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The Boston Phoenix Oh, Behave!

There's sex -- and more -- this summer after Star Wars

By Alicia Potter

JUNE 1, 1999:  If The Phantom Menace's quasi-sexual motifs -- the throbbing light sabers, the aliens' vaginal mouths, all those tunnels -- don't seduce you this summer, another hotly anticipated, 20-years-in-the-making movie just might. Indeed, Stanley Kubrick's (scheduled for July 16, but all opening dates are tentative), with its saucy promise of Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise looking racier than C-3PO sans armor, should prove that hoopla didn't die with George Lucas's critical reputation. In fact, Kubrick's final film headlines an exceptionally diverse summer-movie season that, in the wake of Lucas & Co., relies less on the usual sequels and SurroundSound apocalypses and more on TV-to-film adaptations, psychological thrillers, and, most provocatively, a saturation of sexual storylines.

Based on a 1926 novella by Arthur Schnitzler, Eyes Wide Shut pairs Mr. and Mrs. Cruise as married psychotherapists enticed into a jealousy-stirring netherworld of kinky carnality. The $65 million film, which devoured a year and a half of shooting (some scenes reportedly underwent 95 takes), also convenes Sydney Pollack, Leelee Sobieski, and Cabaret star Alan Cumming. Who they all play in the top-secret script is still anyone's guess, as speculation lingers over whether the obsessive Kubrick had even blessed a final cut before dying this spring. Nonetheless, this last grand vision of the famously eccentric director should give the anti-R2-D2 crowd something worth lining up for.

But brilliant as Kubrick was, he surely didn't think to obscure Cruise's private parts with, say, a kielbasa. That's the job of Mike Myers, who returns, all crushed velvet and crazed virility, as that international man of mystery in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (June 11). This time, the gingival gigolo will spiral back to the '60s to retrieve his "mojo" -- that's his manliness, baby! -- with the help of Heather Graham as the Barbarella-esque CIA agent Felicity Shagwell. The comedian will also reprise his role as the pinky-biting Dr. Evil, in addition to unveiling a new incarnation, a 500-pound Scotsman named Fat Bastard.

John Travolta is a bit fat and a bit of a bastard as a warrant officer investigating a brutal military murder, complete with S&M overtones, in Simon West's stylized adaptation of the best-selling Nelson DeMille pulper The General's Daughter (June 11). Set in a sweat-sodden South, the film finds the Civil Action star once again fighting for truth -- and playing a Boston native -- alongside a top-brass cast that includes Madeleine Stowe, Timothy Hutton, and James Cromwell.

Leaving Las Vegas's Mike Figgis goes virtually plot-free in the teasingly titled The Loss of Sexual Innocence (June 4), a collection of intertwined short stories about one man's life. Playing like a version of Seven Up, with drop-ins on the hero at various ages from five to adult, the film should receive a ponderous glossing thanks to a parallel re-introduction to the ultimate victims of temptation, Adam and Eve.

Arty sex figures into François Girard's follow-up to 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, The Red Violin (June 18), which sprawls an ambitious 300 years in 131 minutes. Samuel L. Jackson, last seen looking embarrassed in Yoda's freak-populated chambers, investigates the authenticity of the title fiddle, which, among other things, figures into a hot-and-heavy tryst.

An evening in the life of two young gay men (Christian Campbell and John Paul Pitoc) groping for a one-night stand makes up the plot of Jim Fall's Sundance favorite trick (July 23). Joining the boys is Tori Spelling in a role that's sure to one-up Julia Roberts's gaggingly self-reflexive appearance in Notting Hill: the 90210 alumna plays a bad actress.

Pushing last summer's gross-out comedy trend to a new, Porky's-inspired low -- we're talking boffing baked goods here, folks -- is American Pie (July 9). Directed by new fraternal bad boys Chris and Paul Weitz, this bane of the Motion Picture Arts Association (it took four tries to secure an R rating) tackles that age-old puzzler: how can four horny high-schoolers ditch their virginity by prom night?

Spike Lee's much-anticipated Summer of Sam (July 30) also encountered editing trouble, this time for an orgy scene set at the former Manhattan sex club Plato's Retreat. The story, which stars Mira Sorvino, John Leguizamo, Jennifer Esposito, and Patti LuPone, concerns rising tensions in a Bronx neighborhood that's being terrorized by the 1970s serial killer David Berkowitz.

Another MPAA scourge leads a cadre of characters making the jump from TV to the big screen. South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (June 18) finds Comedy Central's cartoon cretins reportedly heading off to military school; perhaps taking a nod from Kubrick, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are hoarding the details of their script. Still, the buzz is that Cartman, Kyle, Stan, et al. are more potty-mouthed than ever, proof that even the MPAA can't kill Kenny.

It's rampant computer-generated special effects, not raunchy language, that threaten to snuff the gunfire of Will Smith in the film adaptation of the '60s TV series The Wild Wild West (July 2). The $100 million film version reunites the jiggy one with Men in Black director Barry Sonnenfeld for a slick, unabashedly ethnic twist on Robert Conrad's undercover federal agent circa 1869. With Kevin Kline on hand as master-of-disguises sidekick Artemus Gordon, Smith's James T. West duels Kenneth Branagh's Dr. Arliss Loveless, who's out to assassinate Ulysses S. Grant after permanently losing his, uh, mojo.

Also slated this summer are live-action versions of Inspector Gadget (July 23) starring Matthew Broderick as the trenchcoated gizmo guy, and Dudley Do-Right (August), which pairs Brendan Fraser as the righteous Royal Canadian Mounted policeman with Broderick's wife, Sarah Jessica Parker, as the coquettish Nell.

Yet it's the king of the jungle that gets the big-budget Disney cartoon treatment with Tarzan (June 18). Actor/director Tony Goldwyn wins the honor of grunting the vine swinger's pronoun-rich vernacular to a decidedly upper-crust Jane, Minnie Driver. Glenn Close and Rosie O'Donnell play gorillas.

And so does Anthony Hopkins in Instinct (June 4). Well, sort of. Jon Turteltaub's Gorillas in the Mist-meets-Nell drama casts the knighted actor as a primatologist accused of aping apes and killing two Ugandan park rangers. Cuba Gooding Jr. is the psychiatrist determined to crack the case.

Although the thought of a hirsute Hopkins as a snarling man-beast is frightening in itself, most of the summer's thrillers opt for psychological heebie-jeebies over blood-spattered, bra-clad coeds. The Blair Witch Project (July 16), a low-budget case of the creeps about supernatural goings-on in the woods of Maryland, gleefully terrorized the Sundance Festival earlier this year. The Haunting (July 23), starring Liam Neeson as a professor screwing with the minds of students Lili Taylor, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Owen Wilson, boasts a literary pedigree, Shirley Jackson's 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House. Likewise, Renny Harlin's shark-invested Deep Blue Sea (July 30), with Samuel L. Jackson, recalls the beach-clearing horror of Jaws.

That's not to say the Scream franchise has been silenced: the film's writer, Kevin Williamson, makes his directorial debut with the dark comedy/thriller Teaching Mrs. Tingle (formerly Killing Mrs. Tingle; August 20). However, its tale of three students (Katie Holmes, Barry Watson, and Marissa Coughlin) who torture their hated history teacher (Helen Mirren) may hit too close to the headlines to survive, even with the switch in titles.

Another film that should tap into national anxieties is Fight Club (July), Seven director David Fincher's descent into the underground world of nihilistic male violence, with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. The vicious drama, though hardly a "buddy movie," stands out as one of a slew of films featuring star-powered pairings: Rene Russo and Pierce Brosnan reprise the Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen roles in John McTiernan's remake of the stylish 1968 caper The Thomas Crown Affair (June 18); Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin make an odd comic couple in Bowfinger (July 23); Adam Sandler goofs opposite a cute kid (actually twins Dylan and Cole Sprouse) in Big Daddy (June 25); and Julia Roberts reteams with Pretty Woman co-star Richard Gere in yet another role seemingly filched from her own life, Runaway Bride (July 30).

A parcel of big-name talent -- Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, William H. Macy, Geoffrey Rush, among others -- cram into first-time director Kinka Usher's superhero comedy Mystery Men (August 6). Based on the cult comic books, this spoof arms its crimefighters with the utilitarian likes of bowling balls, utensils, and shovels.

Indeed, it seems everyone wants to be funny this summer, for excepting John Sayles, who helms the Alaskan trek Limbo (June 4), the most noteworthy directors -- Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, and Rob Reiner -- can be found mugging cameos in Albert Brooks's latest romp, The Muse (August 20). Moreover, the farce aims to find Sharon Stone something she's good at as the modern-day daughter of Zeus who's paid to inspire . . . Hollywood's burned-out screenwriters.

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