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This summer’s movie diet is fast-fading fare

SHARE This summer’s movie diet is fast-fading fare

Tim Burton says his version of "Planet of the Apes" is not a remake. He insists that it's a "re-imagining." But trust me, it's a remake. I mean, c'mon — let's call an ape an ape.

Remake or not, Hollywood is hoping Burton's big-budget sci-fi adventure will offer a last-minute jump-start to what the industry views as a disappointing summer. True, several big summer flicks have been launched out of the chute with stellar, even record-setting box-office numbers . . . but most have also faded fast.

To quote Variety: "The second half of summer 2001 had better be mind-blowing. That's because the first half has been ho-hum, both in terms of art and box office."

Well, I think "ho-hum" is understating the "art" part. In terms of Hollywood product, only two summer films — both comedies — have appealed to me: "Shrek" and "Legally Blonde."

In terms of cinematic excellence, there hasn't been much . . . aside from a couple of Chinese dramas — "The Road Home" and "Shadow Magic" — and an Australian comedy-drama, "The Dish."

Actually, "The Dish" is a film that might have gained an audience in the old days. There was a time when a charming little character-driven comedy-drama could start off slow, and then — assuming it was good — it could build an audience over several weeks, or even months. Word of mouth took over. People told their friends and relatives to see it because it was terrific. (If you missed it, "The Dish" comes to video Aug. 31.)

These days, the first weekend is all anyone in Hollywood cares about. And a movie might start off as a big hit on Friday, but by Monday word of mouth takes over . . . with people telling their friends that it stinks. And before you can say "big-budget bomb," it's in the dollar houses and preparing for video.

In Woody Allen's 1980 "Stardust Memories," he asks a space alien about the meaning of life, saying that he feels he should be doing missionary work instead of making movies. The alien responds: "You want to do mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes."

Let's paraphrase that about the film industry: "Make better movies."

Here's my two cents worth on what we've seen so far this summer:

"The Mummy Returns." Boring story, silly dialogue, blah characterizations. "Indiana Jones Wannabe Meets the Mummy."

"Pearl Harbor." A bombastic three-hour mess, with a soap-opera plot that would make the writers of "General Hospital" wince. And young people think movies from the '40s are too hokey to watch today?

"What's the Worst That Could Happen." Movies this bad should know better than to use titles this tempting.

"Evolution." Apparently, evolving to a higher level means leaving your sense of humor behind.

"A.I.: Artificial Intelligence." Not a complete mess, but clearly a disappointment coming from Steven Spielberg and . . . sort of . . . Stanley Kubrick. Visually stunning; emotionally empty.

"The Score." Humorless and ordinary, if somewhat elevated by its four talented stars.

"Jurassic Park III." Not up to the original, of course, but much better than No. 2. A thrill ride; nothing more. (P.S. There were lots of kids in the audience for this intense PG-13-rated monster movie, which is to be expected, so why did Universal Pictures put a sex-drenched trailer for the R-rated "American Pie 2" on the front of the film?)

"America's Sweethearts." A train wreck. I naively went in expecting a sophisticated ensemble farce that would aim a bit higher than all those sleazy teen flicks. Sad to say, it's every bit as lowbrow as most everything else out there. Worse, it's not even remotely funny. In addition to the four stars, who try valiantly to make it work, even talented supporting players Alan Arkin, Stanley Tucci and Christopher Walken look bad.

Those I avoided this summer (without regret): "A Knight's Tale," "Angel Eyes," "Moulin Rouge," "The Animal," "The Fast and the Furious," "Dr. Dolittle 2," "Swordfish," "Atlantis: The Lost Empire," "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider," "crazy/beautiful," "Scary Movie 2," "Pootie Tang," "Cats & Dogs," "Baby Boy," "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" and "Kiss of the Dragon."

Oh, well. There's always fall. Or next year. Or 2003. Maybe.

E-mail: hicks@desnews.com