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A summer of bad movies means lower standards

Lisa Schwarzbaum challenges you to name a worthy movie since ”Chicken Run”

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A summer of bad movies means lower standards

Earlier in the season, a colleague announced that this was the worst summer movie season in memory. Oh no, I said, all Pollyanna, surely not. There’s ”Gladiator.” There’s ”Chicken Run.” There’s….

Okay, now I think he’s right. Pic for pic, week by week, those who make movies and we who buy tickets to them have so lowered our standards — and our expectations — that ”Space Cowboys” and ”Me Myself & Irene” linger in the memory as works of high artistry, at least compared with ”Hollow Man” and ”Big Momma’s House.” It’s easy to dismiss the worst of the lot — ”Gone in 60 Seconds,” ”Bless the Child,” ”Autumn in New York,” ”The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.” It’s even easy to excuse (or, if you prefer, squat down with) rude comedies like ”Scary Movie” or ”Nutty Professor II: The Klumps,” which do exactly what we expect them to do: Make farting noises.

No, I’m not off on another jag about creeping raunch and receding civility. I’m not even suggesting that Jerry Bruckheimer do anything different, since obviously he’s pleased with how well his brand of beef jerky sells. What dismays me most about this summer’s releases is how anemic and underdeveloped the supposed redblooded dramas and thrillers have been. Hollywood can put a man on the moon — or generate a 200 foot wave that devours a commercial fishing boat in ”The Perfect Storm” — but it can’t (or won’t) let us know who the men on that boat are. Special effects whizzes can strip a guy layer by layer until he vanishes, but the makers of ”The Hollow Man” can’t come up with a more exciting or interesting or thoughtful use of that invisibility than mauling women.

Just as visual razzmatazz is meant to distract us from the claustrophobic emptiness of ”The Cell,” so simplified, diagrammatic stories and characters are meant to hold our attention in the heat, during lazy vacation months, when kids with disposable income are out of school. And yet, as the invigorating success of last summer’s ”The Sixth Sense” and ”The Blair Witch Project” proved, movie lovers really do respond to complexity and subtlety and character novelty. Even in stuporous August. Really, we do.

Which brings me back to ”Chicken Run,” the best movie of the summer, a level of achievement to which I hope Hollywood will aspire in the final ”Oscar quality” quarter of the year. When clay animals perform with more subtlety than Piper Perabo in ”Coyote Ugly” or Keanu Reeves in ”The Replacements,” when animated chickens speak more affectingly than Harrison Ford in ”What Lies Beneath” or Mel Gibson in ”The Patriot,” it’s time to step back. Get a grip. And, perhaps, read a book. Any ”Harry Potter” volume will do, if you want real respect and intelligence from your entertainment.