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Spring Movie Preview: February

Sphere, The Wedding Singer, and more

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Sphere
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson, Queen Latifah, Peter Coyote, Lieve Schreiber
Directed by Barry Levinson

It’s Hollywood’s best recipe for trouble: Add water.

Just ask Stone, who spent a four-month shoot last spring and summer perpetually soggy as a biochemist who’s called in (along with Hoffman, playing a psychologist, and Jackson, a nerdy mathematician) to investigate the mysterious titular alien vessel on the ocean’s floor. “Every time you go down underwater,” she says, “the first 10 minutes your body’s going ‘Oh, no, no, there’s something very wrong with this picture.’ No matter how calm you may be intellectually, your cells are screaming ‘Why am I down here?”‘

Levinson must have asked himself the same question as he plunged into adapting Michael Crichton’s 1987 novel. Things went smoothly enough as Stephen Hauser, Levinson’s former assistant-cum-script reader, hammered out a screenplay. “I took a crack because I loved the book,” says the novice. “Next thing I knew, Barry said, ‘Okay, go write it.”‘

Paul Attanasio (Donnie Brasco) did “some work,” says Hauser, with considerable further revision by Levinson. But in the late fall of 1996, studio lifeguards at Warner Bros. abruptly ordered everybody out of the tank just before filming was to begin, demanding that a budget swelling toward $100 million be reined in.

With the figure reduced to $75 million, shooting began last March in vast hangars at a former naval base in Northern California. Of course with Hoffman around, this wasn’t exactly a lockstep company. “Dustin gives you tips between shots,” says Jackson. “Now and then I’d try one, and Barry would go, ‘You know, Sam, I kind of like the way you were doing the scene before.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, Dustin told me to do it.’ And Dustin would come back, ‘Hey — you ratted me out!”‘

Other loose lips led to a leak. According to trade reports, the movie’s evidently cryptic ending hadn’t played all that well with test-screen audiences. Levinson called the principals back in mid-January to film a slightly expanded finale on a new set. “Movies now are a trapeze without a net,” says Hoffman, defending the tinkering. “If you don’t get it right the first time, there are dire consequences. We did lots of reshoots on Rain Man and it was not the vicious [media] atmosphere you have today.” (Feb. 13)
UPSIDE An impressive cast. DOWNSIDE Warner had better silence that bad buzz — and fast.

The Wedding Singer
Starring Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Allen Covert, Alexis Arquette, Angela Featherstone, Billy Idol
Directed by Frank Coraci
When a movie’s got cult status before it even hits the screens, you know something’s working. And these days, the trailer for oio — with its Michael Jackson glove joke and hip-hoppin’ granny rapper (the venerable Ellen Albertini Dow) — is usually getting bigger laughs than the feature-length movies that follow.

There’s plenty to laugh about. It’s the ’80s, after all, a time when geniuses in Members Only jackets went around solving Rubik’s Cubes and the nation was desperately trying to cope with New Coke.

As befits this homage to the decade of Devo, Saturday Night Live alum Adam Sandler dons his best short-on-the-sides, long-in-the-back haircut to play a struggling suburban wedding singer named Robbie, who gets left at the altar by his bride-to-be (Featherstone). Luckily, a cute-as-Christie Brinkley waitress (Barrymore) helps turn Robbie’s misfortune around. Soon enough, things are as sweet as your average Journey tune.

“The ’80s always get a bad rap,” says Covert (Airheads), part of a Sandler posse formed at New York University that also includes hall mates director Coraci, screenwriter Tim Herlihy, and the film’s editor, Tom Lewis. “But it was just like any other time. Of course, I guess there’s really no excuse for parachute pants or sleeveless T-shirts or the moonwalk.”