Originally created 03/03/00

Spring fling

Spring once was the time of year that movie studios dumped their dead weight, releasing films that could never compete in the Oscar contender-heavy fall and winter or in the big-buck action film frenzy of summer.

But it's a brand new world.

Studios, with their eyes perpetually on the bottom line, have discovered that spring can support more than the occasional teen comedy or slasher rehash. This year, a slew of films boasting big names and budgets will be proffered in the months preceding the summer cinema rush.

Here is a rundown of some of the possible hits and misses for the months ahead.

Mission to Mars -- Turning away from the Hitchcock homages that have served him well for nearly 30 years, director Brian De Palma has produced a Kubrickian slice of science fiction boasting an all-star cast. Gary Sinise, Tim Robbins and Boogie Night-er Don Cheadle star as NASA astronauts who find more than they expected on the Red Planet. Mission to Mars opens March 10.

Erin Brockovich -- The story of a young woman who fought corporate America and won. The title character was responsible for bringing about a $333 million water contamination settlement. In the hands of auteur director Steven Soderbergh, audiences can expect a emotionally arresting and artistically daring film that steps outside the `socially conscious movie' envelope. Early reports have called the battling Brockovich the role of Julia Robert's career. Erin Brockovic opens March 17.

The Road to El Dorado -- Furthering their mission to take a piece of the Disney-rich animation pie, DreamWorks follows the success of last year's Prince of Egypt with this conquistador-era romp. Featuring the vocal talents of Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Armand Assante, Rosie Perez and Edward James Olmos, The Road to El Dorado's animated take on the buddy movie format finds two small-time schemers revered as gods in the legendary golden kingdom of El Dorado. A studio with exceptionally high animation standards, expect DreamWorks to bring down the Mouse a notch or two. The Road to El Dorado opens March 31.

High Fidelity -- Based on the novel by the same name, this film drew some fire when it was announced the story's locale had been shifted from London to Chicago. Following the romantic stumblings of vinyl-obsessed record store owner Rob Gordon (John Cusack), this film is a character study of a young man being dragged against his will into adulthood. Mr. Cusack's screen charisma and commitment to quality work should escalate High Fidelity well beyond the standard boy-loses-girl-and-mopes fare. High Fidelity opens March 31.

The Ninth Gate -- In his heyday, director Roman Polanski was the cinematic master of the tense moment. In masterworks like Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown he proved himself king of the pregnant pause. In recent years, however, his film output has dwindled with a few notable missteps. (Anybody remember Pirates?)

This devil's-coming-everybody-run film (Have we seen enough of these yet?) was originally released in Europe this summer and received only lukewarm reviews. However, star Johnny Depp is always capable of outstanding performances and if anyone knows scary, it should be the man who fathered Rosemary's Baby. The Ninth Gate opens March 31.

28 Days -- Sandra Bullock plays Gwen Cummings, a successful New York writer who finds herself in court-ordered rehab in this dramatic comedy. Expect heartstring tugging aplenty as party girl Gwen finds herself immersed in the support group subculture. Directed by Betty Thomas of Dr. Doolittle fame, audiences can expect little in the way of subtlety from this film, but Ms. Bullock's natural charm and a highly-touted screenplay might carry this film a long way. 28 Days opens April 7.

U-571 -- Writer and director Jonathan Mostow's last feature was the smart, taut thriller Breakdown -- a film that sadly never found its audience. Perhaps he will fare better with U-571, a what-if piece of historical fiction which places an American crew on a German U-boat with a top secret code-breaking machine. Judging by his previous work, Mr. Mostow's grasp of film convention and human drama should lend credence to this highly implausible story. If not, he has a highly likable cast, featuring Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel and Jon Bon Jovi to help carry the weight. U-571 opens April 21.

Frequency -- It seems like the summer movie season comes earlier every year. This year, filmmaker Gregory Hoblit (Primal Fear, Fallen) wins the first-in-the-fray honors. With big action set pieces and a wrinkle in time plot, this could be a make-or-break movie for star Dennis Quaid, whose recent films have not equated with big box office. Perhaps removing the film from the ultra-competitive dog days of summer will give it the hit-making boost it needs. Frequency opens April 28.

It should be remembered that Hollywood success stories are a hit-or-miss proposition -- there are no guarantees. Any of these films may be pulled from release or rescheduled. It should also be noted that the release dates listed are for the films' national release. They may open Augusta at a later date, or not at all.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or suhles@hotmail.com.


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