Watch the studios' Movie By Numbers approach in this summer of sequels: Charlie's Angels 2, Dumb And Dumber 1 (it's a prequel), 2 Fast 2 Furious, Matrix 2, Terminator 3, Bad Boys 2, American Pie 3, Lara Croft 2, Legally Blonde 2, Spy Kids 3. It feels like the multiplex is trying once again to reconfigure itself as an echo-chamber. In the meantime, here are a few movies that aren't copies of ealier successes.
Whale of a story
Whale Rider has nothing to do with feel-good family fluff like Free Willy. Instead, it tells a tale rooted in New Zealand lore and gives it a contemporary twist. Pai, 11-year-old daughter of the head of her Whangora tribe, can never become leader; only the first-born male can become chief, thanks to the tribe's oldest legend about a man who led his people to New Zealand riding on the back of a whale. Buzz for this film by upstart Nici Caro is huge. Opens June 13.
Christina Ricci plays annoying New Yorker writer Elizabeth Wurtzel in Prozac Nation. Wurtzel's autobiographical book forms the basis of this movie that has now been sitting on the shelf for more than two years. (Ricci has been in six pictures since Prozac Nation wrapped shooting in mid-2000.) On the other hand, I'm willing to cut some slack for a movie with Ricci, Jessica Lange and Anne Heche under the direction of Erik Skjoldbjaerg, the guy who made the original Insomnia. Look for a June 6 opening.
Though it sounds like it, 28 Days Later is not the sequel to the Sandra Bullock substance abuse picture but the latest from Danny Boyle, the creator of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. It's a low-budget horror picture about a London populated by corpses and zombies after animal rights activists release a deadly virus. Boyle says it was inspired by George Romero's classic Dawn Of The Dead, but it also sounds like the prequel to 12 Monkeys. Or the sequel, depending on how you view the "now" of the Terry Gilliam film. See for yourself when it opens June 27.
Jet Lag stars Jean Reno and Juliette Binoche as a badly matched couple. He's a chef turned entrepreneur, she's a beautician wearing too much makeup, and they're trapped in De Gaulle Airport in Paris. (There are worse airports to be trapped in.) The principals give the film a lot of charm: Binoche finally appears without makeup and turns out to look just like Juliette Binoche, and tough guy Reno (Ronin) plays the sort of harried bourgeois role usually handed to Daniel Auteuil. It's set to open June 13.
A League of their own
The League Of Extraordinary Gentleman is becoming legendary in the production nightmare sense (which is, of course, not the good way to become legendary) for its budget overruns, rewrites and onscreen hissy fits between director Stephen Norrington and star Sean Connery. Connery plays Allan Quatermain in this adaptation of Alan Moore's epic graphic novel about 19th-century superheroes who band together: the Invisible Man, Dr. Jeckyll, Captain Nemo. It will either be terrific or suck without relief. It's due June 6.
Ridley Scott's Matchstick Men stars Nicolas Cage as an obsessive-compulsive con man who's being pushed into a bigger swindle by his never-before-seen daughter (Alison Lohman) and his old partner (Sam Rockwell). Now that Cage has decided to be a real actor again, it's a picture with a lot of potential. Then again, it could give him the chance to be very twitchily annoying. Find out August 8.
From Sundance via Cannes comes Shari Springer Berman's American Splendor, an adaptation of Harvey Pekar's billiously autobiographical comic books. Pekar, who doesn't draw but commissions others to illustrate his stories, could make a two-hour wait at the DMV into the stuff of epic crankiness. Paul Giamatti (Duets) is dream casting, though he looks nothing like Pekar, who used to turn up on Letterman occasionally till he started making rude noises about GE. This one opens August 15. movies Now critics' picks