It's summertime at the movies, and Hollywood has spared no expense in dreaming up ways to usher characters into The Great Beyond.
Already you've seen death by lava and death by dinosaur. Coming soon to your neighborhood theater is death by cruise ship, death by ocean liner, death by airplane, death by aliens, death by insect, death by icicle and death by kiss. Naturally, there also will be a full slate of the more ho-hum leave-takings by gunfire, bomb and knife blade.
It may be September before anyone on the big screen dies from natural causes.
All this death costs money. Plenty of it. The summer's 14 blockbusters -- 14! -- represent an investment of well over $1 billion, easily the most ever spent during the summer season. Is the market really big enough for all of them to recoup? Highly unlikely. The last deaths of the summer may be those of some movie careers.
Why death? Hollywood figures that what everyone wants during the summer is big, escapist fare. And there's nothing more escapist than death.
But for those whose intellect doesn't disappear during the hot weather, the summer movie list holds the prospect of some satisfactions brought to you by such folks as Peter Fonda, Pete Postlethwaite and Japanese director Masayuki Suo. Love and comedy also manage to dodge the explosions and intergalactic chases.
Still, a word to the movie-going wise. Keep your heads down this summer. It's going to be dangerous out there.
Here's what's coming (with the usual caveat: Release dates change as quicklyas the fortunes of an Oriole closer):
"Trial and Error": In the first of a batch of summer buddy movies, lawyer Jeff Daniels overdoes it at a bachelor party. He's forced to turn to his witless actor pal Michael Richards (Kramer on "Seinfeld") to fill in for him in court. Directed by Jonathan Lynn, whose "My Cousin Vinny" showed a flair for courtroom farce.
"Gone Fishin' ": Danny Glover and Joe Pesci play a pair of accident-prone idiots who head off for a fishing trip and end up in a jewel heist. It's a bad sign when the trailer for a comedy doesn't produce a single laugh.
" 'Til There Was You": A much-delayed romantic comedy (the extra time didn't help) starring Jeanne Tripplehorn and Dylan McDermott as strangers who are meant for each other. Will they
end up together? What do you think?
"Con Air": This testosterone-engorged $75 million thriller sports an unusually fine cast. Nicolas Cage, revealing new musculature, stars as a parolee who hitches a ride home to his wife and child on an air transport that is carrying the planet's most repellent criminals. John Malkovitch is the villain (surprise!) who is trying to hijack the plane. John Cusack plays a U.S. marshal on the ground who, with Cage's assistance, must stop him.
"Buddy": Rene Russo portrays Gertrude Lintz, a real-life eccentric New York socialite who in the '20s raised an 800-pound gorilla as her son to protest conditions at the zoo. They probably can get any table they want at Chuck E. Cheese.
"Love! Valour! Compassion!": Jason Alexander, homophobic George on "Seinfeld," stars in this screen adaptation of Terrence McNally's award-winning comedy. A group of gay friends spends three summer holiday weekends in a country house sorting through issues of love, friendship and mortality. What does that leave for winter holiday weekends?
"Brassed Off": With explosions resounding from screens all summer, this movie delivers a welcome alternative: the jolly sounds of a brass band. An inventive variation on "Rocky," this drama has a forthrightly pro-unionist slant and an exceptional cast. Pete Postlethwaite stars as the leader of a brass band in a grimy British town whose coal mine is threatened with closure by Margaret Thatcher's government. Dedicated Tories will want to skip this one.
"Speed 2: Cruise Control": With Sandra Bullock aboard, even a La-Z-Boy would become a death trap. Bullock and new boyfriend Jason Patric (Keanu Reeves took a powder on this trip) head for a Caribbean vacation when their cruise ship is commandeered by Willem Dafoe, ship designer and jewel thief (it's good to show versatility on the resume). At a reported cost of $140 million, this sequel is directed by "Twister's" Jan De Bont.
"Love and Other Catastrophes": Directed by 25-year-old Emma-Kate Croghan, this screwball comedy follows the romantic high jinks of five Australian college students.
"Batman & Robin": Another Batman movie, another Batman. Does it really matter? Probably not when you've got Arnold Schwarzenegger as the icicle-firing Mr. Freeze, Uma Thurman as lethal kisser Poison Ivy, Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl and (is this overkill, or what?) Elle McPherson as Batman's love interest. For the record, "ER's" George Clooney dons the black cowl this time around, and Chris O'Donnell returns as sidekick Robin. After salaries, how much is left of the reported $110 million budget? Directed by Joel Schumacher, who did the last one, "Batman Forever."