Each May, every publication in America devotes space to a massive feature previewing all the hot new summer movies. And every one of those features falls back on hoary old clichés: Better check your brain at the door! These things sure cost a lot of money! Hollywood is obsessed with bigness! (Because the mostly male studio executives are insecure about their penis size!) There sure will be a lot of testosterone in these action movies! Boy, that Hollywood has come down with a case of Sequelitis! Of course, the journalists who crank these things out claim to be bitter and cynical about the Hollywood system, but the films are generally so closely guarded that most summer movie previews are little more than rewritten ad copy with occasional, predictable commentary about bigness tacked on. The Onion, however, dug a bit deeper, and found that in the summer of 1998, there's a lot more to be seen than your run-of-the-mill explosions, digital beasts, and pretty faces. In the summer of 1998, the movies you'll see promise more: You'll be entertained, sure, but you just might learn a valuable lesson by the time you leave the theater.
Title: Almost Heroes
Deceptively simple Hollywood plot: In Wagons East 2: The Next Generation, overweight, recently deceased funnyman Chris Farley plays an unlikely pioneer paired with thinner, less-deceased sitcom star Matthew Perry. They're explorers who find themselves in competition with Lewis and Clark, a competition that leads to some antics. Christopher Guest directs.
Innovative, unconventional twist: Those familiar with Farley's work in such low-brow comedies as Beverly Hills Ninja and Tommy Boy will be surprised to find him here playing a cultured man of the world dispensing witticisms worthy of Jonson, Pope, and Wilde. Also, expect to see the grotesquely obese comedian carried off by a giant bird.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: Farley and Perry are almost heroes, but if you're looking for real heroes, look around you. You'll see everyday Americans struggling to combat homophobia.
Deceptively simple Hollywood plot: An asteroid is headed toward Earth! Will Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton, and Steve Buscemi be able to stop it in time? Director Michael Bay (The Rock, Bad Boys) and producer Jerry Bruckheimer (The Rock, Bad Boys) promise more of the cerebral plotting and dialogue for which they're renowned.
Innovative, unconventional twist: With Armageddon looking like an exact hybrid between an action movie and a disaster film, it should be interesting to find out which of the apparent heroes will be the turncoat who sells out Earth to the big rock.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: Willis, Affleck, and company spend their time worrying about death coming from on high in the form of a giant asteroid, but the real threat isn't so spectacular. It's the increasing disrespect for America's teachers that threatens to turn us into a nation of illiterates.
Title: The Avengers
Deceptively simple Hollywood plot: Sean Connery is a Scottish bad guy who controls the weather. Can he be stopped? If super-secret agents Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman have anything to say about it, he can. Fiennes and Thurman play Steed and Mrs. Peel in this film version of the classic '60s spy series The Avengers.
Innovative, unconventional twist: In the tradition of The Flintstones, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Saint, Leave It To Beaver, Sgt. Bilko, McHale's Navy, Lost In Space, and Car 54, Where Are You?, expect The Avengers to not only be bigger, but better and more popular than the beloved original.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: Connery may be able to control the weather, but unless we all band together to control the angel dust epidemic, it won't be safe to walk the streets at night.
Deceptively simple Hollywood plot: Two nutty nuts (South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who reportedly signed on after Chris Farley was offered the film, but passed) create a new sport that's a hybrid of baseball and basketball. David Zucker, of High School High fame, directs.
Innovative, unconventional twist: Parker and Stone's good looks and penchant for hijinks should catapult BASEketball to Meet The Deedles-esque heights.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: If baseball and basketball can be brought together, surely the same can be said for Republicans and Democrats, who must abandon party politics to solve our nation's problems.
Title: Can't Hardly Wait
Deceptively simple Hollywood plot: On the night following high-school graduation, a carefully selected cross-section of contemporary teendom spends one crazy night together at an out-of-control party. Ethan Embry (Empire Records) is a sensitive young writer. Jennifer Love Hewitt (Party Of Five) is pretty. Can they possibly find love? Look also for appearances by such iconic teen-movie staples as the geek (Charlie Korsmo), the jock (Peter Facinelli), the cynic (Lauren Ambrose), and, in a '90s variation on the '80s punk-outcast character, Seth Green as a dope-ass white hip-hop kid.
Innovative, unconventional twist: Based on the preview, TV's much-loved Jenna Elfman (Dharma & Greg) seems to be playing an angel, or someone dressed as an angel. Each character will probably undergo some sort of crisis. Humor will likely be derived from the following subjects: intoxication, sex, bodily functions. Green's Wafrican-American character will likely express himself by employing humorous "jive" phraseology.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: If the younger generation can put aside its differences and come together to create one unforgettable party, isn't it about time the Serbs and Croats did the same?
Title: Dirty Work
Deceptively simple Hollywood plot: Norm Macdonald and his madcap-misfit pal Artie Lange start a revenge-for-hire business. Bob Saget directs.
Innovative, unconventional twist: The commercials for Dirty Work employ the melodic strains of Third Eye Blind's "Semi-Charmed Life." Like the many 1995 and '96 films that used Spin Doctors' "Two Princes" in their commercials, Dirty Work should be a knockout.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: It may be "dirty work," but we'll all benefit in the long run if we band together to combat the scourge of racism.
Title: Dr. Dolittle
Deceptively simple Hollywood Plot: Eddie Murphy stars in a remake of one of the 1960s' biggest movie failures, a film that pretty much killed off the big-budget family musical. Murphy plays an eccentric doctor who converses freely with the beasts of nature. What could these frolicsome creatures have to say?
Innovative, unconventional twist: While in nature, animals seem to be concerned solely with such matters as avoiding predators, eating other animals, and procreating, the animals featured in Dr. Dolittle sing, dance, engage in shenanigans, and behave like hooligans.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: While Dr. Dolittle might be able to talk to the animals, it's up to you to talk to your children about drugs, sex, and the importance of a college education.
Deceptively simple Hollywood plot: A huge, pregnant, ass-stomping lizard stomps ass all over New York City. Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerichthe team that brought you the effects-driven, never-incoherent hits Stargate and Independence Dayhelm this $120 million, 140-minute epic.
Innovative, unconventional twist: Instead of dumping its budget into flashy effects, Godzilla's producers wisely invested in bankable A-list stars like Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Maria Pitillo, Hank Azaria, and Doug Savant.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: A huge, ass-stomping lizard can do an awful lot of damage to a city, but it's nothing compared to the damage done by crumbling urban infrastructures nationwide.
Title: Hope Floats
Deceptively simple Hollywood plot: On a sleazy talk show, Rosanna Arquette announces that she's having an affair with best friend Sandra Bullock's husband, so Bullock packs up her things and returns to her Texas hometown. There, she learns a thing or two with the help of her mother (Gena Rowlands) and hunky childhood friend Harry Connick Jr.
Innovative, unconventional twist: Audiences will have to accept Connick as a charming man of Southern extraction, a role worlds apart from the crazy-toothed serial killer he played in the mega-hit Copycat.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: When faced with a tough time, Bullock finds help by returning to her family. But do you know what is not a family value? Hatred.
Title: Jane Austen's Mafia
Deceptively Simple Hollywood Plot: Jay Mohr, the late Lloyd Bridges, and a cast of seemingly unemployable character actors star in this spoof of Mafia films from Jim Abrahams, the man who brought you Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael.
Innovative, unconventional twist: The commercial for Jane Austen's Mafia contains a timely Forrest Gump parody, so delighted viewers should expect similarly timely spoofs of The Jazz Singer, prohibition, The Great Gatsby, and the assassination of William McKinley.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: Jay Mohr's character in Jane Austen's Mafia is loyal to his mob "family." You should do your family proud by respecting your elders, helping your younger siblings, and volunteering in your community.
Title: Lethal Weapon 4
Deceptively Simple Hollywood Plot: In this third sequel to Lethal Weapon, Danny Glover and Mel Gibson once again star as mismatched cop buddies who once again team up with sassy lady cop Rene Russo and nutty third wheel Joe Pesci to fight a powerful Asian crime lord. Wisecracking black man Chris Rock and Hong Kong action star Jet Li also star as, respectively, a wisecracking black man and an Asian man who knows kung fu.
Innovative, unconventional twist: In a departure from the talky, elegant, Truffaut-like tone of the first three films, Lethal Weapon 4 (rumored budget: $140 million) features a good deal of explosions, gun battles, and wisecracking. Early word has it that Lethal Weapon 4 will de-emphasize character development, dialogue, and a mood of wistful detachment in favor of blowing lots of shit up.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: If this gang of mismatched zanies can team up to fight crime, perhaps we can all team up to save this big blue marble called Earth from the threat of pollution.
Title: Mask Of Zorro
Deceptively Simple Hollywood Plot: Antonio Banderas stars in a swashbuckling tale of romance, adventure, and intrigue as an ambitious young man who studies under Anthony Hopkins to become the legendary Zorro. A big-budget Zorro film may seem like a risky project, but as the films Two Much, Assassins, Four Rooms, and The House Of The Spirits have proven, Antonio Banderas = Boffo Box Office.
Innovative, unconventional twist: Mask Of Zorro will put a new spin on the Zorro legend by presenting Zorro not as the vain, aging drag queen of myth and folklore, but as a macho, romantic man of action who fights oppression, wears a mask, and battles bad guys. Of course, Mask Of Zorro will have to have plenty of tricks up its sleeve if it hopes to escape the long shadow of Hollywood's last big Zorro movie, George Hamilton's Zorro, The Gay Blade.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: While Zorro fights oppression with a sword and cape, it's up to you to fight oppression with your most important weapon: the right to vote.
Deceptively simple Hollywood plot: In Disney's 36th animated feature, a girl pretends to be a boy to get into the Chinese army and defend her father's honor. Eddie Murphy, Pat Morita, Harvey Fierstein, and the irascible B.D. Wong are among the co-stars.
Innovative, unconventional twist: For this take on the Chinese legend, Disney resisted its tendency to hire white voice actors as protagonists. Showing a daring commitment to diversity and the elimination of stereotypes, it brought on Ming-Na Wen for the role of Mulan's giant-eyed, button-nosed, full-lipped, tiny-footed, pencil-thin-waisted heroine.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: As the diminutive dragon Mushu, Eddie Murphy teaches us a valuable lesson about the need for China to finally free Tibet.
Title: Out Of Sight
Deceptively simple Hollywood plot: Because the plot comes from an Elmore Leonard novel, expect nothing simple about Out Of Sight, deceptive or otherwise. Steven Soderbergh directs George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez as an escaped prisoner and the sexy-federal-marshal-who-must-bring-him-to-justice, respectively.
Innovative, unconventional twist: After his starmaking turn in That Old Feeling, Dennis Farina returns to his character-actor roots by taking a supporting role. Clooney transfers the patented facial tics he developed while playing a sexy TV doctor to his role as a sexy big-screen fugitive.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: A world in which animals don't have to die to feed and clothe humans... Now, that would truly be out of sight.
Title: The Parent Trap
Deceptively Simple Hollywood Plot: In a remake of the 1961 Hayley Mills vehicle, a pair of adorable, long-separated identical twins meet at summer camp and plot to fix up their divorced parents (Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson) so they can become one big happy family again. Early word has it that the remake of The Parent Trap could well be the remade That Darn Cat of 1998.
Innovative, unconventional plot twist: Disney's remakes of classic children's films are well-known for their experimental nature, and The Parent Trap will be no exception. Expect mind-blowing acid-freak-out scenes, extensive use of bizarre surrealist imagery, and the disemboweling of a large buffalo as an arcane protest against the Vietnam war.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: In The Parent Trap, Lindsay Lohan plays a dual role as twins who team up to re-unite their parents. In real life, it's up to all of us to fight the twin social problems of drug abuse and the decay of our inner cities.
Title: A Perfect Murder
Deceptively simple Hollywood plot: Gwyneth Paltrow is having an affair with Viggo Mortensen; Paltrow's rich, scheming husband (Michael Douglas) hires Mortensen to kill her.
Innovative, unconventional twist: A Perfect Murder is what Hollywood insiders call a "remake," a technological innovation in which an old script (in this case, Frederick Knott's screenplay for the 1954 Hitchcock masterpiece Dial M For Murder) is extensively remastered using contemporary dialogue and new actors.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: Douglas may be planning "a perfect murder," but that's chump change compared to the legal "perfect murders" of hundreds of thousands of innocent babies at the hands of abortionists every year.
Title: Saving Private Ryan
Deceptively Simple Hollywood Plot: In Steven Spielberg's long-awaited sequel to 1941, Tom Hanks, Ed Burns, and Matt Damon star as attractive, All-American soldiers who behave bravely and fight for the American way of life during World War II.
Innovative, unconventional twist: In an attempt to compete with the most hotly anticipated film of the summer, Spielberg's film features American soldiers locked in a battle to the death with Godzilla, a radioactive lizard and follower of Emperor Hirohito.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: War is bad. Unless, of course, it features attractive, All-American boys fighting for a popular cause, in which case it is very, very good and should be celebrated.
Title: 6 Days, 7 Nights
Deceptively Simple Hollywood Plot: Openly gay actor Harrison Ford stars as a rugged pilot opposite snooty big-city woman Anne Heche in this romantic comedy about a pair of incompatible Americans who squabble, bicker, and maybejust maybefall in love while stranded on an island. David Schwimmer is also on hand as a nebbish who does not end up getting the girl.
Innovative, unconventional twist: Whereas most romantic comedies involve a pair of similar people who go through a predictable, mundane courtship, 6 Days, 7 Nights goes against tradition by featuring a crazy, mismatched pair who must overcome a series of obstacles on the road to true love.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: If a pair of loonballs like Heche and Ford can team up to get themselves off an island, maybe we can all work together to end the destruction of the rain forests.
Title: Small Soldiers
Deceptively simple Hollywood plot: A new line of toys12-inch-high soldiers programmed with military intelligenceis so realistic, they actually fight with one another, threatening a human town. Computer-animated soldiers intermingle with live-action stars Phil Hartman, Jay Mohr, and Kirsten Dunst. Joe Dante directs the movie, which promises to be a cross between his 1984 hit Gremlins and Toy Story.
Innovative, unconventional twist: Much like the scene in Wayne's World in which a grinning Mike Myers mocks product placement by holding up a bag of Doritos, Small Soldiers will satirize advertising and cross-promotions while making a crapload of money advertising and cross-promoting its line of toys.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: These toys may be at war, but it's nothing compared to the horrors of war taking place July 24, in Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan.
Title: Snake Eyes
Deceptively simple Hollywood plot: The U.S. Secretary Of Defense has been assassinated; cop Nicolas Cage and witness Gary Sinise have two hours to catch the killer. Brian De Palma directs.
Innovative, unconventional twist: The story promises to unfold over the course of minutes and hours, not days and weeks, which should help Snake Eyes' pacing. Cage's cop character apparently has a "dark side," another bold wrinkle Hollywood plans to unveil in the summer of '98.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: The U.S. Secretary Of Defense may be dead, but that doesn't mean we should forget his efforts to put a stop to nuclear testing in India.
Title: The Truman Show
Deceptively simple Hollywood plot: A sweet, everyday guy (Jim Carrey) finds out his whole life has been an elaborate TV show, and that all his friends and relatives are actors whose behavior has been predetermined by a dictator-like director (Ed Harris).
Innovative, unconventional twist: The whole movie hinges on its innovative, unconventional twist; it'll be interesting to see whether the filmmakers bothered to include any more beyond that. It's one of the few 1998 summer releases that's being marketed as a good movie.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: In fiction and reality, The Truman Show examines and condemns the TV violence that is poisoning our children's minds.
Deceptively Simple Hollywood Plot: Jamie Lee Curtis plays a tough woman forced to fight an electrified extra-terrestrial on a boat. William Baldwin and Donald Sutherland are along for the ride. Oscar-winning special-effects whiz John Bruno (Titanic, True Lies) directs.
Innovative, unconventional twist: An alien... on a boat? Someone's got his thinking cap on.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: A gun-toting alien means bad news for Curtis, but guns in our nation's schools mean bad news for everybody.
Deceptively simple Hollywood plot: Aliens, conspiracies, cover-ups, unseasonably warm clothing, cell phones, unresolved sexual tension, bad one-liners... Expect all the trademark features of Dan Aykroyd's Psi Factor to turn up in this feature-film rip-off of the beloved paranormal-investigation series.
Innovative, unconventional twist: Not applicable.
Socially conscious, thought-provoking message: Mulder and Scully spend their days fighting conspiracies, but it's a conspiracy of silence that allows the brutal, oppressive dictatorship of Indonesia to continue its domination of East Timor.