Bust this

Jun 14, 2006 at 12:00 am

Call it the summer of premature box-office ejaculation. No matter how huge a wad they blow in opening weekends, this year’s early entries in the summer blockbuster fray have been disappearing as quickly as they come, leaving thousands of dissatisfied lovers — er, audiences — in their wake. When moviegoers realized that Philip Seymour Hoffman was not going to eviscerate Tom Cruise as promised in the Mission: Impossible III trailer, they avoided it like the plague. Considering the rabid anticipation for The Da Vinci Code, you’d have thought it was the Second Coming, until it turned out to be as scandalous — and exciting — as an episode of Father Dowling Mysteries. And then there’s the third X-Men, with one of the biggest openings and most staggering declines in Hollywood history — it’s all enough to make you think the studio system is on its last legs.

Want more proof? Look no further than the now-infamous Snakes on a Plane, perhaps the most-anticipated flick of the summer, but not due to its budget, studio, hairstylist or Burger King tie-in. The story of this little B-movie that could is almost as unbelievable as its ridiculous concept: just a bunch of poisonous snakes, a plane and Samuel L. Jackson. Taking the “It’s Die Hard on a (insert mode of transportation here)” concept to its most illogical conclusion, the screenplay for SoaP (as it’s known in the blog-o-sphere) quickly made news for its utter inanity. But the movie’s gloriously cheesy plot and its ass-kicking star — who wouldn’t allow the studio to change the title to the blasé Pacific Air Flight 121— created a viral-like buzz. Suddenly there were SoaP discussion groups, T-shirts, parodies and even a highly convincing faux trailer.

Fan interest became so strong that New Line Cinema even went back and added more gore for an R-rating (when was the last time that happened?), and inserted a line that originated in an Internet parody:

“I want these motherfuckin’ snakes off this motherfuckin’ plane!” (uttered by Jackson, of course). Call it truth in advertising: Sick of getting less than what they paid for, jaded ticket buyers are eager to pay for exactly what’s promised — which, in this case, is Sam Jackson cussin’ up a storm and kickin’ some slithery, cold-blooded ass (that is, if you consider snakes to have asses). And they made it all for little more than Tom Cruise’s M:i:III paycheck.

Out this week is another unbelievable movie of a different sort: an Al Gore lecture as a must-see cinematic experience — no, really! An Inconvenient Truth wears its paranoia on its sleeve better than The Day After Tomorrow, and audiences who wouldn’t vote for him six years ago are now paying big bucks to hear his spiel. The same may happen with July’s Who Killed the Electric Car?, a festival favorite that will no doubt provide GM with some of its worst PR since Roger & Me. Chronicling the death of the automotive giant’s experimental, gas-free EV1, the film points the finger at a complacent industry and an SUV-crazed populace.

With big-budget comic-book adaptations busting out every other weekend, the Cannes hit A Scanner Darkly should be a relief to hardcore geeks wishing Keanu Reeves would get back to the trailblazing vision of the first Matrix movie. Based on a Philip K. Dick novel set in a near future where the war on drugs has escalated into high-tech surveillance, director Richard Linklater has come up with a paranoid fantasy that should appeal to more than just dorm-room potheads. The film’s cutting-edge appeal goes beyond the story: The actors — including Reeves, Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr. — were all filmed live and then animated using state-of-the-art computer “rotoscoping.” And don’t worry, they don’t look anything like the robotic zombies of similarly animated The Polar Express.

The indie world offers no shortage of festival-friendly, character-driven comedy-dramas this summer: Parker Posey searching for an orgasm in The OH in Ohio, the wayward California teens of Wassup Rockers, Kevin Bacon’s directorial debut Loverboy or the Siamese-twin rock musical (?!) Brothers of the Head. But the one with the most breakout potential might be August’s Sundance audience award-winner Little Miss Sunshine. The dysfunctional family road-trip flick is as old as time, but with Toni Collette and Greg Kinnear driving their daughter to a beauty pageant with gay uncle Steve Carell in tow, this one should appeal to the same crowd that tunes in every week for the deadpan humor of TV’s The Office.

On the other hand, the cockeyed, herpes-ridden humor of Strangers with Candy barely made a dent when the series ran on Comedy Central seven years ago, so it seemed impossible that anyone would greenlight a big-screen version. But the raunchy, campy parody of after-school specials has become a cult hit on DVD, and the American public has gotten better acquainted with the whacked-out charm of creator-star Amy Sedaris on everything from Sex and the City to Late Night with David Letterman. Cameos from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Sarah Jessica Parker shouldn’t hurt when the film hits theaters in July.

If you must venture outside of the art house, at least have the decency to do it out in the open. Campus Martius Park is hosting a summer film series, showing a free film every Saturday under the stars, starting June 17 with Big Momma's House 2. The mostly family-friendly selections include The Madagascar and Cheaper by the Dozen 2. View the complete schedule at comcastfilmseries.com.

And if you’re looking for an open-air movie that’s not kiddie fare, remember that your R-rated fantasies can always be fulfilled at the delightfully squalid Ford-Wyoming Drive-In, still offering double features at dusk amid the industrial decay of the Dearborn-Detroit border. In fact, it may just be the perfect place to see some motherfuckin’ snakes on a motherfuckin’ plane.

Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]