When everything finally came together, I was eight and a half months pregnant. It was the most inconvenient time imaginable, so I knew it would happen.” Newcomer Paula Marshall was cast as the young bride, and when cop-turned-actor Farina was cast, Dixon made his character a crime novelist to accommodate his gruff edges.

Despite the delays, That Old Feeling fits nicely into Midler’s current game plan. Since the 1991 flop For the Boys, she has decided to go for straight comedies, and the success of last year’s The First Wives Club proves she may be on to something (she also recently signed on to the Eva Gabor role in the upcoming big-screen version of Green Acres). ”I used to be a big fan of this kind of romantic comedy, but I can’t think of the last time they made a picture like this,” says Midler. ”Everything [today] is so stupid. And the language! They don’t even speak anymore. They grunt.”

On hand to keep Feeling’s repartee witty was director Reiner, who was lured to the project by producer Sid Sheinberg. Since the team had turned out a hit, The Jerk, and a bomb, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, says Reiner, ”I knew we had at least a 50-50 chance of making a good movie.” (April 4)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] Midler needs another hit to maintain her First Wives heat. Otherwise, Green Acres is the place to be.

INVENTING THE ABBOTTS

[Starring] Liv TYLER, Joaquin PHOENIX, Billy CRUDUP, Jennifer CONNELLY, Joanna GOING, Kathy BAKER, Will PATTON
[Director] Pat O’CONNOR

It may take place in 1957, but Leave It to Beaver it’s not. ”You always feel like people didn’t have sex then because they slept in separate beds on the television shows,” says Tyler, who stars as one of the film’s five hormonally active Illinois youngsters. In The Abbotts‘ era, sex is as popular as Elvis, thanks to the many flirtations and couplings among the three privileged Abbott sisters (Tyler, Connelly, and Going) and the poor, horny Holt brothers (To Die For‘s Phoenix and Sleepers’ Crudup).

Given director O’Connor’s proven ability with period romance in Circle of Friends, he had no trouble finding actors clamoring to take part in the film. To beat the competition, Tyler says, “I wore a pink sweater to my audition, with my hair in a ponytail.” Once she was on the set, though, Tyler’s dated frilly dresses were a bit jarring, even for an experienced fashion model. “I’d just never seen anything like them before!” she marvels. “It took me a second to adjust.”

More astounding than the look of the clothes, however, is the look of the actors. Even they are surprised by how much they actually resemble siblings on screen. While seeing the film for the first time, Connelly says, she and Tyler were so struck that “we just grabbed each other.” In fact, the resemblances may be too good. Says O’Connor: “Somebody at one screening complained, ‘I didn’t know who was who.’ And I said, ‘For f—‘s sake, they’re sisters!’ ” (April 4)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] The film could mean bigger and better things for the entire ensemble, but only if audiences primed for Star Wars are willing to embrace a movie about small-town ’50s life.

DOUBLE TEAM

[Starring] Jean-Claude VAN DAMME, Mickey ROURKE, Dennis RODMAN, Natasha LINDINGER
[Director] Tsui HARK

Even though Van Damme checked himself into a Los Angeles clinic for substance abuse after filming was completed, he kept his demons to himself on the set. “All we needed was to get him out of the trailer and shoot,” insists the director. “I was pretty surprised to hear about that.” Not so surprising is the movie’s plot. Except for the extremely noticeable presence of Rodman as a CIA weapons specialist, it sounds not unlike other Van Damme vehicles. This time Van Damme plays a CIA operative who fails to assassinate international terrorist Rourke and is therefore banished to The Colony, a secret prison camp for wayward spies. If it doesn’t work, of course, Rodman and Van Damme can always reteam for The Odd Couple. “I’m 5′ 10″ and he’s 6-something,” says Van Damme. “I kept saying ‘Shoot us from a low angle so we’re both in frame.’ ” (April 4)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] The movie could launch Rodman’s action career, if he can lay off the makeup and dresses for a while.

MURDER AT 1600

[Starring] Wesley SNIPES, Diane LANE, Daniel BENZALI, Alan ALDA [Director] Dwight Little

Hollywood loves Washington murder mysteries —and this one goes to the Heart of Darkness: the White House. Wesley Snipes, who reportedly got $10 million for the role, plays a veteran D.C. homicide detective sent to investigate the murder of a White House employee, and thus must concern himself with less-than-law-abiding Secret Service agents and disappearing documents. Which means, of course, that Snipes gets to kick butt. “He definitely does the whole Wesley thang,” says Lane (My New Gun), who costars as a sharpshooting Secret Service agent. “He’s tough, he’s energetic, he’s a major hepcat.” Rather than rely on Oval Office backdrops already available, the movie’s producers decided to build all-new White House sets. “We looked at everything from blueprints to maps to photos and old TV footage,” says exec producer Stephen Brown, adding that the White House might not be the impenetrable fortress people think it is. Does that mean the movie will be a guide for Lincoln bedroom-crashing lunatics? “I don’t think we gave that much away,” he says. “I certainly wouldn’t know how to get by all those Secret Service people.” (April 11)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] If the film makes it, Snipes will be one step closer to Arnold-dom.

ROMY & MICHELE’S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION

[Starring] Lisa KUDROW, Mira SORVINO, Janeane GAROFALO
[Director] David MIRKIN

Think Clueless at its 10-year high school reunion. Kudrow and Sorvino are slackers, and happy to be so—until the dreaded invitation arrives in the mail and they decide to reinvent themselves as glamour queens, only to be undone by the bitter Heather (Garofalo). For Kudrow, Romy & Michele is familiar territory; she starred in the 1988 play Ladies’ Room on which the movie is based. But not until Friends made her famous was she considered for the film. “They were looking at a lot of people,” she says. Surprisingly, Sorvino signed on as the other half of the ditsy duo after winning her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Mighty Aphrodite—”an unusual choice,” notes producer Laurence Mark, “because often [Oscar winners] want to take on more serious gigs.” Of her third-wheel part, Garofalo says she didn’t feel slighted: “I enjoy that Heather’s character is almost completely unlikable,” she says. “It’s very easy for me to go to anger and cynicism. I never said I was a good actress.” (April 18)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] Kudrow’s friendship with moviegoers. “People are watching really carefully,” she says. “But I think I’m funny.” Judging by audience response to the trailer, she’s not alone.

PARADISE ROAD

[Starring] Glenn CLOSE, Julianna MARGULIES, Jean SIMMONS, Frances MCDORMAND, Pauline COLLINS, Cate BLANCHETT, Jennifer EHLE

[Director] Bruce BERESFORD

The heroes in this reported $16 million World War II ensemble drama are a group of female prisoners defying their Japanese captors by…forming a vocal orchestra? You couldn’t make this stuff up: Beresford based his script on true accounts of female POWs. But will men come to see this? “It’s not devoid of men—there are the Japanese soldiers—and there are some pretty brutal scenes, which the men might enjoy,” jokes Close. “Will she or will she not survive the beating? Will he or will he not cut off her head?” (April 11)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] After a promising turn on 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy, Beresford has been churning out clunkers (Last Dance, Silent Fall, and A Good Man in Africa). He needs Paradise Road to get him back on track.

ADDICTED TO LOVE

[Starring] Matthew BRODERICK, Meg RYAN
[Director] Griffin DUNNE

You have to give Broderick some credit for admitting that Addicted to Love “isn’t a whole lot different from other romantic comedies.” In this one, he plays a naive astronomer who joins forces with a photographer/artist (Ryan) so they can spy on their respective exes and, of course, find true love with each other. What’s likely to give this movie its edge is first-time feature director Dunne, who says he wanted to capture the dark and wacky late-night-in-Manhattan feel of After Hours, the 1985 cult film in which he starred. “This movie has that movie all over it,” Dunne says. “It starts off as a conventional romance, then gets playful, and then gets just plain perverse.” Fortunately, Broderick had no trouble relating to his obsessive character. “I’ve had one fairly obsessive relationship,” he says, “though it never went this far. I do remember sitting on a stoop watching her house, but only for a while. I’d like to say I was in third grade, but I was about 23.” (April)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] After a string of disappointments and a thankless role in The Cable Guy, Broderick needs to remind movie audiences of his underrated comic talents.

‘TIL THERE WAS YOU

[Starring] Jeanne TRIPPLEHORN, Dylan MCDERMOTT, Sarah Jessica PARKER, Jennifer ANISTON [Director] Scott WINANT

Love really does hurt in this $10 million romantic comedy, in which Tripplehorn plays a writer destined to find love with an architect (McDermott). That’s Tripplehorn—not a stunt double—who knocks a waiter to the ground, trips into a stone fountain, and walks headfirst into a metal sculpture (the latter pratfall gave her a whopping bruise, covered by makeup for days afterward). “It was a budget thing,” says director Scott Winant, a TV veteran (thirtysomething, My So-Called Life) making his feature debut. “No money for a stunt coordinator. No money for a stunt double. Jeanne did it all. She was like, ‘Coach, put me in! I can do it!’ I had to argue to stop her from really injuring herself.” (April 25)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] The hard knocks will be worth it if the film helps Tripplehorn move up from window-dressing roles in male-dominated flicks like The Firm and Waterworld.

BREAKDOWN

[Starring] Kurt RUSSELL, Kathleen QUINLAN, J.T. WALSH [Director] Jonathan MOSTOW

Think Frantic meets Deliverance. Or Two for the Road meets Ransom. Or just think of it as a $36 million thriller about a yuppie couple merrily driving across the country—until their car breaks down in the Southwest and the wife gets kidnapped. First-time feature director Mostow, who also cowrote the script, cooked up the concept a few years ago while scouting locations for a cable-TV movie in Arizona. “I remembered what Hitchcock said about there being a certain number of basic human fears—and the fear of being lost in the middle of nowhere was one of the big ones.” (April 11)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] Russell needs a jolt of credibility after Escape From L.A.

ANACONDA

[Starring] Jon VOIGHT, Eric STOLTZ, Ice CUBE, Jennifer LOPEZ [Director] Luis LLOSA

Peruvian director Llosa proved his mettle by working with Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone in 1994’s The Specialist. But that challenge was nothing compared with the star of this film—a giant anaconda that menaces a bunch of Amazon explorers, including documentary filmmaker Lopez, cameraman Ice Cube, anthropologist Stoltz, and villain Voight, all searching for a lost Indian tribe. “I’ve shot several films in the Amazon jungle,” says Llosa. “Once you’re there, you have a sense of terror and fear.” Animatronic snakes were used for some scenes, though the cast also includes plenty of flesh-and-blood specimens. While on location at the Ariau Jungle Hotel, it took three workers to wrestle one 16-footer into submission. “I wasn’t too freaked out,” insists Lopez. (April 18)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] After his turn in Mission: Impossible, Voight could become Hollywood’s new bad guy of choice.

BLISS

[Starring] Sheryl LEE, Craig SHEFFER, Terence STAMP
[Director] Lance YOUNG

Before he gave the film to Triumph, Young turned down five distributors bidding for his movie about an unhappy couple (Sheffer and Lee) who seek out a tantric yogi (Stamp) to guide them through sexual and intimacy problems. “They had no intention of me directing, and they had very big stars in mind,” says Young, a former Warner Bros. production exec whose copiously carnal film is facing an NC-17. “They don’t like what the movie’s about because it doesn’t kill anybody,” sniffs Young, adding that the MPAA has given him no specifics on what it objects to. The sex scenes caused Lee “many sleepless nights,” she says, but she regrets nothing. “The positive thing is that they’re not just sex scenes, they’re emotional scenes. If they were just sex scenes, I wouldn’t have done it. No way.” (April 11)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] If the NC-17 sticks, it will give this already risky film a tantalizing sales hook—but a limited audience.

GROSSE POINTE BLANK

[Starring] John CUSACK, Minnie DRIVER, Dan AYKROYD, Joan CUSACK, Alan ARKIN
[Director] George ARMITAGE

Professional assassin Martin Blank (Cusack) goes back to the affluent Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe for his 10-year high school reunion and—he hopes—his last murder for hire. Between gunshots, the soundtrack to Grosse Pointe surges with a fusillade of pop-rock hits (the Clash, the Specials, the Jam) spun by Blank’s DJ ex-girlfriend (Driver). If the evocative tunes, bloody byplay, and hip dialogue remind you of Quentin Tarantino, don’t tell that to cowriter-coproducer Cusack. “There was a whole hitman genre before Pulp Fiction,” he says. “I don’t think Quentin’s got a monopoly on guys in suits with black ties.” Nevertheless, the filmmakers needed Tarantino’s permission when they decided to obliterate a Pulp Fiction advertising placard during a convenience-store shoot-out. “Bruce Willis’ head gets blown off,” says director Armitage. “But I left Sam [Jackson] standing, ’cause we’re old friends.” Not so accommodating was Cusack’s old friend Courtney Love, who turned down his request to use the Nirvana anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the soundtrack. (April)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] If the film succeeds, Cusack could change his reputation within the industry from hipster to hyphenate.

MAY

THE FIFTH ELEMENT

[Starring] Bruce WILLIS, Gary OLDMAN, Ian HOLM, Milla JOVOVICH
[Director] Luc BESSON

Even after French director Besson (The Professional) cut his 400-page science-fiction script in half, the on-screen result cost $90 million — part of which went for costumes by Jean-Paul Gaultier, Madonna’s bra designer. Playing a New York cabbie, Willis wages a cataclysmic battle with Oldman, who describes his role as ”Hitler meets Jerry Lewis.” And the fifth element? It’s a mysterious, life-giving force beyond the four basic elements. Besson refuses to say more until after the film’s May 7 premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. ”I just want audiences to sit down and go for a ride,” he says.

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] Its visuals promise to be as dazzling as Blade Runner, but Besson’s obsessive secrecy could backfire; opening May 9 in the U.S., Element will have only two weeks to win over moviegoers before facing The Lost World‘s dino stampede.

THE FLOOD

[Starring] Morgan FREEMAN, Christian SLATER, Randy QUAID, Minnie DRIVER
[Director] Mikael SALOMON

It’s small-town Indiana. There’s a heist. There are good guys and bad guys (though don’t be too sure about who’s who). And the water — 5 million gallons of it — is rising. What separates The Flood from your basic disaster picture? ”It’s not like Morgan and I are running around trying to plug up a dam,” says Slater, an armored-car driver who’s the victim of the heist. Adds rookie director Salomon (who got his feet wet as cinematographer on The Abyss): ”The flood is the backdrop for a character-driven thriller.” The Flood‘s producers, who also brought scriptwriter Graham Yost’s Speed and Broken Arrow to the screen, insist this Yost script has always been their favorite but, because of all that water, the most difficult. They constructed an elaborate 680-foot by 250-foot tank (think four football fields), then lowered a replica of Huntingburg, Ind., into it. The result? ”It’s like old-fashioned moviemaking,” says a happy-to-be-dry Slater. ”There aren’t a lot of special effects. It’s all pretty much there — we were in it.” (May 2)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] Premature summer movie money: Paramount hopes to soak audiences early, or as Salomon puts it, ”Before we get run over by a dinosaur.”

VOLCANO

[Starring] Tommy Lee JONES, Anne HECHE, Gaby HOFFMANN, Jacqueline kim, Don CHEADLE, Stanley TUCCI
[Director] Mick JACKSON

Lava is like love — it’s more wonderful the second time around. At least that’s the tune at Twentieth Century Fox. (They had hoped to open this $90 million volcano-in-L.A. epic before Universal’s big eruption flick, Dante’s Peak.) Still, studio suits insist, just because they’ve moved their film back doesn’t mean they’ve blinked. ”Do I wish there weren’t two volcano movies out there?” asks Laura Ziskin, head of Fox 2000, the division behind the film. ”Of course I do. I’m not an idiot. But we’ve got a really good movie here. It’s not just about a volcano, it’s got a social message.” Forget that — the film’s real asset is the tons of molten rock that spew out of a volcano in downtown L.A. ”Our movie has many more special effects,” promises producer Lauren Shuler-Donner. ”Dante’s Peak‘s effects don’t start [well] into the movie.”

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] Besides $90 million? Bragging rights, especially if Dante does not succeed in making a molehill out of this mountain.

FATHER’S DAY

[Starring] Robin WILLIAMS, Billy CRYSTAL, Nastassia KINSKI
[Director] Ivan REITMAN

You’d think it would be a piece of cake to get old friends Williams and Crystal to make their first film together, right? Not exactly. The pairing is said to have required months of hand-wringing by a chorus of high-priced agents (no less than 13 were involved in closing the deal). Not that it will affect the movie, a remake of the 1984 French comedy Les Comperes, about a woman (Nastassia Kinski) who cons two old boyfriends into searching for her runaway son by convincing each that he’s the boy’s father. While getting Williams and Crystal together required grown-up negotiations, having them work together was kids’ stuff. “It was both funny and frustrating,” says director Reitman. “They’d go by the script for the most part but would also want to improvise. So I’d give them ‘one free one.’ Needless to say, that turned into three and four and five free ones.” They’d also laugh at the most inopportune moments. “We’d have just finished a wonderful take and something delicious would happen and Robin and Billy would look into each other’s eyes and just lose it. I was ready to kill them!” (May 9)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] For Williams, a chance at his fourth consecutive crowd-pleaser (following Jumanji, Jack and The Birdcage); for Crystal, a shot at his first box office breakout since City Slickers.

187

[Starring] Samuel L. JACKSON, John HEARD, Kelly ROWAN
[Director] Kevin REYNOLDS

What do you do after making one of the decade’s most over-budgeted films? If you’re Reynolds, still drying out from a $150 million Waterworld drenching, you think small. His latest is a drama about a New York high school teacher who relocates to L.A. after being stabbed (10 times) by a student and finds more terror awaiting him. 187‘s $20 million budget “couldn’t cover the airfare on Waterworld,” says producer Steve McEveety. That’s okay with Reynolds: “I wanted to concentrate on acting and filmmaking rather than worrying about getting a hundred boats in the water.” (May 9)

[WHAT’S AT STAKE] An opportunity for Reynolds to finally put those Fishtar jokes behind him.

***

Written by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, Kristen Baldwin, Steve Daly, Mitch Frank, Jeff Gordinier, David Hochman, Dave Karger, Dana Kennedy, Gregg Kilday, Kate Meyers, Chris Nashawaty, Degen Pener, Erin Richter, Jessica Shaw, Benjamin Svetkey, Caren Weiner, Chris Willman.

Edited by Jess Cagle and Mark Harris.