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Not a lot of risk, but some red-letter dates this summer cinema season

By Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service –

ORLANDO, Fla. — Summer cinema is always a minefield of movies that somebody thought were a good idea — that maybe they convinced you were a good idea — but weren’t.

“Smurfs” and “Jonah Hex” and “Cowboys & Aliens,” anyone?

This summer is more fraught with peril than usual. Loaded with sequels, top-heavy with re-boots and remakes, the titles may look familiar, making movie marketing departments happy. But the movies? A real crapshoot.

Disney has so much riding on “Marvel’s The Avengers” (May 4) that they added “Marvel” to the title, lest people confuse it with the 1998 Uma Thurman/ Ralph Fiennes bomb that was based on the British TV show.

Universal is so hedging its bets on “Battleship” (May 18) that they opened it in the rest of the world before unleashing it here. And they’re saying their prayers that “Snow White and the Huntsman” (June 1) will not disappear the way the “Other Snow White Movie” (“Mirror Mirror”) did in March.

Sacha Baron Cohen’s “The Dictator” moved to May 16, to protect it from “Dark Shadows” and “Battleship.” (Did they make it funnier than the trailers?)

You know what you’re getting with “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” (June 8), “Madea’s Witness Protection” (June 29), “Ice Age: Continental Drift” (July 13) and “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” (June 29) and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” (Aug. 3).

Can Woody Allen build on “Midnight in Paris” with “To Rome With Love”? (in limited release June 22). Can Oliver Stone return to his dark, violent and hit-making past with “Savages” (July 6)?

Summer officially begins with “Marvel’s The Avengers.” It pretty much ends Aug. 17 with with “The Expendables 2.” And in between, here are the red-letter dates that could help us navigate that minefield of movies.

—May 11

“Dark Shadows” pairs up Johnny Depp and Tim Burton in what is being sold as a dark, edgy but somewhat camp version of the 1970s TV soap opera about vampires. (No, not “Dallas.”)

—May 25

“Men in Black 3” makes one long to have been a fly on the wall when Oscar winner and perma-grump Tommy Lee Jones was pitched this. Agent J (Will Smith) travels back to the “Mad Men” ‘60s to keep aliens from killing his then much-younger partner, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones in the present, Josh Brolin in the ‘60s). Might this be a comeback for director Barry Sonnenfeld?

“Chernobyl Diaries” is a horror picture based on an idea by Mr. “Paranormal Activity” (Oren Peli) about “extreme tourists” who get more than they bargained for when they travel into the radioactive forbidden zone around the infamous reactor. Is there found footage? Are there supernatural scares? The odds are good that these goods are odd.

—June 15

“Rock of Ages” has an all star cast — Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough, Malin Akerman, Alec Baldwin — the director of “Hairspray” and a lot of movie stars singing ‘80s “hair metal” anthems in a film based on the hit stage musical. It’s “Glee” with spandex, sweat and mousse-mopped guitar heroes. Pour some sugar on me, whydoncha.

“That’s My Boy” might allow Adam Sandler to pass the baton to the next generation (Andy Samberg). Sandler’s the loutish loser who hasn’t seen his super-successful son (Samberg) in years. The back story? Dad, still a kid himself, had an affair with a teacher that ended up with her in prison and him raising a boy while still a boy himself. Yeah, this is Sandler’s Father’s Day present to America.

—June 22

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” based on the Seth Grahame-Smith novel, imagines Honest Abe as an honest-to-Pete American Van Helsing, a buff vampire slayer of the 19th century. Benjamin Walker plays Abe and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is Mary Todd Lincoln, with Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie and Rufus Sewell also on board director Timur Bekmambetov’s Gothic goof on American history.

“Brave” puts Pixar in charge of Disney’s latest princess, a bow-wielding redhead out to prove herself to her fellow ancient Scots. Teenage girls with bows and arrows? How very 2012. The trailers really sell this one, a film filled with funny Scots accents and girl power messages.

—July 3

“The Amazing Spider-Man” gives us a new web slinger (Brit Andrew Garfield), a new girlfriend (Emma Stone), a new Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and a whole new, one-liner-laced action picture vibe, if the trailers are to be trusted. Rhys Ifans plays the villain.

—July 20

“The Dark Knight Rises” is the finale to the Christopher Nolan/ Christian Bale/ Michael Caine version of Batman. This time, the Caped Crusader is up against Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy, among others, in what promises to be an epic send-off. Before you can say “I’ll miss that Bruce Wayne,” remember that Nolan has already signed on to participated in the NEXT Batman reboot.

—Aug. 3

“The Bourne Legacy” is a continuation of the Bourne franchise, with Jeremy Renner as a guy named Aaron Cross, picking up where Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) left off.

“Total Recall” is a remake-new take on the Philip K. Dick story that became an Arnold Schwarzenegger/ Sharon Stone thriller. This time, Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston and Bokeem Woodbine serve director Len (“Underworld”) Wiseman’s version of Dick’s tale “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.”

—Aug. 17

“The Expendables 2” brings more aged action stars back from the dead (Sylvester Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris) for more derring do, a mission that goes wrong, leading to another quest — this time for revenge.

“ParaNorman” is a tale of a misunderstood lad who hears dead people, something that really comes in handy when he has to save his town from ghosts and zombies. Folks involved with “Coraline,” “Corpse Bride” and “Flushed Away” made this one, which could be an animated sleeper in a summer sloppy with animated sequels.

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