Hollywood brings heat to summer with sequels, adaptations

Al Alexander

It’s just about time to start getting pumped about a summer full of blockbusters featuring big stories and even bigger stars. It all begins Friday with “Iron Man 2,” which promises to be one of the season’s biggest hits. But it’s just the first of several superhero movies that will be sharing screen time with a multitude of comedies, action flicks, romances and cartoons, including the long-anticipated “Toy Story 3.”

To get you ready, here’s a sampling of just what you have to look forward to, beginning with:

May 7

Iron Man 2: Robert Downey Jr. returns to the scene of his greatest box-office triumph to do battle with fellow reclamation project Mickey Rourke and Scarlett Johansson in this sequel to the surprise 2008 blockbuster.

Please Give: Nobody makes movies about women better than Nicole Holofcener. In films from “Walking and Talking” to “Friends With Money,” her observations are sharp, deep and true. And this one, about five morally conflicted women (Catherine Keener, Rebecca Hall, Amanda Peet, Sarah Steele and Ann Morgan Guilbert) representing three generations might be her best yet.

Babies: Just in time for Mother’s Day comes this adorable documentary from Thomas Balmès about four babies – each from a different corner of the world – and their exciting first months of life.

Mother and Child: Three women (Annette Bening, Naomi Watts and Kerry Washington) are all dealing with issues concerning adoption in this compelling drama from writer-director Rodrigo Garcia.

May 14

Robin Hood: For their fifth collaboration, Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe venture deep into Sherwood Forest looking for an excuse for a bloodletting. Let’s hope it’s more “Gladiator” and less “A Good Year,” but rumors of script troubles raise doubts. And who, pray tell, plays Maid Marian? It be Cate Blanchett, natch.

Letters to Juliet: Amanda Seyfried, who seems to be starring in every other movie this year, plays a woman vacationing in Verona, Italy, who tries her hand at matchmaking after being inspired by the story of “Romeo & Juliet.”

Just Wright: Queen Latifah plays a physical therapist who draws the assignment of treating an NBA star played by Common (“Date Night”). But in easing his pain, he begins making her heart ache. Love and basketball presumably ensue.

May 21

Shrek Forever After: The fourth installment of the perplexingly popular cartoon finds the smelly green ogre embarking on his own version of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Fed up with his humdrum existence, he is thrust into an alternative universe where he will learn to appreciate how much Fiona and the kids mean to him.

MacGruber: The popular “Saturday Night Live” sketch created by and starring Will Forte gets the big-screen treatment with Kristen Wiig and Ryan Phillippe helping MacGruber hunt down a stolen nuclear warhead.

May 28

Sex and the City 2: The female version of the Fab Four returns for its second go-round on the big screen. “Guest stars” include Miley Cyrus, Penélope Cruz and Liza Minnelli. The big news, though, is that the story won’t be contained to Manhattan. Perish the thought!

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time: Producer Jerry Bruckheimer taps a bulked-up Jake Gyllenhaal to play Dastan, the star of the popular video game on which this overblown fantasy is based.

June 4

Killers: Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl play a married couple fearing for their lives after they get word that someone is trying to kill them. Why is someone trying to kill them? Because Kutcher used to be a secret agent, of course.

Marmaduke: The cartoon world’s most famous Great Dane makes the jump from the page to the screen in this comedy adventure melding live action and computer animation. Steve Coogan, Fergie, George Lopez and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are among those trying to keep this one from becoming a total dog.

Solitary Man: Michael Douglas is great at playing sleaze, and roles don’t get much sleazier than this one, in which he plays a stinking-rich jerk carrying on affairs with his ex-wife (Susan Sarandon), his girlfriend (Mary-Louise Parker) and her daughter (Imogen Poots).

June 11

The A-Team: I’m not sure why a big-screen version of the cheesy 1980s TV adventure series was needed. But with a cast that includes Liam Neeson, Sharlto Copley (“District 9”) and Bradley Cooper, I must admit I’m intrigued. And I pity the fool who’s not.

Get Him to the Greek: From the director of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (Nicholas Stoller) comes this sort of doped-out version of “My Favorite Year,” with Jonah Hill playing the adoring peon assigned the task of having to get the oft-inebriated rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand reprising his role from “Sarah Marshall”) from London to the Greek Theater in Los Angeles on time.

The Karate Kid: Jaden Smith (son of Will) stars in this needless remake of the 1980s classic from which we learned the beauty of “wax on, wax off.” Please! Stop your snickering. Save it for little Smith and Jackie Chan, taking over the Mr. Miyagi role.

June 18

Toy Story 3: When Disney bought Pixar for about 8 zillion bucks a few years ago, the deal included Pixar Chairman John Lasseter agreeing to make a third installment of his wildly popular “Toy Story” films, a project he previously resisted. So, like it or not, here it is. But despite it being made under duress, early word is that this one more than lives up to its two predecessors. Yeah, right. Next they’ll be telling us is that toys can talk. Hey, wait ...

Jonah Hex: In this adaptation of the DC Comic, Josh Brolin plays a disfigured bounty hunter mixing it up with John Malkovich and bedding Megan Fox.

June 25

Knight and Day: If the trailer for this spy thriller didn’t get you psyched, the pairing of Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz will. He plays a spy on the run, she plays his impromptu partner, and Peter Sarsgaard plays the government agent who wants to see them dead. James Mangold (“3:10 to Yuma,” “Walk the Line”) directs.

Grown Ups: Think of this one as “Wild Hogs” without the motorcycles, as Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Rob Scheider and David Spade try to fend off the ravages of middle age by holing up in a lakeside cabin and behaving like imbeciles. In other words, it’s just like all their other movies.

June 30

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse: Which side are you on: Team Edward or Team Jacob? Me, I’m on Team Apathetic, because I couldn’t care less who the perpetually sneering Bella ends up with. But I also realize I’m in the vast minority, as the box office returns will prove after part three of the “Saga” hits screens, including some IMAX venues.

July 2

The Last Airbender: M. Night Shyamalan used to make creepy, unsettling movies. Now he makes unintentional comedies (I still say “The Happening” was the funniest flick of 2008.) This one, though, sounds like an even bigger chuckler thanks to a premise revolving around a 12-year-old boy with the power to control earth, wind and fire. Hey, I thought that was Philip Bailey’s job.

Cyrus: Jonah Hill, never a stranger to offbeat roles, takes on his most daring one to date, playing a young man who loves his mother, played by Marisa Tomei. And by “love,” I mean it in the most unwholesome way. John C. Reilly costars as mom’s befuddled boyfriend in a film written and directed by mumblecore mavens Jay and Mark Duplass.

Restrepo: “Perfect Storm” author Sebastian Junger tries his hand at directing, as he and filmmaking partner Tim Hetherington head to Afghanistan to chronicle the everyday life of an Army platoon and all the monotony and dangers its members encounter.

July 9

Despicable Me: I’ve been dying to see this one ever since I saw the trailer for it last fall. And what’s not to like, with Steve Carell and Jason Segel providing the voices for two of the globe’s nastiest villains, who go head-to-head in a quest for world domination and ownership of the moon.

Predators: I’m baaack! No, not Arnold Schwarzenegger; I’m talking about one of his most famous nemeses: a dreadlocked jungle creature capable of making girlie men of all who try to stop him and his minions. But Topher Grace, Adrien Brody, Laurence Fishburne and Danny Trejo all say they’re up for the challenge.

The Kids Are All Right: Julianne Moore and Annette Bening play a lesbian couple whose artificially inseminated children (“Alice in Wonderland’s” Mia Wasikowska and “Bridge to Terabithia’s” Josh Hutcherson) seek out the sperm donor, played by Mark Ruffalo. Lisa Cholodenko (“Laurel Canyon”) directs.

Get Low: Robert Duvall plays a crazy Depression-era coot who decides to hold his own funeral while he’s still alive. Bill Murray costars.

July 16

Inception: Christopher Nolan follows up his box-office sensation, “The Dark Knight,” with a sci-fi thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a delusional mental patient… Wait, wrong movie. I guess I’m not sure what he plays. Nolan is intriguingly keeping everything top secret. But given his track record, I have complete faith in what he has in store.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Every pothead remembers (excuse the oxymoron) Mickey Mouse’s interpretation of the classic poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in “Fantasia.” Now Disney has decided to blow our minds further by teaming with Jerry Bruckheimer to give us a live-action version starring Nicolas Cage as the sorcerer and Jay Baruchel as the apprentice. Hopefully, magic ensues.

July 23

Salt: A lot of male sexual fantasies will be answered when Angelina Jolie comes packing heat of all kinds in her role as a government agent trying to prove her innocence when she’s wrongly accused of plotting to assassinate the president. I just hope she’s wearing tight leather. (Please, please, pretty please wear tight leather.)

Dinner for Schmucks: One of the great French comedies of the past decade was “The Dinner Game.” I still chuckle just thinking about it. So Paul Rudd and Steve Carell have a lot to live up to in this American remake in which Rudd plays a brownnosing executive trying to please his boss by bringing the stupidest guy he can find to dinner. That would be Carell. Jay Roach (“Meet the Parents”) directs.

Ramona and Beezus: Disney brat Selena Gomez and newcomer Joey King play troubled siblings in this adaptation of Beverly Cleary’s 1955 kids’ novel.

July 30

The Adjustment Bureau: Matt Damon and Emily Blunt delve into a sci-fi world created by Philip K. Dick (“Minority Report”), one where mysterious forces are keeping their madly-in-love characters apart. Where’s Stephen Hawking when you need him?

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore: If you were among the two or three people clamoring for a sequel to “Cats & Dogs,” your prayers regrettably have been answered with this talking-critter spectacle in which the felines and the canines join forces to declaw the evil Kitty Galore. Say, wasn’t she in a Bond movie?

Aug. 6

The Other Guys: Will Ferrell, like David Ortiz, is in the throws of a terrible slump, having bottomed out (hopefully) with last summer’s aptly tilted “Land of the Lost.” Looking to bounce back, he’s teamed with “Date Night” scene-stealer Mark Wahlberg in a twisted buddy picture in which they play inept cops forced to quickly get their acts together when a crisis ensues.

Cairo Time: While awaiting her husband’s arrival in Egypt, a diplomat’s wife (Patricia Clarkson) is escorted around Cairo by her spouse’s good friend (Alexander Siddig from “Syriana”). But during their long walks and talks an unexpected romance develops.

Aug. 13

Eat, Pray, Love: This baby has chick-flick written all over it, as Julia Roberts plays surrogate to author Elizabeth Gilbert in her autobiographical tale about a woman who takes a break from her perfect life to discover who she really is by traveling the world sampling culinary and male delights.

The Expendables: Sylvester Stallone is a terrible actor, but he can be a pretty good director, as he proved with the last Rocky picture. So there’s reason to get excited about this one, especially with a cast that reads like a hall of fame of action stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Jason Statham and Mickey Rourke. All are part of a team sent to South America to take out a dictator “Dirty Dozen” style. Man, I want to punch somebody just thinking about it.

Aug. 20

Lottery Ticket: The artist formally known as Lil Bow Wow is movin’ on up after purchasing a $350 million lottery ticket. But as with Hurley in “Lost,” the prize quickly becomes more of a curse than a blessing. Keith David, Ice Cube, Bill Bellamy and Mike Epps co-star.

Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang: Emma Thompson reprises her roles as a Poppins-ish nanny able to work magic and miracles in the lives of her employers. Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rhys Ifans and Maggie Smith join her on this adventure.

The Switch: What is it with beautiful women and artificial insemination? First J-Lo, now Jennifer Aniston? This one, though, is more subversive than “The Back-up Plan,” and what makes that so is Jason Bateman, who plays a guy secretly pining for Aniston. Bateman secretly replaces her donor’s sperm with his own. Move seven years ahead and he’s forgotten all about the switch until he reconnects with the object of his affection and meets the young lad, who – shock – looks just like him.

Aug. 27

Going the Distance: Real-life lovers Drew Barrymore and Justin Long are cast as a couple struggling to maintain a long-distance relationship.

Piranha 3-D: Joe Dante’s 1978 cult classic is not only being remade, it’s being remade in 3-D, which makes watching all those stupid humans being gulped down by a school of man-eating fish all the more fun. Serving as bait is a nice cast headed by Elisabeth Shue, Ving Rhames, Richard Dreyfuss, Christopher Lloyd and Jerry O’Connell. Bon appetit!

Patriot Ledger writer Al Alexander may be reached at aalexander@ledger.com.