The Usual suspects

With 11 remakes and sequels, summer lineup has many familiar faces

May 05, 2006|BY CHRIS KALTENBACH | BY CHRIS KALTENBACH,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Hollywood is mining its past for movie gold this summer, reaching as far back as the 1930s in hopes of bolstering ticket sales after last year's mediocre box-office totals. From May through September, this summer's release schedule is replete with remakes and sequels -- 11 in all -- as filmmakers reimagine everything from a Kryptonian superhero and hipster cops to slackers and the Son of Satan himself.

By summer's end, audience response to this dependence on old favorites should prove that:

A) A good story is a good story, regardless of when or how many times it is told, or

B) It's time to rely less on the tried and true and more on the new and exciting.

The march of the familiar begins today with a franchise that dates to the 1960s. The creators of the 1966 Mission: Impossible TV series would barely recognize what it has become. From a television show based upon the clever espionage games played by Peter Graves and his cohorts, the franchise has morphed into a movie "event" aided by huge budgets and computer-assisted special effects showcasing Tom Cruise's physicality and charisma.

But though the enemy has changed -- Graves' James Phelps typically battled Communists while Cruise's Ethan Hunt is pitted against rogue arms dealers and terrorists -- the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) remains what it was 40 years ago: a group of extraordinary secret agents taking on insurmountable tasks.

The franchise's popularity is another constant. Mission: Impossible, the TV series, ran for seven seasons, while the first two movies, released in 1996 and 2000, have brought in more than $396 million at the U.S. box office.

A far riskier proposition is being undertaken by Warner Bros., which on May 12 launches Poseidon, a $140 million remake of The Poseidon Adventure, the tale of a cruise ship turned upside down on the open seas and the efforts of a ragtag group of passengers to climb up to the bottom. The original film, released in 1972, was one of the earliest big-budget disaster flicks from that impresario of the cataclysmic, producer Irwin Allen, and starred a bevy of previous Oscar winners (Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters, Jack Albertson and Red Buttons).

Poseidon's cast features only one Oscar winner (Richard Dreyfuss), although an accomplished director (Das Boot's Wolfgang Petersen) and plenty of stars -- including Josh Lucas, Kurt Russell, Emmy Rossum and Andre Braugher -- should offset any disparity in the big-name department. Of more pressing concern is how much of the movie's thunder was stolen by last year's tepid TV remake of the 1972 film.

Of course, if audiences yearn to see onscreen heroes, Hollywood would be hard-pressed to find a more compelling bunch than the X-Men. This collection of super-powered mutants dates to the 1960s, but was thoroughly reimagined (and reconstituted) in the 1970s. X-Men: The Last Stand (opening May 26) brings back all the big names from the first two X-Men films, including Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Halle Berry as Storm, Famke Janssen as Jean Grey and Patrick Stewart as Professor X. It also adds a passel of new recruits, mostly young and unheralded actors, and includes Kelsey Grammer as fan favorite The Beast, a charter member of the X-Men in 1963, when the team made its comic-book debut.

While the title suggests this could be the final film in the franchise, don't bet on it -- especially if the film matches the box-office performance of its two predecessors. X-Men (2000) earned $157.3 million, while X2 (2003) grossed $215 million.

Then again, if gross is what viewers are after, they may flock to 20th Century Fox's remake of The Omen (June 6), a relic from Hollywood's mid-'70s infatuation with all things satanic. In the tradition of 1973's The Exorcist, which broke a few box-office records in its day, the original Omen starred Gregory Peck and Lee Remick as the parents of Damien, that sweet-faced little Antichrist. This go-round, it's Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles as the unsuspecting parents. The cast of the remake even includes Mia Farrow, who helped start the whole devil-child phenomenon in 1968 with Rosemary's Baby.

When it comes to American pop-culture heroes, few can trace their origins as far back as 1938, when Superman, the super-powered creation of two Cleveland teenagers, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, first appeared in comic-book form. On screen, the Man of Steel -- sent to Earth by his parents from the doomed planet Krypton -- has been an audience favorite since 1948, when Kirk Alyn became the first actor to don the distinctive red cape. Superman had starred in a successful cartoon series even earlier (1941), his voice provided by future game-show host Bud Collyer.

Since then, George Reeves (TV) and Christopher Reeve (movies) have soared to fame as the planet Krypton's most famous expatriate. On June 30, Brandon Routh officially becomes the newest member of the club with Superman Returns, a retelling of the hero's story that's been in the works for over a decade.

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