Weekly Wire
The Boston Phoenix Doubling Our Pleasure

Summer sequels that offer two for the price of one

By Jeffrey Gantz

JULY 13, 1998:  Hollywood figures that if we liked a film once, we'll like it again -- that's why Lethal Weapon IV is opening this week, with many of the same players who graced LW I, II, and III. It's hard to argue with box-office receipts -- and yet eventually even the most devoted fans are apt to feel they're seeing Home Alone Once Too Often, or Live and Let 007 Die. Our solution: sequel combos. If rerunning one idea works, putting two together should be twice as profitable. Here are some suggestions for sequel syntheses that could be smash hits this summer.


Now that we've seen how Harrison Ford as the president handles retro-Commie Russian-nationalist thugs like Gary Oldman when they invade his private plane, let's watch him in action against (or with) retro-Commie Russian-nationalist femme fatale Nastassja Kinski when she turns up on Air Force One to open diplomatic -- and other -- relations. Somehow Nastassja has contrived to get herself and the prez alone up there at 30,000 feet (the plane must be on automatic pilot -- happens all the time in James Bond films); what neither of them realizes is that there's an open radio channel back to the White House, where first lady Ming-Na Wen, VP Glenn Close, and Secretary of Defense Dean Stockwell are all listening in, as the drama begins to take on Truman Show proportions. What will happen when Nastassja initiates hand-to-hand combat? Will Harrison face this act of international aggression standing up? And if not, will he be able to stand at all after woman warrior Ming-Na (Mulan) gets through with him?


Ever notice how all the canine movies -- Lassie, Old Yeller, Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians, K-9, Turner & Hooch -- are about good pooches? What about the ones that go bad? Con Air Bud follows up on the success story of golden retriever/basketball star Bud as his career goes to the dogs: he forgets all his "Stupid Pet Tricks," his three-point shot heads south, and finally, in frustration, he bites Dennis Rodman (okay, so he's not that bad). An unforgiving nation transports Bud and his fellow canine miscreants (including Verdell from As Good As It Gets, Murray from Mad About You, and Eddie from Frasier) to a maximum-security shelter, but when the in-flight movie feature turns out to be an episode of the Letterman show, they remember all those pet tricks and use them to lock Nick Cage and John Cusack in the lavatories. Things get serious when it transpires that these dogs don't know about automatic pilot and Bud's trainer never taught him how to fly a 747.


The Monty Python movies were critical and commercial successes, but there haven't been any for a while (unless you count The Wind in the Willows), and none of them was ever nominated for an Academy Award. So the buzz over Peter Cattaneo's Chippendale knockoffs last year has gotten Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, and Michael Palin wondering whether film audiences wouldn't be even keener to see them go the full you-know-what. That could certainly spice up "Ten Seconds of Sex," the pornographic bookshop, striptease politics, and international wife swapping, not to mention the Ministry of Silly Walks; on the other hand, the hairdressers' ascent up Mount Everest might get a bit nippy. Look for covers of Tom Jones's "You Can Leave Your Hat On" and Rod Stewart's "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?", the Fish Slapping Dance, and, of course, the Spam Song.


After five years of chasing the Cigarette Smoking Man, the Well-Manicured Man, and the rest of that global group of rich and powerful men who call themselves the Syndicate, not to mention those alien visitors who are planning to wipe out the human race, it finally dawns on Agents Mulder (Eric Stoltz) and Scully (Annabella Sciorra) that this could go on forever, or at least as long as viewers are willing to keep tuning in. So, taking a page out of the Gen X book, they retreat to the office, sit back, and do . . . absolutely nothing. This slacker approach sends the Syndicate and the aliens into a tizzy: they're convinced Mulder and Scully have a secret plan to stop them, so they start delivering clues to the X-Files office, in the hope that the agents will tip their hand. Scully and Mulder never get any closer to the truth, of course, but they save a lot of shoe leather, and the studio saves a bundle on this sequel by not having to shoot in ice caves and other exotic locales.


Hoping to erase memories of her star turn in The Scarlet Letter (not to mention Indecent Proposal and Striptease), Demi Moore revisits the classics with this innovative version of Charlotte Brontë's inspirational novel. As in the original, Jane knocks at the door of Rochester's Thornfield estate to take up her new position as governess to by now not so little Adele (Anna Paquin), but here she discovers that her employer (Bruce Willis) is a retired Navy admiral who expects her to join him in the raid he's planning on Libya. In between Adele's drawing and dancing lessons Demi does calisthenics, runs an obstacle course, rolls those huge cylinders up sand dunes in a thunderstorm, and falls in love with Bruce all over again -- until she discovers first wife Bertha (Elle Macpherson) in the attic. There's something for everyone: guys who wouldn't be caught dead at Jane Eyre will go for the action (and Elle's totally gratuitous nude scene); girls will go to see whether Demi and Bruce make up.


Mouse Hunt was an amusing enough film for family audiences, but teaming it with The Hunt for Red October will provide that international-thriller extra dimension. The world waits with bated breath as defecting Soviet naval hero Sean Connery and CIA paper pusher Nathan Lane hook up on a submarine to try to stop a ridiculously intelligent, unbelievably cute mouse that the Soviets have trained to detonate a nuclear explosion. It's hard to know who to root for here: Sean (reaching back to his Bond days for some unique mousetraps from Desmond Llewellyn's Q) and Nathan are trying to save the world, but the mouse is so . . . cute. Highlight: Sean trying to decide between the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the triple-crème Brillat-Savarin.


This one has Brad Pitt (Michael Douglas had already signed up for Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Leave It to Beaver -- see below) as a controlling chief executive who discovers that trophy first lady Gwyneth Paltrow is carrying on a steamy affair with buff special prosecutor Viggo Mortensen. No surprise when a young woman is found murdered in the East Bedroom -- except that it turns out to be not Gwyneth but ambitious, eager-to-please intern Tori Spelling. Homicide detective Wesley Snipes and his wisecracking sidekick Dennis Miller are called in; soon the first lady is seeking protection and comfort from Wesley while the president looks for the same from Secret Service Agent Diane Lane. Then Wesley and Diane compare notes and discover it's all a plot orchestrated by . . . With any luck, this could spin off into a TV series that's even more complicated than The X-Files.


It was bad enough when Ginger left the Spice Girls to go out on her own, just as they were preparing for their first tour of America. But then Posh's fiancé, Manchester United footballer David "Spice" Beckham, went from the toast of England to just plain toast by getting himself and his country booted out of the World Cup. When Posh returns home to console her fallen hero, the quintet are down to a trio, and even their faithful fans begin to grow restive. Help arrives from an unexpected quarter: Romy and Michele's high-school reunion goes en masse to a Spice Girls concert, where, egged on by class misanthrope Heather (Janeane Garofalo), dumber-than-a-box-of-hair best friends Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow join Baby, Scary, and Sporty up on stage. They're so cute, so earnest, so empty, they fit right in. Only problem: no one can remember which new Spice is Fluffy and which is Bimbo.


The line-up for Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan -- Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Matt Damon, et al. -- is all-star; it's also all-male. In this different-spin sequel, which even now is in the works, Hanks and company are primed for D-Day when Private Ryan (Aerosmith's Steve Tyler, clearly not rocking this man's army since he's still a private) reveals that, back home, his daughter Liv is about to marry the wrong guy. Their sense of duty clear, our heroes forsake Omaha Beach for Galway Bay, where to a man they fall for Liv, then fall out with one another. Forget Normandy: a mini-war gets staged in theoretically neutral Ireland. By the time the dust clears and the buddies have patched things up, the hostilities in Europe are over, and Liv has slipped away to Italy for her Stealing Beauty tryst with Roberto Zibetti.


Bounty hunter Harrison Ford is still trying to "retire" those four dangerous androids -- including Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, and Daryl Hannah -- and in this sequel he's followed them to 21st-century Arkansas, which makes Ridley Scott's LA nightscape of smoke, neon lights, Third World squalor, and retro-tech detritus look like Six Flags. When Harrison runs into Billy Bob Thornton, with his piercing eyes, perpetually out-thrust jaw, and froglike monotone, he naturally assumes these Arkansas androids are even more dangerous than the LA variety. He and the real androids are briefly confined to a mental institution, but they escape and join forces to fight Billy Bob, John Ritter, Dwight Yoakam, and Natalie Canerday; after a climactic night confrontation against the majestic backdrop of the Clinton Memorial, the quintet make their way back to friendly LA, where they count their blessings and Harrison decides that Sean is almost human.


This being a family newspaper, we can't reveal too much about Spike and Mike's midnight-movie version of the popular '50s sit-com. Let's just say that when Ward Cleaver (Michael Douglas) comes home from a pleasant afternoon spent chasing his secretary (Melanie Griffith) around the office, he finds June (Sharon Stone) vacuuming Eddie Haskell (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in the living room (now we know why she always wears pearls and heels) and Wally and the Beave (Home Alone's Macaulay Culkin and Alex D. Linz) doing unspeakable things upstairs in their room. Rent the original Leave It to Beaver movie for the kids, then sneak out to see this sordid sequel.


In Starship Troopers, Casper Van Dien, Neil Patrick Harris, Denise Richards, and Dina Meyer go out and kick alien insect butt -- er, thorax -- on behalf of the Earth Federation. Hard to see what they could do for an encore unless we introduce bigger and better bugs. The solution: replace the Earth Federation with the United Federation of Planets and bring on the crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Picard, Riker, Data, Troi et al. are, of course, a kinder, gentler bunch, so instead of blasting the bugs into submission, they try diplomacy and psychology. Viewers who've had it with hearing Troi tell Enterprise crew members to get in touch with their feelings may be tempted to cheer as a praying mantis nearly bites her head off. In the end, Picard puts the insect horde to sleep by reciting Shakespeare (accompanied by Riker on the trombone), whereupon the Enterprise phasers the whole lot into oblivion while our heroes muse on the harsh exigencies of human existence.


James Cameron's film was such a box-office bonanza, there's got to be a sequel -- but nobody wants to risk another $200 million. Solution: a slightly lower-budget follow-up. Since the stars of the Fox Network TV show Beverly Hills 90210 are already under company contract, Twentieth Century Fox can save big by telling them they're making an 90210 TV-movie where they all play their great-grandparents (thus the period costumes) on a transatlantic cruise ship. Casting exes Tiffani-Amber Thiessen and Brian Austin Green as Rose and Jack, Jason Priestley as Cal Hockley, and the rest of the 90210 crew as new characters out to steal everyone else's boy/girlfriend will ensure the action stays steamy even as the great White Star liner enters frigid waters. And those cheesy bathtub shots of a toy Titanic bumping into plastic icebergs will stir fond memories of Ed Wood and early Flash Gordon serials.


If millions of mythical Americans will tune in to the televised real life of an ordinary guy like Truman Burbank with a '50s sit-com-like existence, imagine what kind of paying movie audience a studio could get to watch Jim Carrey in the voyeuristic paradise of Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls. The ubiquitous Parker Posey signs on as Truman's wife; Elizabeth Berkley (who had hoped to reclaim her credibility by landing a part in the new Henry James remake, The Wings of the Lonesome Dove -- see below) is back and shows off her acting chops by playing all the showgirls. Everything looks set for an X-rated climax until Truman discovers he forgot to refill his Viagra prescription.


When they hand out awards at the end of the year, James Toback's Two Girls and a Guy probably won't be collecting any hardware -- but that situation could change if Toback were to team it with a classic from the pen of the great Alexandre Dumas. Heather Graham and Natasha Gregson Wagner do indescribably erotic things to a man in an iron mask after being told it's Leonardo DiCaprio who's inside. But when their sexual frenzy climaxes and they tear off the mask, they discover not Leo but Jason Alexander -- whereupon things get really ugly. Teenage girls will flock to the opening to see Leo in action; once word gets out, the movie will attract everybody who felt cheated by the Seinfeld finale.


The marketing problem: how to get an audience for a sequel to I Know What You Did Last Summer that goes beyond the usual horror/slasher-genre fans. The solution: attract the art-house crowd by throwing in Jean-Luc Godard at his very artiest -- and seamiest. Combining I Know What You Did Last Summer with Jean-Luc's 1966 Two or Three Things I Know About Her gives us Party of Five's Jennifer Love Hewitt and Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Sarah Michelle Gellar as hookers (just working girls trying to make ends meet) menaced by that mysterious someone dressed in a black fisherman's slicker who's out for revenge. Think of it as the first existential/slasher flick: Godard in voiceover quotes Wittgenstein as we watch the cosmos swirl in a cup of coffee -- just nanoseconds before blood is added to the brew.


This can't-miss sequel combines action with satire while teaming Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. The president (Harrison Ford) is in hot water again -- more hanky-panky with the Firefly Girls -- so adviser De Niro tells a resuscitated Hollywood producer Dustin Hoffman to get going once more, this time on a staged bank robbery/hostage situation where the prez can step in and save the day. Dustin hires Al Pacino, but Al has his own agenda -- still trying to get money so his lover (Chris Sarandon) can have that sex-change operation -- and it all goes horribly wrong when Harrison himself gets taken hostage. In the end, presidential aide Anne Heche has to come to the rescue: she frees the hostages, steals away with the money, and lives happily with Chris after the operation.


In this improved version of the Oscar Wilde story, Bosie Douglas (Jude Law) breaks Oscar (Stephen Frye) out of Reading Gaol just as he's written his Ballad, and they hightail it for the more tolerant climes of Florida (land of Anita Bryant), where they meet up with dope-smoking, wrong-side-of-the-swamper Suzie Toller (Neve Campbell) and social-elite prom queen/porn star Kelly Van Ryan (Denise Richards). Soon the two ladies are crying rape and pointing the finger at Oscar and Bosie -- who respond by pointing the finger at each other. With sex scenes that are not just arty but impossibly underlit, it is indeed hard to tell who's screwing who. Fortunately Bosie's brutal father (The Full Monty's Tom Wilkerson) turns up, tells off Detective Kevin Bacon, and hauls the couple back home, where the three of them find common ground while drinking away the agony of England's premature World Cup exit.


Henry James adaptations are popular with studios because they often lead to Academy Award nominations -- but then the films never win on Oscar night because the voters keep falling asleep. Solution: move the proceedings to the Old West. In this remake of The Wings of the Dove, sweethearts Kate (Helena Bonham Carter) and Merton (Linus Roache) are still trying to fill their hope chest by having Merton play up to Milly (Alison Elliott) for her money, but when Kate discovers Merton actually shacking up with Milly, she pulls out her .38 and plugs the pair of them before riding off into the sunset with Robert Duvall. Highlight: the nude Merton's Jamesian final soliloquy, as he tries to convince the gun-toting Kate that this isn't what it looks like: "If you don't call this a proof of confidence I don't know what will satisfy you. You know what you're used to, and it's your being used to it -- that, and that only -- that makes you. But there are things you don't know." A shot rings out. "Ah, Kate . . . you've no imagination."

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