As summer's heat closes in, the season's movies open up HOT DAYS COOLS FLICKS

May 29, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

As the poet and critic Fred M. Flintstone has so movingly written in his seminal essay, "Observations on Certain Themes of Anarchism in Mass Culture" (Partisan Review, June, 1992, pp. 567-789), "Yabba-dabba-doo."

That is to say: It's summer! Lighten up! Have some fun! The movies ahead are big, stupid, violent, loud, possibly two or three of them funny, and one or two of them actually good. Here's a preview of what's headed this way, following on the release of "Beverly Hills Cop III" and "The Flintstones" earlier this week.

On Friday, the action begins with Woody Harrelson in the first of two summer movies, "The Cowboy Way," in which he and cowpoke buddy Kiefer Sutherland mosey over to the East 40, the East 40 being the isle of Manhattan. It's a comedy-drama with horses on streets.

That same day Penny Marshall returns to the screen with "Renaissance Man," in which motivational expert Danny DeVito is charged with lifting the morale and IQs of an extremely dumb basic training platoon. Drill instructor Gregory Hines isn't happy about the dumpy civilian in Hawaiian shirts pitching in.

Then there's "Endless Summer II: The Journey Continues," which must set some sort of record for the biggest time period between original and sequel. Bruce Brown's first global surf-bum movie came out in 1966, 28 years ago. It's more of the same: two handsome L.A. dudes searching the world for the perfect wave. The original surfers weren't invited back, as they're now in their 50s!

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On June 10, the two big openers are "City Slickers 2: The Legend of Curly's Gold," in which Billy Crystal and Daniel Stern saddle up again to find their inner men, plus a lot of dough and Jack Palance's twin brother.

"Speed" also opens, starring Keanu Reeves as an LAPD SWAT guy who's matched against terrorist Dennis Hopper. Hopper has rigged an L.A. bus with a bomb that will explode if the bus goes below 50 miles per hour in L.A. rush hour traffic. The movie's four minutes long. No, it's not, but it should be.

The small, delightful "Widow's Peak," starring Mia Farrow, will open in this market that day, too.

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Your favorite cute little boy appears June 17, and I'm not referring to Macaulay Culkin, who opens on that day with Ted Danson in "Getting Even With Dad." No, instead I refer to Jack Nicholson, smooching up Michelle Pfeiffer with a bad case of hairy palms in "Wolf." This one has a curious reputation; it was moved back from the spring because it was supposed to be so good, but rumors persist of a disastrous screening.

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The summer's one guaranteed smash arrives June 24 (after opening in some bigger markets on the 15th) -- the Disney animated feature "The Lion King." A sequence showing up as a trailer with other Disney films looks terrific.

That same day, one of the more problematical big films opens -- "Wyatt Earp," with Kevin Costner in the title role and Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday. This comes just a couple of months after Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer strapped on the guns for the same story in "Tombstone." The shootout at the O.K. Corral must be the most re-created single minute of violence in American history, and this time Lawrence Kasdan is directing. But why does it have to be three hours long?

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On June 29, America's favorite gal, who almost single-handedly dragged the dreary "The Pelican Brief" over the magic $100-million mark, shows up as a feisty newspaper reporter in Disney's "I Love Trouble." I speak, of course, of Julia Roberts, who is matched against Nick Nolte in this romantic comedy.

"Little Big League" also opens that day, with Luke Edwards as a 12-year-old who inherits the Minnesota Twins. Jason Robards is the token grown-up.

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Who knows what evil lurks in the early part of July? The Shadow does, and he hopes to profit from it July 1. The old radio series has made it to the big screen with Alec Baldwin as Lamont Cranston, socialite and crime-fighter.

Other crimes are fought on that day, notably by Jeff Bridges, attempting to stop Tommy Lee Jones from a) blowing up Boston, and b) stealing yet another movie. Bridges is some sort of police anti-bomb guy, Jones is a nemesis from the past, and the movie is "Blown Away."

The other big opening that day is slightly less incendiary: It's the John Hughes production of "Baby's Day Out," with Joe Mantegna, about a missing baby who wanders innocently through the inferno of city life.

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On Wednesday, July 6, Tom Hanks appears as "Forrest Gump," in which Hanks is a low-IQ kind of guy who gets what he wants out of life by just plugging onward. It's reminded some of the old Peter Sellers classic, "Being There." The buzz is very good on it.

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July 8 features "North," with Elijah Wood as a 12-year-old who divorces his yuppie parents, Bruce Willis and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and sets out to find new and better ones, directed by Rob Reiner.

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