May 4, 2001
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The Rediff US Special/ Som Chivukula

Ashok Amritraj is hoping to see a lot of dollar signs this summer.

The Hollywood producer has been going through some rough times: The last three films with which he has been associated have been box office disappointments -- AntiTrust, Get Carter and Battlefield Earth. He made AntiTrust under his own banner and served as one of the executive producers of Get Carter and Battlefield Earth.

Now Amritraj hopes to rebound with two films this summer.

One of them, Original Sin, starring Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie, and executive produced by Amritraj and released by MGM, was to hit theaters three months ago.

Instead, a famous character stole the limelight. Hannibal, the sequel to the hit Silence of the Lambs, was released by MGM and ate up over $ 160 million at the North American box office.

The studio decided to postpone Original Sin, deciding it would fare better in the summer. It will be released August 27.

Amritraj is also producer of the Martin Lawrence-Danny DeVito vehicle What's the Worst That Could Happen? to be released June 1.

"We have big expectations for both films," he said. "Our efforts are on What's the Worst right now since it opens earlier."

"There are not a lot of stars out there this summer," noted Gitesh Pandya, editor of "But Martin Lawrence has had big movies before with Blue Streak and Big Momma's House. He has a huge audience and this new film should do well."

Original Sin will no doubt be boosted by the unexpected hit Spy Kids, which also starred Banderas.

For Jolie, this will be her second high profile movie this summer. Tomb Raider, based on the popular game featuring action hero Lara Croft, will hit the screens June 15.

Amritraj is one of many Hollywood producers who hope to have hits in the highly competitive summer schedule that opens on Friday with The Mummy Returns.

Nearly half the year's box office is collected in the summer. With the spate of films, Hollywood pundits will also hope to eclipse the near $ 7.5 billion record hauled in at the box-office last year.

"There are two or three bullish films out this summer," Pandya said. "Tomb Raider, Disney's Atlantis and Spielberg's AI."

He says moviegoers can expect the usual cast of characters this summer: Spielberg, Disney animation and plenty of sequels. Movie buffs will also see some big names in theaters: John Travolta will try to revive his sagging career with the action film Swordfish (June 15), Julia Roberts playing secretary to Billy Crystal in America's Sweethearts and Lawrence (What's the Worst That Could Happen? ).

Asian action heroes Jackie Chan (Rush Hour 2) and Jet Li (Kiss of the Dragon) will also get their chance to bring in fans.

But sequels are the dominant theme for summer 2001. The Mummy Returns, the follow-up to the 1999 hit The Mummy, which raked in over $ 150 million in North America, will strike first. Many cast members of the original return to the sequel, led by Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. The sequel also boasts a better script, penned by writer/director Stephen Sommers.

'The summer starts with The Mummy Returns and it starts in a huge way,' Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco told Daily Variety recently. 'There's so much heat for the film out there...The trailer has been playing like gangbusters, and we know from polling that there's great anticipation out there for this sequel.'

Pandya expects The Mummy Returns to be a "monster hit" this weekend, predicting a $ 45 million haul. The original brought in $ 28 million in its opening weekend. "Sequels tend to open big but die faster," he said, similar to the fate Hannibal saw three months back. "They usually have weaker legs than the original."

Dr Dolittle 2 (June 22), Scary Movie II (July 4), Jurassic Park III (July 18), Rush Hour 2 (August 3), American Pie 2 (August 10) and a re-telling of The Planet of the Apes (July 27) are some of the other notables.

"There's a strong slate of films," Pandya noted. "These are sequels to recent films though many will gross less than their predecessors."

He feels the thumb rule of sequels grossing two-thirds of the original will hold for movies such as Rush Hour 2and American Pie 2. Pandya expects Scary Movie 2, the follow-up to last year's original which grossed over $ 150 million in North America, to also do well.

"These films (Scary Movie 2, American Pie 2) are not that expensive," he said. "Even at the two-thirds gross, they will do well. Many will also do better overseas."

Perhaps the biggest blockbuster of the summer comes on Memorial Day, May 25: The Jerry Bruckheimer-Michael Bay war-epic Pearl Harbor, starring heartthrob Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale.

"This is an excellent film to open over Memorial Day," Pandya said. "There's the element of patriotism and a long weekend to boost it."

Much of the film focuses on the love triangle between Affleck, Beckinsale and newcomer Josh Hartnett. The battle scenes are packed into 40 minutes, which will also appeal to the date crowd.

The chemistry between Beckinsale and Affleck is 'hot. They erupt on screen. It's emotional. It's great,' beamed Bruckheimer, the film's producer.

Moviegoers will also keep an eye on AI (June 29) for a special talent: Haley Joel Osment, who saw dead people in the 1999 blockbuster The Sixth Sense, will play a robot whose love is tested.

"There's not a lot of buzz right now," Pandya said about AI "But by mid-June, you have to bet on Steven Spielberg and AI."

Positive buzz is also abound for Shrek, a DreamWorks produced animation film, with the voices of Cameron Diaz as a princess and Mike Myers as a green ogre named Shrek. According to Hollywood gossip, DreamWorks agreed to redo scenes in Shrek because its star Myers thought the ogre would be better with a Scottish accent.

'It (the new voice) was so good we took $ 4 million worth of animation out and did it again,' producer Jeffrey Katzenberg told the British newspaper, The Guardian.

Meanwhile, Amritraj, the first Indian ever to make multiple star-studded pictures in Hollywood, will wait to see if his one-year-old Hyde Park Entertainment will be a hit this year.

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