School's officially out, so the summer movie season is upon us. Alas, it appears this is going to be a rather weak summer with very little to get riled up about. More empty sequels, romantic comedies that rip off other romantic comedies and a so-called family film that actually looks worse than Garfield. So here's your guide to the slim pickins, the ones you could actually spend your money on. Conveniently, it's a guide from Memorial Day to Labor Day, because after you've seen Iron Man 2--there may be a full review later, but for now it's just a solid B--there's not much else until then.
The A-Team (11 June)
Starring Bradley Cooper, Liam Neeson, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Sharlto Copley
Written by Joe Carnahan & Brian Bloom and Skip Woods
Directed by Joe Carnahan
Updated from the over-the-top '80s TV series, the impeccable cast stars as the framed team of Army operatives out for revenge against those who set them up. Director Joe Carnahan's last flick was the obnoxiously loud, pointless Smokin' Aces which should cause some alarm. Still, this looks about as entertaining as they come.
Toy Story 3 (18 June)
Starring the voices of Tim Allen, Tom Hanks, Michael Keaton
Written by Michael Arndt
Directed by Lee Unkrich
While it's no doubt Pixar is on the longest creative hot-streak of any filmmaking entity in history, this sequel looks like it may top even its previous peaks (WALL•E, Up, the first two Toy Story installments) thanks to keeping the story within its own timeline--Andy is now headed off to college and may no longer need his beloved toys--and a script from Academy Award winnner Michael Arndt, who found a wealth of humor and honesty in Little Miss Sunshine.
The Last Airbender (2 July)
Starring Jackson Rathbone, Dev Patel, Shaun Toab
Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Perhaps the riskiest of all the summer blockbusters. Based on the animated Nickelodeon series, it's your typical imported every-entity-for-itself melee. But after issues with its inappropriate casting and a bizarre choice of director, it's unclear how this one will turn out. Yet I think the big Shyamalan-style twist is that this is actually going to be awesome.
Despicable Me (9 July)
Starring the voices of Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Kristen Wiig
Written by Ken Daurio, Cinco Paul
Directed by Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud
Thanks to genius campaigning, this has a genuine shot at winning the third-place animated film box office finish (after Toy Story 3 and what I pray to God is the last installment of Shrek). Carell voices Gru, who comfortably enjoys life as the World's Greatest Super-Villain until three orphans show up on his doorstep and his title is threatened by Vortex (Segel). Expect a high level of intelligence to balance out the saccharine and prepare for the most pleasant surprise since Monsters vs. Aliens.
Inception (16 July)
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Written and directed by Christopher Nolan
If you have a brain and 10 bucks, this is the only movie to spend your money on. Nolan's latest thought-provoking popcorn flick stars DiCaprio (who deserves an Oscar for Shutter Island, and frankly for being the hardest-working actor around) as sort of psychological master thief who... well, frankly, nothing in the trailer reveals much of anything in the way of plot. Regardless, this looks to be the most impressive but enigmatic blockbuster this summer.
Dinner for Schmucks (23 July)
Starring Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, Zach Galifianakis
Written by Andy Borowitz, David Guion, Michael Handelman, Francis Veber, et al
Directed by Jay Roach
The ever-consistent Rudd plays a banker looking for a promotion at the douchiest of firms, who insists on his attendance at a party where the bourgeoisie mock those in the lower strata. Based on the French comedy The Dinner Game, the film likely has a lot more to say than its trailer lets on, and it'll be nice to Roach stretch himself beyond the Austin Powers and Fockers franchises.
Get Low (30 July, limited)
Starring Bill Murray, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek
Written by Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell
Directed by Aaron Schneider
It's hard to think of a reason why Sony would release this in the heat of summer and not push it during awards season, but thankfully there will be some older-people fare. Duvall plays a hermit who wants to throw his funeral before he dies and have the townsfolk share their stories, memories and tall tales about him. Murray plays the shady funeral parlor owner who wants to parlay this event into a money-making scheme. Think of it as sort of a dark Big Fish. I'm still waiting for a trailer remix featuring Lil Jon (NSFW).
The Other Guys (6 August)
Starring Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Samuel L. Jackson, The Rock
Written by Adam McKay & Chris Henchy
Directed by Adam McKay
McKay's a tough director to crack. His movies as a whole always follow the same pattern: initially hilarious --> not as funny the second time around --> memorably hysterical --> brilliant. His latest, and fourth with Ferrell, finds the increasingly naked (yeesh) comedian playing a detective stunted in his career. When he partners with Wahlberg (who showed comic panache in Date Night), the two uncover a major case. Ideally, this will follow Step Brothers' lead and earn an R rating (NSFW).
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (13 August)
Starring Michael Cera, Alison Pill, Anna Kendrick
Written by Michael Bacall & Edgar Wright
Directed by Edgar Wright
It appears Michael Cera is at a crossroads. Despite consistent work in his last three pictures (I'm excluding the alleged comedy Year One and 2009's second-worst movie Paper Heart), it seems as if he's never been more ready to break out of his typecast roles. And what better way to torpedo that nice kid image than with a movie about a nice kid who has to become a ruthless fighter. To win his love's hand forever, he has to defeat her seven evil ex-lovers. While the comic book's rabid fanbase will probably find plenty to nitpick, there's no one better to balance action, heart and witty dialogue than Wright (Hot Fuzz).
The American (1 September, limited)
Starring George Clooney, Bruce Altman, Thekla Reuten
Written by Rowan Joffe
Directed by Anton Corbijn
Further proof that Clooney is among our greatest movie stars. Here he plays a deeply conflicted international assassin, in Italy for one last gig. Corbijn, who cut his teeth with atmospheric music videos for U2, Depeche Mode and the Killers, knows how to create moody, substantive pictures with breathtaking cinematography. Expect no easy answers other than a beautiful, haunting film.
Machete (3 September)
Starring Danny Trejo, Robert de Niro, Jessica Alba
Written by Robert Rodriguez
Directed by Robert Rodriguez & Ethan Maniquis
Even though I picked Grindhouse as one of my 10 favorite movies of 2007, the best part was the fake trailers (NSFW). Thankfully, Rodriguez is turning one of those (NSFW) into a full-length feature. And with a Hobo with a Shotgun film on the way as well, I hope Eli Roth follows suit (NSFW). Trejo, who pretty much plays the Hispanic who gets gunned down in every movie, finally gets a starring role as a day laborer set up for the attempted murder of a Texas senator. It's essentially a gorier, grittier version of Shooter, and with the recent Arizona immigration law, the film has taken a surprisingly timely turn (NSFW).