Sci-fi, sequels and surprises 

Autumn of 2000 isn’t shaping up to be a typical fall movie season. All the established wisdom of this fickle industry — fall is the time for movies to get serious — is being tossed out the window in favor of the dim sum approach.

A little of this, a little of that, when put together adds up to an unconventional meal. So instead of the typical dominance of good-for-you fare, there are significantly more tasty empty calories to chew on.

Take, for instance, the appearance of three former summer action heroes in fall releases. Of the trio, Arnold Schwarzenegger looks the most desperate to regain his top-dog status with The Sixth Day (Nov. 17), which merges the futuristic sci-fi of Total Recall with the high-octane chases of Eraser. Family man Arnold finds he’s been replaced at home by a clone and goes on the run from mysterious assassins.

Instead of recycling old material, Sylvester Stallone opts for an actual remake, Get Carter (Oct. 6), where he plays a Vegas hood who begins to suspect that the sudden death of his brother was no accident. Michael Caine, whose performance in the 1970 British cult favorite was one of his snarky best, gets a small role here, but it’s doubtful the eager-to-please Stallone will hold on to the relentlessly bleak outlook of original director Mike Hodges (Croupier).

Then there’s Bruce Willis, who has pulled off one of the most amazing career realignments imaginable. He always had an eye for quirky fare (remember 12 Monkeys?), and filled his post-Die Hard years with surprising, smart performances in films such as The Sixth Sense, a small, unassuming supernatural drama which blossomed into last summer’s surprise runaway hit.

Willis reunites with Sense’s writer/director, M. Night Shyamalan, for another off-kilter story, Unbreakable (Nov. 22), where he’s the sole survivor of a massive train wreck; an enigmatic Samuel L. Jackson turns up to tell him what it all means.

Anyone who thinks American movies are now completely homogenous (bland tales of pretty-but-vacant white people)
shouldn’t discount provocateur Spike Lee. His Malcolm X star, Denzel Washington, headlines Remember The Titans (Sept. 29), the first of several feel-good tales of positive race relations in tempestuous times.

Along with Washington’s football coach, who integrates a Southern high school team, there’s Cuba Gooding Jr. making waves in the Navy to join the elite divers squad in Men Of Honor (Oct. 20), and Will Smith playing a sagelike caddie serenely guiding golf pro Matt Damon to victory in The Legend Of Bagger Vance (Nov. 3).

Meanwhile, Lee, a vocal critic of the way minorities are portrayed in the mainstream media, unleashes Bamboozled (Oct. 6), where a fledgling television station’s sole black writer creates a modern-day minstrel show which becomes a runaway hit.

Speaking of being bamboozled, Halloween brings Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (Oct. 27). This sequel follows a group of college students so enthralled by the Blair Witch “legend” that they head to those selfsame woods, with dire consequences. Apparently, these collegiate explorers reacted like a number of audience members, who believed the events in this mockumentary were actually real. With a major backlash brewing to last year’s The Blair Witch Project, it’s doubtful moviegoers will eagerly line up to get fooled again.

Television, and the instant familiarity it provides, brings yet another “Saturday Night Live” spin-off to the big screen: The Ladies’ Man (Oct. 13), starring Highland Park native Tim Meadows as a jive-talking radio host whose dating advice for 1970s swingers may explain the end of the sexual revolution.

And if you missed that hedonistic decade, where television unleashed the jigglefest “Charlie’s Angels,” there’s a revamped big-screen version (Nov. 3) starring the ass-kicking, multicultural girl power trio of Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu.

Are these television spin-offs just endemic of Hollywood execs afraid to gamble megabucks on a story without a built-in audience? Couldn’t be. Two other veterans of television comedy, Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey, are playing it safe this fall.

Sandler is the devil’s underachieving son in Little Nicky (Nov. 10) while Carrey gets all green in Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas (Nov. 17).

There’s also a glib remake of the psychedelic 1968 sell-your-soul-to-the-devil fantasy Bedazzled (Oct. 20), with the comedy team of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore replaced by Elizabeth Hurley and Brendan Fraser.

These are countered by a few rather brave releases (considering the self-censorship adopted by the movie industry of late), and they involve a subject that’s more reviled by the MPAA than violence: Sex.

The latest from director Philip Kaufman (Henry & June, The Unbearable Lightness Of Being) is Quills (Nov. 22), which finds the infamous Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) in an asylum but continuing to write his sexually explicit tales of debauchery until Napoleon himself orders Sade to be silenced.

Cuba in the late 1800s is the setting for Original Sin (Nov. 17), where coffee plantation owner Antonio Banderas meets mail-order bride Angelina Jolie and commences an erotic journey.

Noir author Cornell Woolrich’s novel, Waltz Into Darkness, was previously adapted by François Truffaut as Mississippi Mermaid.

Speaking of Cuba, Fidel Castro remains a stubborn fixture on the political scene while Americans are embracing Cuban music and making the sunny isle a hip vacation destination. So this seems the time to re-examine those events which defined the still-thorny relationship between the United States and Cuba. In 13 Days (Dec. 20), we can take a serious look at how the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 played out in the White House, with Kevin Costner on hand as an in-the-know presidential aide. And the screwball comedy, Company Man (October), finds nebbish schoolteacher John Turturro pretending to be a deep-cover CIA operative. This inept agent is then whisked off to Cuba just in time for the Bay Of Pigs. Now that explains everything. Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at letters@metrotimes.com

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