Season trends: movies by black directors and a lack of police flicks

ON THE SCREEN: A SUMMER OF LOVE AND LAUGHTER

May 26, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

He's tall, he's strong, he's wearing green tights and he's frightening. Can it be the Jolly Green Giant?

Nope, not sanctimonious enough. It's Dances With Success himself, Kevin Costner, whose "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves" is held to be the one with all the arrows in its quiver for summer. Only Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Terminator 2: Judgement Day," with a body count of three billion (the world ends) and budget of $90 million, is believed to have much of a chance to stop the Robin-meister.

But beneath the big boys, there are other interesting textures for this year's summer movie crop, which began emerging this weekend. One is a distinct lack of cop movies and other shoot-em-ups, though Arnold's gun-o-rama may take up the slack all by itself. It looks to be a summer of romance and chuckles, with love stories and comedies filling up the docket. The other subplot is the beautifulness of black as a whole slew of young African-American directors -- Topper Crew, Matty Rich and John Singleton -- get a shot at the big time.

Here's a look at the movies of summer, with the usual proviso that things may change suddenly.

Next weekend, "Soapdish" opens, a presumably bitchy, wisecracking backstage look at soap opera production, from the same Robert Harling who wrote the bitchy, wisecracking "Steel Magnolias." Sally Field, the wrong Kevin (Kline, in this case) and Whoopi Goldberg are among the stars. Also opening is "Ambition," written by and starring Lou Diamond Phillips as a writer who becomes obsessed with his subject, a serial killer.

On June 7, the big-ticket item is a cowboy comedy called "City Slickers," with Billy Crystal, Bruno Kirby and Daniel Stern as suburban New Jersey guys who sign up for a "vacation" cattle drive in the far west and get the trip of their lives. Then there's Spike Lee's controversial "Jungle Fever," a chronicle of the pains of an interracial love affair with Wesley Snipes and Annabella Sciorra. Also, Christina Applegate of "Married . . . With Children" makes her movie debut in a comedy with the promising title "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead."

On June 14, the right Kevin (Costner) arrives, as directed by the wrong Kevin (Reynolds) in "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves." Great trailer, and Reynolds is a supple, athletic director, as he proved in "The Beast." But reportedly he and the right Kevin did not get on well on the set, even though they were old hunting buddies, and reports from preview audiences are mixed. Then there's Morgan Freeman as Robin's Arab sidekick exactly as we have just finished fighting a war against Arabs and are presumably pretty sick of them. So this one might not be the sure thing everybody's betting on.

Three films open on June 21. The biggest is probably "Dying Young," already picked by some as the surprise No. 1 of the season (to beat out Mr. Hood). The ever-wondrous Julia Roberts plays a working-class companion to a rich boy dying of cancer; they fall in love; he tries to find -- I'm so broken up I can hardly write -- someone new for her. Joel Schumacher, who directed Roberts in "Flatliners," runs the show.

Also scheduled is "The Rocketeer," originally Disney's big-ticket item for the summer but now being retooled, imagewise, into a kind of kid's thriller. It's about a racing pilot who discovers a rocket pack in the year 1938 and is pursued by Nazis. Bill Campbell and Jennifer Connelly star; Joe Johnston, who directed "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids," helms. And finally, there's Topper Crew's "Talkin' Dirty After Dark," about young comedians at a comedy club in L.A.

A week later, June 28, "Naked Gun 2 1/2 : The Smell of Fear" arrives, and here's hoping it's one half as funny as its predecessor, which would make it the funniest movie of the summer. Leslie Nielsen, the faded '70s authoritarian hack, returns to his newfound stardom parodying the characters he played for real back them; he's Detective Frank Drebbin, moron first class. That day also, "Straight Out of Brooklyn" opens. Matty Rich tells a troubling story of angst and tragedy in the projects of Brooklyn; the film won a special award at the Sundance Film Festival.

On July 3, the other Big One arrives. Called the most expensive movie ever made, with a budget that approached $90 million, it's "Terminator 2: Judgement Day." Possibly the money was inflated by paying Arnold Schwarzenegger twice, since he plays two roles, a bad Terminator and a good Terminator. Linda Hamilton returns and so does writer-director James Cameron, who started the whole thing (and his own career) back in 1987 for a mere $8 million.

The other opener on that terminatin' weekend is a sequel to "Problem Child," which merely adds the "II" to the title. John Ritter, Jack Warden and Michael Oliver return. Why? Why ask why?

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