In the cosmology of William Butler Yeats, history takes the form of gyres, conjoined spinning cones representing different eras. As one expands, the other contracts. One age gives way to another, again and again, in many variations throughout the millennia. In other words, history repeats itself, often in eerie parallels of events separated by centuries. On a smaller scale, the same can be said of the summer-movie season. Look closely at this year's batch of summer movies, and it looks like 1991 all over again. To better prepare moviegoers for things to come, The Onion A.V. Club offers this helpful guide to understanding the future through the past.
Premise in brief: Jennifer Lopez vs. abusive husband Billy Campbell.
Eerie parallel to 1991: Even the slightest change can upset the delicate balance of a domestic arrangement. Will Lopez rise to the challenge of a violent spouse with the same gusto as Christina Applegate did when faced with the threat of a dead babysitter in Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead?
Crucial distinction: While Lopez has martial-arts training on her side, that may not be as useful an advantage as Applegate's stoner brother Keith Coogan, whose novel approach to doing the dishes helped ease the burden of everyday chores.
Premise in brief: Detective Al Pacino literally can't rest until he apprehends a meticulous killer.
Eerie parallel to 1991: Hunter and hunted share a dangerous psychic bond as the corrupt Pacino strikes a Faustian bargain with killer Robin Williams. In a deeper and unquestionably funnier cosmic connection, Pure Luck follows noted bungler Martin Short as he tracks down a kidnapped heiress with a propensity for slapstick equal to his own.
Crucial distinction: These Americanized remakes are separated only by geography: Insomnia was originally from Norway, while Pure Luck was from France.
Title: Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron
Premise in brief: A cartoon horse has adventures.
Eerie parallel to 1991: Both Spirit and Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves feature music by Bryan Adams. Even more uncannily, both feature stallions.
Crucial distinction: Spirit contains far more Cimarron.
Title: The Sum Of All Fears
Premise in brief: Neophyte CIA operative Ben Affleck uncovers terrorist plot to blow up Baltimore.
Eerie parallel to 1991: Affleck's eye-opening journey of discovery mirrors that of the navel-baring castaways in Return To The Blue Lagoon, a sequel to the popular 1980 sex-education film, starring Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil, The Fifth Element) and Brian Krause (TV's Return To Cabin By The Lake). Nothing less than the innocence of a nation rests in their hands.
Crucial distinction: First love is precious. Baltimore is disposable.
Title: Undercover Brother
Premise in brief: Eddie Griffin plays a black man who is also a secret agent, hence the title.
Eerie parallel to 1991: Griffin and his B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. agency fight the establishment and undercover conspiracies, not unlike Mickey Rourke and Don Johnson in Harley Davidson And The Marlboro Man.
Crucial distinction: Harley Davidson pitted its stars against Daniel Baldwin and the threat of a super-addictive drug called "The Dream." Brother pits Griffin against Chris Kattan and the threat that Kattan will break out such beloved SNL characters as "Mango," "Mr. Peepers," and "Corky Romano: 'Special' Agent."
Title: Bad Company
Premise in brief: Wisecracking Chris Rock agrees to imitate his twin brother for a government agency at the behest of Anthony Hopkins.
Eerie parallel to 1991: Both Bad Company and Jean-Claude Van Damme's Double Impact explore the joys and sorrows of identical-twindom.
Crucial distinction: Lacking Van Damme's patented street-smart attitude and improvisational prowess, Bad Company will no doubt take a more somber approach to similar material.
Title: The Bourne Identity
Eerie parallel to 1991: Damon's identity crisis leads him to wonder if he's a secret government agent, but has he considered that he might also be a woman trapped in a man's body? For answers, he might consult the late-period Blake Edwards romp Switch, starring Ellen Barkin.
Crucial distinction: Unlike Switch, which includes a powerful message about misogyny in the workplace, The Bourne Identity has no social conscience whatsoever.
Title: The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course
Premise in brief: TV crocodile hunter Steve Irwin hunts crocodiles. Also spies.
Eerie parallel to 1991: Collision Course's man-conquers-nature theme reverses the plot of Bingo, in which the machinations of evil humans prove no match for the indomitable spirit of a sunglasses-sporting circus dog.
Crucial distinction: The sexual chemistry between Steve Irwin and real-life wife Terri Irwin can't top that of David Rasche and Laverne And Shirley star Cindy Williams.
Title: Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood
Premise in brief: Two generations of feisty Southern belles laugh, cry, and hug, often all at once.
Eerie parallel to 1991: Though the pagan fire rituals of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood have no discernible impact on their lives, they bear a marked resemblance to those used to bring Chucky back to life in Child's Play 3: Look Who's Stalking.
Crucial distinction: The Ya-Ya Sisterhood's New Age hocus-pocus works only to emasculate men, not turn them into diminutive serial killers.
Title: Juwanna Mann
Eerie parallel to 1991: Both True Identity, starring Lenny Henry as a black man who dons whiteface, and Juwanna Mann explore the complexities of identity through tales of men who must wear masks to discover their true selves. Also, both involve frantic mugging.
Crucial distinction: Will star Miguel A. Núñez Jr. match Henry's name recognition and unstoppable charisma? Only time will tell.
Title: Lilo & Stitch
Premise in brief: Cartoon girl adopts cartoon dog, which is actually a cartoon alien.
Eerie parallel to 1991: The premise alone promises surprises galore, not unlike those that await Ethan Hawke when he goes on a mystery date in Mystery Date.
Crucial distinction: Lilo & Stitch has been rated PG for "mild sci-fi action." Mystery Date involves no sci-fi action at all, aside from the stellar acting of B.D. Wong and the out-of-this-world costume design of Jori Woodman.
Title: Minority Report
Premise in brief: In the future, mutants predict murders and Tom Cruise stops them before they happen.
Eerie parallel to 1991: When Cruise himself is implicated in a future murder, he's forced to go on a bogus journey, not unlike the one taken by Keanu Reeves in Point Break (and also in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey).
Crucial distinction: Reeves fights the unpredictable twists and turns of the California surf, while director Steven Spielberg struggles against the unpredictable twists and turns of Philip K. Dick's original short story.
Title: Mr. Deeds
Premise in brief: A remake of the Frank Capra screwball classic, with a few minor tweaks to accommodate Adam Sandler's comic gifts.
Eerie parallel to 1991: After inheriting millions from his rich uncle, Sandler brings small-town values to the big city. But he wouldn't have had to go far to impart the same homey wisdom to city-slicker Michael J. Fox in Doc Hollywood.
Crucial distinction: Winona Ryder, Steve Buscemi, Peter Gallagher, and John Turturro lend vital support to Mr. Deeds. But no name lights up a marquee quite like Doc Hollywood's David Ogden Stiers.
Premise in brief: Just like the Gen X-favorite cartoon, but with Gen Y icon Matthew Lillard and a less-realistic dog.
Eerie parallel to 1991: Scooby and the gang learn the perils of taking the law into their own hands, just like Michael Keaton did in One Good Cop.
Crucial distinction: Unlike Keaton's rogue cop, Lillard and Scooby benefit from the stern but loving leadership of ethical authority Freddie Prinze Jr.
Premise in brief: During WWII, secret messages were transmitted in Navajo because Japan couldn't break the code. Nicolas Cage must protect a Navajo translator.
Eerie parallel to 1991: American ingenuity under duress is also the theme of Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken, in which plucky horse diver Gabrielle Anwar loses her sight in an accident and must communicate in a secret code called "Braille."
Crucial distinction: For all her courage and resourcefulness, Anwar would probably do more harm than good on the battlefield.
Title: Austin Powers In Goldmember
Premise in brief: Mike Myers joins blaxploitation star Foxxy Cleopatra (Beyoncé Knowles) to save his kidnapped father from Dr. Evil.
Eerie parallel to 1991: Not since Spike Lee's Jungle Fever have such explosive racial issues been openly considered in a major Hollywood production.
Crucial distinction: Spike Lee's bold treatise on interracial relationships introduced a taboo subject to the national dialogue. But Austin Powers confused its look at the blaxploitation era by replacing Beyoncé Knowles with Internet gossip hound Harry Knowles midway through production.
Title: The Country Bears
Premise in brief: Raised from infancy by humans, a bear learns he was adopted.
Eerie parallel to 1991: Just as the young bear wonders why he's so much hairier than the other kids, Body Parts' Jeff Fahey wonders why his grafted limb is slaughtering the locals without his consent.
Crucial distinction: There are no crucial distinctions between The Country Bears and Body Parts.
Title: Like Mike
Premise in brief: Lil' Bow Wow joins the pros after acquiring shoes once worn by Michael Jordan.
Eerie parallel to 1991: An early draft of 1991's Boyz N The Hood had Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ice Cube becoming the NHL's most feared players upon finding skates once worn by Gordie Howe.
Crucial distinction: Like Mike may not end in a hail of gunfire.
Title: Men In Black 2
Premise in brief: Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones battle more aliens on Earth.
Eerie parallel to 1991: Using his amazing powers of sulking, cowering, and sighing loudly, Warren Beatty fights off an alien subculture of his own in Madonna: Truth Or Dare.
Crucial distinction: Smith and Jones are highly trained and equipped for the otherworldly perils that befall them. After a few dispiriting months with Madonna, Beatty quietly surrendered his bachelorhood to Annette Bening.
Title: The Powerpuff Girls Movie
Premise in brief: The Powerpuff Girls TV show, in movie form.
Eerie parallel to 1991: As the voice of Powerpuff Girl Buttercup, E.G. Daily helps save the world from destruction. In Dutch, Daily helped do the same for the relationship of Ed O'Neill and snooty boarding-school student Ethan Embry.
Crucial distinction: Cartoon monkeys with capes play only a marginal role in Dutch.
Title: Reign Of Fire
Premise in brief: In post-apocalyptic England, American militia leader Matthew McConaughey and British fire chief Christian Bale battle fire-breathing dragons.
Eerie parallel to 1991: With smoldering temptresses like Rebecca De Mornay and Jennifer Jason Leigh around, the intrepid heroes of Backdraft also face more infernos than they can handle.
Crucial distinction: For his chilling vision of the future, former X-Files director Rob Bowman consulted scientists and D&D dungeonmasters to make certain that his fire-breathing dragons were authentic to the last detail. The fires in Backdraft are completely unrealistic.
Title: Stuart Little 2
Premise in brief: Remember the mouse from Stuart Little? He's in this one, too.
Eerie parallel to 1991: The character "The Terminator" returned in similar fashion in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Crucial distinction: In spite of Internet rumors to the contrary, Stuart Little is not dissolved in a pit of molten steel.
Title: The Adventures Of Pluto Nash
Premise in brief: A space nightclub owner battles the space Mafia in space.
Eerie parallel to 1991: With its eye-popping special effects and futuristic setting, The Adventures Of Pluto Nash looks to be as "far out" as Meshach Taylor's performance in Mannequin 2: On The Move.
Crucial distinction: In Mannequin 2, Cliff McMullen plays "Mannequin Cop #1." Neither McMullen nor the character of Mannequin Cop #1 appears in Pluto Nash.
Title: Eight Legged Freaks
Premise in brief: Big spiders run amok.
Eerie parallel to 1991: Eight Legged Freaks' David Arquette and Hudson Hawk's Bruce Willis both reached new heights of fame in television advertising.
Crucial distinction: Whereas Hudson Hawk featured a theme song penned by Willis, David Arquette's "Love Theme From Eight Legged Freaks" was pulled in the 11th hour.
Title: Jackass: The Movie
Premise in brief: Guys endure painful groin injuries.
Eerie parallel to 1991: In both Dying Young and Jackass: The Movie, young people learn that pain and suffering are unavoidable.
Crucial distinction: In Dying Young, that pain is generally centered on regions other than the groin.
Title: K-19: The Widowmaker
Premise in brief: Harrison Ford captains a troubled Russian nuclear sub.
Eerie parallel to 1991: K-19: One letter, one punctuation mark, two numbers. F/X2: One number, one punctuation mark, two letters. Chilling.
Crucial distinction: F/X2 was the second entry in the F/X series. K-19 is not the 19th entry in the K series.
Title: Master Of Disguise
Premise in brief: A master of disguise wears disguises and tries to find his parents.
Eerie parallel to 1991: Dana Carvey's attempts to locate his parents recall pint-sized hellraiser Michael Oliver's attempts to integrate himself into a John Ritter-led family in Problem Child 2.
Crucial distinction: In spite of his successful stint on Saturday Night Live, Carvey has yet to make a successful transition to film, unlike Problem Child 2 co-star Laraine Newman.
Title: Road To Perdition
Premise in brief: In 1930s Chicago, hit man Tom Hanks goes after those who killed his family.
Eerie parallel to 1991: Revenge? Gangsters? Could the connection to Mobsters be clearer?
Crucial distinction: Road To Perdition seems unlikely to do for Hanks' career what Mobsters did for that of Costas Mandylor.
Title: Spy Kids 2: The Island Of Lost Dreams
Premise in brief: Underage secret agents join forces with other underage secret agents.
Eerie parallel to 1991: By having adventures and saving the world, the spy kids learn to believe in themselves, not unlike Harrison Ford in Regarding Henry.
Crucial distinction: Can people really achieve emotional growth without first getting shot in the head by John Leguizamo? Spy Kids 2 fails to address the issue.
Premise in brief: Mel Gibson + aliens + a likely twist ending.
Eerie parallel to 1991: Both Signs and Mel Brooks' Life Stinks tackle the burning social issues of crop circles and homelessness, respectively.
Crucial distinction: According to Internet Movie Database user "Quetzl," Life Stinks is "easily the most underrated film inn the Brooks cannon. Sure, its flawed. It does not give a realistic view of homelessness (unlike, say, how Citizen Kane gave a realistic view of lounge singers, or Titanic gave a realistic view of Italians YOU IDIOTS). Many of the jokes fall flat. But still, this film is very lovable in a way many comedies are not." Will Quetzl find Signs to be of similar quality? Even master of suspense M. Night Shyamalan will have to wait to find out.
Premise in brief: Vin Diesel is a totally XXX-treme secret agent.
Eerie parallel to 1991: Both XXX and Stone Cold feature scenes in which large, muscular men beat the shit out of people.
Crucial distinction: While XXX features a secret agent who saves the world while hang-gliding, rollerblading, bungee-jumping, and presumably slamming big-mouth cans of Mountain Dew, Brian Bosworth's Stone Cold comes from an era in which the antiquated sport of football captured the hearts and minds of the public.