Summer is the season of high expectations and profound disappointments. That suntan looks more like sunburn, your beer stays ice-cold till the moment it's opened, and fat guys are the only ones hanging by the pool in bikini briefs. So it goes with summer movies: Sequels to beloved faves have all the flavor of week-old popcorn, blockbusters make pennies on their many dollars, and somewhere there's Adam Sandler, pouring sour lemonade when you were craving something more refreshing. Maybe there's more hope this year, if only because last summer was such a bummer; Monster-in-Law, Stealth, or Dukes of Hazzard, anyone? Thought not.
There is certainly more promise to the 2006 lineup. Film freaks and fanboys find it hard not to get a little worked up over the returns of Superman, Crockett and Tubbs, Jack Sparrow, and Dante and Randal (well . . .). A Prairie Home Companion, with its all-star cast and NPR roots, promises to be this year's Cinderella Man: a great movie nobody sees, because the crowds will be too busy huffing Freon with Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, and Vince Vaughn again. Much of what you'll find below feels like yesterday's movies reheated -- like someone went to Blockbuster and cut-and-pasted everything on the comedy shelf. But they'll all need a prayer to hold their own against The Da Vinci Code. Here's $20 right now that says only the Pope won't see it. Though even he may get around to it, once he's checked out Snakes on a Plane.
The following previews were written by Luke Y. Thompson, Jordan Harper, Melissa Levine, and Robert Wilonsky.
Opening June 2
The Break-up (Universal)
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Aniston, and Jon Favreau
Directed by: Peyton Reed (Bring It On )
Written by: Jeremy Garelick, Jay Lavender, and Vince Vaughn
What it's about: Vaughn and Aniston play a couple on the outs, neither of whom wants to abandon the house they share. So they take turns pissing each other off; it's a bit like The War of the Roses, only nobody dies. Far as we know.
Why you should see it: At their best, Vaughn and Aniston have the whole comedy thing down pat.
Why you should not: Test audiences absolutely despised the ending, so a new, happier one was recently reshot.
The Omen (Fox)
Starring: Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, and a freaky evil kid that isn't Dakota Fanning for once
Directed by: John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines)
Written by: Dan McDermott
What it's about: A prominent ambassador (Schreiber) adopts a little boy who turns out to be the son of Satan. They've made this movie a bunch of times already, but June 6 will be 6-6-06, which seems reason enough for another half-baked remake.
Why you should see it: The 1976 Richard Donner movie didn't exactly cry out for a do-over, but at least this one has a high standard to aim for.
Why you should not: Compelling remakes of '70s horror movies come around about, oh, never.
Starring: The voices of Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, and Paul Newman
Written and directed by: John Lasseter (Toy Story, A Bug's Life)
What it's about: Wilson plays hotshot racer Lightning McQueen, who gets stuck in podunk Radiator Springs, where antics and puns ensue, and, shucks, he just might learn a little something about life.
Why you should see it: This is Pixar, people. Their mixture of eye-popping animation, anthropomorphic characters, and celebrity voices haven't yielded a single dud.
Why you should not: Something in the trailers suggests this might be the movie where the Pixar formula goes astray. After the talking toys, fish, monsters, and insects, cars just seem a little pedestrian.
A Prairie Home Companion
Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, and Garrison Keillor
Directed by: Robert Altman
Written by: Garrison Keillor
What it's about: Set behind the scenes of Keillor's beloved National Public Radio show, the movie chronicles a fictional finale in which the St. Paul station that airs the show has been sold to a Texas conglomerate.
Why you should see it: It is a great movie -- a two-hour good-time grin with some surprising moments of heartbreak.
Why you should not: Fact is, even if you don't love Keillor's show or Altman's movies, this sucker packs some profound magic. Perhaps that's not your thing either?
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
Starring: Lucas Black (Jarhead), Bow Wow, and Zachary Ty Bryan
Directed by: Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow)
Written by: Alfredo Botello, Chris Morgan (Cellular), and Kario Salem (The Score)
What it's about: Brightly colored cars in illegal street races . . . this time in Japan. The bad news is that efforts to bring back Vin Diesel fell through. The good news is that Paul Walker's gone too.
Why you should see it: Better Luck Tomorrow showed that Justin Lin had the chops to direct an edgy youth movie . . .
Why you should not: . . . but Annapolis proved that he's capable of much worse.
Nacho Libre (Paramount)
Starring: Jack Black and Efren Ramirez
Directed by: Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite)
Written by: Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess, and Mike White
What it's about: Black (Nacho) plays a Mexican cook who stuffs his face into a wrestler's mask to save his financially strapped orphanage.
Why you should see it: Mike White wrote the best part Jack Black's ever been given, as Dewey Finn in School of Rock.
Why you should not: Because Napoleon Dynamite was a great four-minute movie that went on just a little too long.
Starring: Adam Sandler, Christopher Walken, and David Hasselhoff
Directed by: Frank Coraci (The Waterboy)
Written by: Jack Giarraputo, Tim Herlihy (almost every Sandler movie to date), Steve Koren & Mark O'Keefe (Bruce Almighty), and Sandler
What it's about: Sandler obtains a magic universal remote control that can control the universe! Pausing, rewinding, and slow-motion-replaying the world around him is a lot of fun . . . until the remote gets stuck in fast-forward.
Why you should see it: Whatever you may think of Sandler, a movie that brings Walken and Hasselhoff together cannot be all bad.
Why you should not: Seems like a good premise, but so did The Benchwarmers at one point.
The Devil Wears Prada (Fox)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, and Adrien Grenier
Directed by: David Frankel (Entourage, Sex and the City)
Written by: Aline Brosh McKenna (Laws of Attraction) and Don Roos (The Opposite of Sex), based on the novel by Lauren Weisberger
What it's about: Big-screen adaptation of Weisberger's thinly disguised "fiction" book about working as assistant to Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour (Streep).
Why you should see it: Streep rarely chooses unredeemable projects.
Why you should not: Do we care how hard it is to work for a fashion magazine?
Superman Returns (Warner Bros.)
Starring: Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth, and Kevin Spacey
Directed by: Bryan Singer ( X-Men, X-2)
Written by: Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris
What it's about: Set five years after Superman II, more or less, Superman returns from self-imposed exile to find Lois Lane with a kid and Lex Luthor out of prison, with yet another plan for world domination.
Why you should see it: Singer made the X-Men movies into something accessible to mainstream audiences without sacrificing its comic-book roots; he made superheroes human.
Why you should not: Look, it can't be any worse than Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (Buena Vista)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, and Keira Knightley
Directed by: Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl)
Written by: Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio (Shrek), based on the Disneyland ride
What it's about: Bill Nighy joins the fun as supernatural part-man/part-octopus villain Davey Jones, out to collect the soul of Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) just in time to ruin the marriage plans of Will (Bloom) and Elizabeth (Knightley).
Why you should see it: Depp's Jack Sparrow is one of the most entertaining characters in cinematic history.
Why you should not: Bloom's still a stiff. And Chow Yun-Fat is in part three, not this one.
You, Me and Dupree (Universal)
Starring: Matt Dillon, Owen Wilson, Kate Hudson, and Michael Douglas
Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo (Welcome to Collinwood)
Written by: Mike LeSieur
What it's about: Wilson's the best man in Dillon and Hudson's wedding, and when he loses his job after traveling to Hawaii for the wedding, they let him stay in their house.
Why you should see it: The Russos have estimable TV credits, including stints on Arrested Development and FX's woefully unappreciated Lucky.
Why you should not: There hasn't been a lovable Owen Wilson movie since . . . since . . . Bottle Rocket? That can't be right.
Clerks II (MGM)
Starring: Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, and Rosario Dawson
Written and directed by: Kevin Smith (Clerks)
What it's about: Dante (O'Halloran) and Randal (Anderson) are still slacking away their lives, except their twenties have turned into their thirties, and both work at fast-food joint Mooby's. In other words, this is what Kevin Smith does when his attempt at maturity (Jersey Girl) tanks, and he's left going back to the well. Again. And again.
Why you should see it: Because it's just like Clerks. With a Jason Lee cameo.
Why you should not: It really is just like Clerks.
Super Ex-Girlfriend (Fox)
Starring: Uma Thurman, Luke Wilson, and Anna Faris
Directed by: Ivan Reitman ( Old School)
Written by: Don Payne (The Simpsons)
What it's about: Wilson plays a normal dude who dumps the super-needy superhottie G-Girl (Thurman), who proves that hell hath no fury like a superwoman scorned. In other words, what if Lois Lane broke up with Superman, and he didn't take it well? At all.
Why you should see it: Ivan Reitman directed Ghostbusters, Stripes, and Meatballs.
Why you should not: Ivan Reitman directed Six Days Seven Nights, Father's Day, and Evolution.
Starring: Kevin James, Courteney Cox Arquette, and Danny Glover
Written and directed by: Steve Oedekerk (Kung Pow: Enter the Fist)
What it's about: The owner of a farm leaves his animals to go udderly (that's all mine, baby) nuts when he leaves the place under their control.
Why you should see it: You have to assume nobody saw this the first time, when it was called Home on the Range.
Why you should not: The only people who haven't tired of talking-animal animated movies haven't been born yet.
Miami Vice (Universal)
Starring: Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, and Gong Li
Written and directed by: Michael Mann (Ali, The Insider )
What it's about: Gee, lessee. Crockett and Tubbs. Drug dealers. Speed boats. Guns. Flashy suits. Bad accents. Expensive cars. Hot chicks. That about covers it.
Why you should see it: See above.
Why you should not: See above. And no Jan Hammer theme song. Rip. Off.
The Ant Bully (Warner Bros.)
Starring: The voices of Zach Tyler, Julia Roberts, Paul Giamatti, and Nicolas Cage
Written and directed by: John A. Davis (Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius), based on the novel by John Nickel
What it's about: When a little boy (Tyler) takes out his frustrations on the ant hills in his yard, the bugs fight back.
Why you should see it: If you ignore the creepy undertones (to ants, a stomping kid isn't a bully, he's Osama bin Laden), the story's got promise; Cage and Giamatti are A-list voice talent.
Why you should not: Boy, that creepy undertone seems hard to ignore. If all ants have souls and celebrity voices, that means this kid really is a mass murderer.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (Sony)
Starring: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, and Sacha Baron Cohen
Directed by: Adam McKay (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy)
Written by: Will Ferrell and Adam McKay
What it's about: NASCAR champeen Ricky Bobby (Ferrell) finds his title being usurped by a French rival played by Ali G., a'ight?
Why you should see it: Anchorman had some brilliant moments.
Why you should not: Anchorman had some brilliant moments only if you were really, really high.
Starring: Justin Long (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story), Adam Herschman, and Jonah Hill
Directed by: First-timer Steve Pink
Written by: Bill Collage, Adam Cooper, and Mark Perez
What it's about: A slack senior (Long) finds out that he's failed to get into college. So, of course, he and his similarly unmotivated pals fool their parents by inventing their own fraud of a university, which suddenly becomes crowded with similar rejects. Hey, it couldn't be any more worthless than your liberal arts degree, right?
Why you should see it: If a fake frat was funny (as it was in Old School), an entire fake university has to be a knee-slapper, right?
Why you should not: Of course not. Old School was only funny because it had Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn in it. No similar heavyweights present here.
World Trade Center (Paramount)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Michael Peña, and Maggie Gyllenhaal
Directed by: Oliver Stone (J.F.K. , The Doors)
Written by: Andrea Berloff
What it's about: Cage and Peña play real-life Port Authority cops who made it out of the World Trade Center alive after the terror attack of September 11, 2001. Word is that this isn't the work of a paranoid Ollie Stone, but a sober, down-to-the-details docudramatization of the events of the day, already seen this year in United 93.
Why you should see it: Cage is at his best when playing an everyman stuck in a horrific real-life situation. (His portrayal of an EMT in Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead remains among his career highlights, even if no one saw it.)
Why you should not: Oliver Stone's a real hit-or-miss moviemaker; pray this is closer to Platoon and Salvador than Alexander or Any Given Sunday. Or Natural Born Killers. Or U-Turn. Or Nixon.
The Night Listener (Miramax)
Starring: Robin Williams, Toni Collette, and Rory Culkin
Directed by: Patrick Stettner (The Business of Strangers)
Written by: Armistead Maupin & Terry Anderson (The Young Graduates) and Stettner, based on the novel by Maupin
What it's about: Williams plays a Garrison Keillor-like public radio host who tells embellished stories of his life and friends, but when he receives the manuscript of a memoir from an abused child (Culkin), he doesn't realize that it may be equally embellished.
Why you should see it: Stettner deftly dealt with similar issues of deceit in The Business of Strangers; Williams can certainly be as annoying as your typical talk-radio host.
Why you should not: When it comes to drama, Williams is either spot-on (One Hour Photo) or insufferably mawkish (What Dreams May Come). His character here is a gay man whose lover has battled AIDS, which may mean lots of hugging, tears, and Williams doing that grinning thing that's supposed to make him look sad, but really doesn't.
Snakes on a Plane (New Line)
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, some snakes, and a plane
Directed by: David R. Ellis (Final Destination 2)
Written by: John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez (Gothika)
What it's about: The title really says it all here. For full disclosure, it really should be Snakes on a Plane With a Bald-Headed Badass Black Guy Who Yells a Lot. Yes, the snakes deserve to die, and he hopes they burn in hell.
Why you should see it: Pay attention. Snakes. Plane. Samuel L. Jackson. What's not to love?
Why you should not: Sorry, there's just no good excuse not to.
Starring: André Benjamin (Four Brothers ), Antwan Patton (ATL), and Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow)
Written and directed by: First-timer Brian Barber
What it's about: Benjamin and Patton (the real-life duo of OutKast) play a couple of, um, ahead-of-their-time musicians in a 1930s southern juke joint. Elaborate musical numbers compete for airtime with gangster politics as big, bad Howard comes to town to muscle in on the club.
Why you should see it: Musically, Benjamin and Patton are at the top of their game, the concept of injecting their tunes with the flavor of old-school jazz has major promise, and Benjamin has already shown he's got screen skills.
Why you should not: Neither period black gangster films (Harlem Nights) nor musical gangster films (Bugsy Malone) tend to stand the test of time.
Invincible (Buena Vista)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear, and Michael Rispoli
Directed by: Ericson Core (TV's Family Law)
Written by: Brad Gann (Black Irish)
What it's about: A down-on-his-luck Philadelphia Eagles fan (Wahlberg) decides to attend an open tryout for the team and gets to live out his dream of playing professional football. It's from the producers of The Rookie, is the same basic idea, and is similarly based on true events.
Why you should see it: The Rookie was formulaic, but it worked and even appealed to people who couldn't care less about baseball.
Why you should not: Mark Wahlberg is no Dennis Quaid.