Byline: Sean Smith and Devin Gordon
Don't blame us--Hollywood decided long ago that summer is testosterone time. And we don't greenlight the movies, we just write about them. So with apologies to Halle Berry ("Catwoman"), Nicole Kidman ("The Stepford Wives") and the enchanting Anne Hathaway ("The Princess Diaries 2"), what follows are four insightful pages of beefcake. Hollywood knows that most women won't object to the man show, given that the season's filled with so many big names. Jackman. Hanks. Washington. Garcia Bernal. Oh yeah, plus Mike Myers as Shrek. (Hey, Princess Fiona thinks he's foxy.) So let your cinematic fantasies heat up with the weather and take a sneak peek at our top picks of the season.
Tobey Maguire--SPIDER-MAN 2
As glamorous as it may sound, life as a superhero is more like the worst job you've never had: long hours, lousy pay and a really hostile work environment. It's all getting to be a bit much for college freshman Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man. On top of protecting the innocent from the forces of evil, Parker is working two (other) jobs just to cover the rent and struggling in his classes and caring for his widowed aunt and pining for the girl he loves (Kirsten Dunst). In "Spider-Man 2," the sequel to 2002's $403 million smash hit, our hero is "pretty stressed out," says Tobey Maguire, the man who plays him. "He's growing weary of his lifestyle. He's dying to live a normal life." But standing in his way is Doc Ock (Alfred Molina), a steeltentacled new villain who, like Spidey, is the beneficiary of science gone awry. Maguire promises that part two, also directed by Sam Raimi, will blow away the original--and that Doc Ock is a chief reason why. "The Green Goblin [the first film's antagonist] was a green guy on a glider." Maguire laughs. "Which is, you know, that's cool. Doc Ock is just a better cinematic villain. And I love him from the comics. He was always the coolest bad guy." May the best freak of nature win.
Yes, he looks really hot in leather. But the question is, does it matter? Brad Pitt's stardom has proved oddly capricious. His face may sell magazines, but his box-office record has been spotty. (You can decide for yourself about his acting.) Other than "Ocean's Eleven," which was an ensemble movie, Pitt hasn't made a movie that grossed more than $100 million since the gruesome thriller "Seven," and that was nine years ago. True, the material he chooses (e.g., "Fight Club") isn't always meant to be commercial. But what's even more problematic is that his largest fan base is female, and most of his movies are targeted to men. That makes the epic "Troy" a major risk. Warner Bros. has a reported $200 million riding on Pitt's appeal, but this adaptation of the Iliad is rated R, which limits the massive teen audience. The movie will fail without a strong female turnout. Will women go? Pitt is said to flash, among other things, his Achilles' rear, and that's got to be worth at least $100 million.
Tom Hanks--THE TERMINAL
He's the most consistently bankable star on the planet--his movies have grossed $5 billion worldwide--and he's never been an action hero or a sex symbol. He's never even made a sequel. OK, yes, there was "Toy Story 2," but the point is that Tom Hanks is not generally a summer-movie kinda guy. "The Terminal," directed by Steven Spielberg, isn't a summer kinda movie, either. Hanks plays a Balkan man who arrives at New York's JFK airport and learns that there's been a coup in his country. His passport is invalid. He can't go home, and he can't enter the United States. Trapped for nine months, he discovers America from the wrong side of the immigration desk. "I couldn't believe nobody had thought of this before," Hanks says. "If you've ever been in a foreign country and you can't figure out how anything works, it's scary." The film marks the first time Hanks has played a character who's not American, which is amazing, isn't it? "I guess so," he says, laughing. "It's true. I've never played Ho Chi Minh." Right. That's next summer.
Hugh Jackman--VAN HELSING
Being the first summer movie has become a good-luck charm. Think "Spider-Man," the "X-Men" sequel, the "Mummy" franchise. So pairing "X-Men" star Hugh Jackman with "Mummy" director Stephen Sommers in a massive spectacle about a vampire killer who takes on Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein's monster seems like a sure bet. Jackman has already built a solid fan base, but if "Van Helsing" scores, it could propel him up the Hollywood power charts. Early test screenings generated angry Internet reviews from horror fans, and industry gossip places the budget at $200 million. Still, horror fans hated "The Mummy," too, and that didn't matter much in the long run. As for the budget, Universal insists the movie cost only about $150 million. "If the ship goes down, I go down with it, to some degree," says Jackman. "It's a lot easier to admit my nerves now because I'm cured. I've seen the movie and I really love it." Here's hoping he's not alone.
Jake Gyllenhaal--THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW
If you have a teenage daughter (or are one), he's already on your radar: he's that totally cute guy who was in the cult hit "Donnie Darko," and he's dating Kirsten Dunst! But this $125 million global-warming disaster movie, from the director of the aliens-attack disaster movie "Independence Day," could make Jake Gyllenhaal crushworthy to the rest of the world, as well as Hollywood's newest leading man. That's not why he did it, though. Honest. "I really wanted it to mean something," he says. As the world is being drowned by tidal waves, the father of Gyllenhaal's character, played by Dennis Quaid, sets out to save his estranged son. "Neglect in a family is very similar to the neglect we, as humanity, have for the environment," Gyllenhaal says. Noted. But he still gets all wet and tousled in the movie, so the real disaster he'll endure is an attack of 12-year-old girls. "Well," he says with a laugh, "I only wish I were 12 again so I could actually have fun with that."
Joaquin Phoenix--THE VILLAGE
Director M. Night Shyamalan is famously secretive about his films, and that suits his new favorite actor, Joaquin Phoenix, just fine. "To be honest, I hate talking about movies and what they're about," he says. "So it's great working with Night, because I can use him as the perfect excuse not to say anything." Fair enough. Here's what we do know about the film, which also stars Oscar darlings Adrien Brody, William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver: a tiny village in 19th-century rural Pennsylvania brokers an uneasy truce with mysterious creatures living in the woods nearby. Then the truce ends. Cue terror and death. Phoenix, 29, is happier talking about his character, Lucius Hunt. "Simply put, he's pure. I liked him because he's very quiet. And I wanted to do a movie where I didn't have much dialogue."
Gael Garcia Bernal--THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES
Just when you thought he'd been retired to a T shirt, Che Guevara is back. This time, however, it's not as Che--the glam-guerrilla whose rebel curls and encomiums made generations swoon--but as Guevara de la Serna, the blinking young Argentine physician with a motorbike and an epic case of wanderlust. Directed by the talented Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles ("Central Station"), "The Motorcycle Diaries" focuses on the young man behind the movement. The year is 1952 and the 24-year-old Buenos Aires doctor and his biologist friend, Alberto Granado, roar off on a motorcycle to explore the brutal continent of South America. For the doe-eyed Gael Garcia Bernal ("Amores Perros," "Y Tu Mama Tambien"), playing the vibrant young Guevara could prove to be the breakout role he's been waiting for. The 25-year-old actor possesses the perfect blend of vulnerability and swagger to evoke the boy on a bike, stuck somewhere between youthful innocence and the beret and bandoleer that will turn him into an enduring revolutionary hero.
Clive Owen--KING ARTHUR
From producer Jerry Bruckheimer, this update of a legend promises to strip away all the magic and sword-in-the-stone gimmickry in order to tell the true story of what really happened, which was... what, exactly? "It's 500 A.D.," explains Clive Owen. "Britain is in chaos. And there's this half Roman, half Briton who may be the one to galvanize his country. It's a journey of someone who becomes a man of his people." For the actor, it was a journey of someone who had a really sore butt. "I'd say 60 percent of the film is on horseback," says Owen, 39, best known for the gambling noir "Croupier." (Keira Knightley costars as Guinevere.) "When we were learning to ride, the stunt guys would always say, 'Now, don't worry, you'll never be asked to go any faster than this.' And, of course, we were. But now I've got the bug. By the end of the shoot, I was pretty fearless." But he also walked funny.
Denzel Washington--MAN ON FIRE
Director Tony Scott ("Top Gun," "Enemy of the State," "Spy Game") wisely chose Denzel Washington to star as the special-operative-turned-boozing-bodyguard John Creasy in "Man of Fire," injecting some thespian weight in this bullet-riddled tale of police corruption, murder and kidnapping. (You could even say that it's inspired by a true story; these days, Mexico City, where the film is set, boasts one kidnapping every 60 minutes.) Washington and 9-year-old Dakota Fanning, who plays the young girl he is hired to protect, developed a warm rapport during the filming. On-screen their relationship underscores the emotional range of Washington's acting, and will no doubt boost his reputation as the thinking man's action man. The gory lawlessness depicted in "Man on Fire," though, will do nothing to improve the image of Mexico's capital.
CAPTION(S): Maguire; Pitt; Hanks; Radcliffe; Jackman; Gyllenhaal; Garcia Bernal; Owen; Washington…