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'Public Enemies': Why can't more summer movies be like Johnny Depp and Christian Bale's period thriller?

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Universal just rolled out two new TV promos for Public Enemies, director Michael Mann’s period heist picture about legendary Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger, starring Johnny Depp in the title role and Christian Bale as the hot-headed cop on his tail. Watching Depp ignite the screen as the dapper and gleefully anarchic noble savage that was Dillinger makes me giddy as a little girl on Christmas morning. This is the one picture in this summer’s men-with-guns lineup that I truly can’t wait to lay eyes upon. Why? Not for all the usual reasons entertainment journos whine about during the season of things that go boom. Sure, it looks like Universal mercifully decided to throw a bone to moviegoers hungry for intelligent spectacle. Mann has always been dependable that way. And watching two heavyweights like Depp and Bale go nozzle to nozzle in a smart shoot-em-up is undeniably tantalizing enough to send me sprinting to the ticket booth.

But what makes this movie look like such a relief from everything else splashed up on the big screen this summer is that all the footage we’ve seen so far is infused with a kind of joy and mischief that so often gets lost in the extreme end-of-the-world doomsday scenarios screenwriters and studios seem to think they need to ladle onto action movies to make audiences care. Think: Terminator Salvation and Transformers, for starters. I say this approach has officially played itself out. Is it too much to ask for some kinetic mainstream entertainment that doesn’t take itself so freaking seriously? Movies like Bonnie and Clyde and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are just two examples of the kind of light-on-its-feet action I’m talking about. Heck, even the Lethal Weapon movies were fun, funny, and didn’t take everything down the doom-ageddon well. What about you? Are you fed up with paint-by-numbers earnest end-of-the-world plot devices? And are you as psyched as we are for Public Enemies?