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? — Robert Wilonsky
The following previews were written by Luke Y. Thompson, Jordan Harper, Melissa Levine, and Robert Wilonsky.
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. Or can it?
The Devil Wears Prada
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?
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
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 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.
Strangers With Candy
Starring: Amy Sedaris, Matthew Broderick, and Philip Seymour Hoffman
Directed by: Paul Dinello
Written by: Stephen Colbert (The Daily Show), Paul Dinello, and Amy Sedaris
What it's about: A feature-film spinoff of the popular 1999-2000 Comedy Central series starring Sedaris as a 46-year-old ex-con high school student.
Why you should see it: If you don't think Stephen Colbert knows funny, you don't know funny.
Why you should not: It could feel like one long inside joke made for those who've seen the show.
A Scanner Darkly
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, and Woody Harrelson
Written and directed by: Richard Linklater, based on the novel by Philip K. Dick
What it's about: In the near future, a government drug-enforcement agent (Reeves) winds up being ordered to spy on himself. Like Linklater's Waking Life, the entire movie is done in rotoscoped animation, so it's hard to tell whether or not it really counts that Winona Ryder does her first-ever nude scene.
Why you should see it: Previous Philip K. Dick-based movies: Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall …
Why you should not: … also Paycheck, Screamers, and Impostor.
Leonard Cohen: Im Your Man
Starring: Leonard Cohen, Bono, and the Edge
Directed by: Lian Lunson
What it's about: Lunson's doc about the singer-songwriter, featuring a pretty candid interview with the inexplicable ladies' man, uses a tribute show at the Sydney Concert Hall in 2005 to tell Cohen's beguiling journey from Montreal to a monastery on Mount Baldy.
Why you should see it: Because Lunson mingles footage of Cohen talking with scenes of his acolytes singing his famous-blue-raincoat songs.
Why you should not: See above; the performances are as mediocre as Cohen is magnetic.
Starring: Marlon and Shawn Wayans
Directed by: Keenen Ivory Wayans (Scary Movie, Scary Movie 2)
Written by: The Wayans brothers
What it's about: A digitally remastered Shawn Wayans plays a weensy little criminal mistaken for a baby by a wannabe dad (Marlon).
Why you should see it: Consider it your biennial dose of Wayans charm.
Why you should not: Perhaps you recall White Chicks?
You, Me and Dupree
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.
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 20s have turned into their 30s, 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. [page]
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.
Lady in the Water
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard (Manderlay), and Freddy Rodriguez
Written and directed by: M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Village)
What it's about: A lonely apartment building superintendent (Giamatti) discovers a beautiful woman (Howard) in the building's swimming pool, who turns out to be a mermaid. And there are other supernatural creatures after her.
Why you should see it: Advance word says there's no gratuitous twist ending this time. Shyamalan's a good director when he doesn't paint himself into a corner; even The Village had its moments until that terrible “surprise” finish.
Why you should not: This film's been labeled a “bedtime story.” What does that even mean?
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Lee, and Nick Cannon
Directed by: First-timer Gil Kenan
Written by: Pamela Pettler, Dan Harmon, and Ron Schrab
What it's about: Sounds like The 'Burbs meets Poltergeist: Three kids live next door to a creepy house that turns out to be … duh-duh-dunh … a monster.
Why you should see it: Uh … uh … it's animated?
Why you should not: Have you seen the trailer? Was it made in 1992?
My Super Ex-Girlfriend
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 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.
The Ant Bully
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.
Starring: Alison Lohman (Big Fish), Tim McGraw (Friday Night Lights), and Maria Bello (The Sisters)
Directed by: Michael Mayer (A Home at the End of the World)
Written by: Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner, based on the novel by Mary O'Hara
What it's about: A young girl tames wild horses in a heartbreaking attempt to win her father's love.
Why you should see it: Girls, horses, summer, love, magic.
Why you should not: If Mayer's treatment of Flicka is anything like his Home at the End of the World, we're in for a sapfest of personal triumph set to music.
John Tucker Must Die
Starring: Jesse Metcalfe (Desperate Housewives), Brittany Snow (The Pacifier), and Ashanti (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Directed by: Betty Thomas (The Brady Bunch Movie)
Written by: Jeff Lowell
What it's about: When a trio of hotties discover they're dating the same cad (Metcalfe), they plot to bring about his ruination (but not, despite the title, his demise).
Why you should see it: By July 28, the effects of global warming will have cooked our brains into pink paste. Perfect time for teen comedy.
Why you should not: As this is the 9,432rd movie to try to convince us that an obvious beauty is a plain Jane for the first 30 minutes, the idea could be losing a spot of freshness.
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.
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 not: 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.
Starring: Jet Li, Nakamura Shidou, and Betty Sun
Directed by: Ronny Yu (Freddy vs. Jason)
Written by: There doesn't seem to be a credited screenwriter. But Yuen Woo-ping is the fight choreographer, which is what matters most.
What it's about: Jet Li kicks some ass. Then a tragedy happens, and he doesn't want to kick any further ass, so he goes into seclusion, where he learns the true way of the warrior. The claim is that this will be Li's last martial-arts epic. [page]
Why you should see it: Sigh. If you know your Hong Kong films, you'd have no doubt that Jet Li and Ronny Yu and Yuen Woo-ping teaming up can only be awesome.
Why you should not: Steer clear if action isn't your thing.
The House of Sand
Starring: Fernanda Montenegro, Fernanda Torres, and Ruy Guerra
Directed by: Andrucha Waddington (Me, You, Them)
Written by: Elena Soárez
What it's about: An early 20th-century Brazilian saga about an unhappy woman, a delirious husband, and a barren landscape that proves difficult to escape.
Why you should see it: Waddington's got props back in Brazil.
Why you should not: 59 years on a dune = um pouco louco.
The Night Listener
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.
World Trade Center
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 attacks of September 11, 2001. Word is 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.
Starring: Emily Rios, Chalo Gonzalez, and Jesse Garcia
Written and directed by: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland
What it's about: On the verge of her 15th birthday, pregnant Magdalena is thrown out of her house and moves in with her great-great uncle and gay cousin, but she may lose even this makeshift family to urban gentrification.
Why you should see it: Love the Latina mama-drama.
Why you should not: Wacky outsiders overcome forces of oppression!
Starring: Channing Tatum (Coach Carter), Rachel Griffiths, and Heavy D
Directed by: Anne Fletcher
Written by: Duane Adler and Melissa Rosenberg
What it's about: Tatum plays a streetwise punk (is there any other kind?) who trashes a performing arts school and is sentenced to community service. He comes to find it ain't dat bad a joint, once a hot dancer at the school wiggles his broom just a little.
Why you should see it: Rachel Griffiths and Heavy D in the same movie! I only dared to dream.
Why you should not: Because it has to be awful.
Starring: Tim Allen, Courteney Cox Arquette, and Chevy Chase
Directed by: Peter Hewitt (Garfield)
Written by: David Berenbaum (Elf)
What it's about: Remember that Disney movie Sky High, about a retired superhero and the superschool his kids attend? This is pretty much the same thing, but with a bigger budget. And it's based on an actual comic book, Zoom's Academy for the Super-Gifted.
Why you should see it: Sky High was fun …
Why you should not: … But do we need another version? Tim Allen instead of Kurt Russell isn't exactly what you'd call trading up.
Starring: Hilary Duff, Haylie Duff, and Anjelica Huston
Directed by: Martha Coolidge (The Prince & Me)
Written by: John Quaintance, Jessica O'Toole, and Amy Rardin
What it's about: Duff and Duff play sisters — how about that? — who gots plenty of dough from their family's cosmetics company. But when the family biz is bankrupted by scandal, will the Duffs ever learn how to cope with being poor?
Why you should see it: Coolidge directed Valley Girl …
Why you should not: … four years before Hilary Duff was born.
Snakes on a Plane
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 Bad-Ass 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? [page]
Why you should not: Sorry, there's just no good excuse not to.