Like Babe Ruth pointing to the spot where his next home run will land, Smith is making a bold, fate-tempting prediction about his upcoming blockbuster: ''This will easily be the biggest film I've ever had. By a long shot. There's nothing we can do to stop it at this point.'' If that sounds like superhype, remember: Only a fool would bet against Mr. July.
Smith had turned down numerous offers for straight-up hero roles, but when he was approached three years ago with a long-buzzed-about script then called Tonight, He Comes that tweaked the formula by making the invincible do-gooder a flawed, widely reviled alcoholic, he jumped on it. ''A slightly quirky, off-center approach that's what I'd always been looking for in that superhero lane,'' he says. Part action comedy, part drama, Hancock recounts this broken-down character's attempt to rehabilitate his public image with the help of a marketing expert (Bateman). ''Along the way, Hancock starts to hit on my wife [Theron],'' says Bateman. ''There's multiple interesting plots that weave through this thing. It's not a simple movie.''
Berg (The Kingdom), who stepped in after Jonathan Mostow and Gabriele Muccino dropped out, believes the film's scrambling of genre conventions distinguishes it from standard popcorn fare. ''If Hancock works, those big tone shifts will separate us from films of the past,'' he says. ''If it doesn't, that's one of the areas where we're at risk.'' For Smith, there's clearly no ''if'' about it especially now that the film has dropped its giggle-inducing original title. ''You don't want your movie to already have the porno title,'' he says, laughing. ''You at least want them to have to change it from Men in Black to Men in Back. You don't want to give them the whole thing.''
Kitt Kittredge: An American Girl
While her American Girl counterparts Samantha, Felicity, and Molly got made-for-TV movie treatments over the past few years, Kit has now trumped them all: She's the first of the beloved doll company's characters to get her own feature film. The Oscar-nominated Breslin leads the way as the Depression-era upstart who catches bad guys red-handed and saves her clan's home from foreclosure. ''The message is anybody can help their family,'' says Breslin, ''and you can be okay in good times and bad times.''
Winner of this year's dramatic Audience Award at Sundance, The Wackness casts Kingsley as a gonzo psychiatrist who scores marijuana from a teen patient played by Peck (star of Nickelodeon's popular Drake & Josh). Set in 1994 Manhattan, it's a coming-of-age comedy that contains sex and a whole lot of drugs. So is Peck worried about scarring his tweener fan base? ''I remember hearing about Pulp Fiction in 1994, but my Moms wouldn't let me see it till years later,'' Peck says. ''So hopefully the kids who are into Drake & Josh will check out the DVD in a couple of years.''
Gonzo: The Life and Works of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
Director Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) just won this year's Best Documentary Oscar for Taxi to the Dark Side, his hard-hitting film on torture by the U.S. military, and already he's back with this look at the wild author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, who killed himself in 2005. Given the director, don't expect a total love note. ''I think it's bulls---, the idea that Hunter's killing himself is a heroic act it's the act of a narcissist,'' Gibney says. ''I never met [Thompson], so I went in fresh and cold, and I wasn't on anybody's side.''
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Guillermo del Toro
The first Hellboy movie followed a goofy-looking, cigar-chomping hell-spawn as he battled, in del Toro's words, ''Nazis, cosmic portals, and monsters from another dimension.'' It was a quirky film that found a cult audience, earning $59 million at the box office during the spring of 2004. But with the sequel opening at the height of the summer blockbuster season, expectations now seem much higher, given del Toro's success with Pan's Labyrinth. So will del Toro dial down his signature weirdness to attract the masses? Not a chance. ''This one is, if anything, more idiosyncratic than the first one,'' he chuckles. Where Hellboy had a few fantastical creatures, this one has hordes of them. The script is steeped in ''folklore, myth, and fantasy,'' says the director, but also makes time for some domestic comedy between Hellboy (Perlman) and his pyrokinetic girlfriend, Liz (Blair). The couple are now sharing an apartment. ''It's not going well,'' says Perlman. ''So Hellboy's response is to start drinking while he's saving the world from an archvillain who's determined to do, you know, very arch things.''
And while The Golden Army is a summer superhero movie, it still has a pointed message. In the film, ''the world [of] fantasy is literally dying,'' explains del Toro, so it rallies behind ''a rebel prince of Elfland'' bent on attacking the real world that left it behind. The director penned The Golden Army (based on an original story conceived with Mike Mignola, author of the Hellboy comic) while prepping the Oscar-winning Pan's Labyrinth, and the two have some thematic similarities. ''I was fresh out of reading so much material on the science of fairy tales,'' says del Toro, ''that it sort of seeped into this screenplay. It has a beautifully melancholic sense of loss about fantasy that I hope comes through. That, and kick-ass action.''
Journey to the Center of the Earth
Can't wait until Christmas of 2009 for James Cameron's Avatar? This family adventure might tide you over. Shot with Cameron's high-tech 3-D cameras and directed by his Abyss visual-effects photographer, Journey will be the first live-action narrative feature film shot in digital 3-D. It promises serious action, with a high-octane ride through a mine shaft, a giant Tyrannosaurus rex, and startling 3-D gimmicks (imagine flying fish heading toward your face). The plot centers on a scientist (Fraser) who, with the help of his nephew (Hutcherson) and an Icelandic guide (Briem), uses his brother's marked-up copy of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth as a guidebook to find the planet's core.
Despite the computer effects, it was a physical shoot. A typical day might find actors rappelling down a rock wall that Fraser dubbed ''the cheese grater,'' due to its effects on the skin, or hanging for long periods in genital-crunching harnesses. But the most harrowing moment involved Briem and a long underwater swim. After she practiced the dangerous sequence a few times, Brevig rolled the cameras. But when Briem started acting distressed emphasis on acting divers decided to ''rescue'' her. ''We went crazy; she went crazy,'' says Brevig of the botched sequence. ''The only reason she was at risk was because of the safety divers!''
The high-tech part went a little more smoothly. With those digital cameras, the director could shoot in the morning, view the footage in 3-D at lunchtime, and move on to the next scene by the afternoon. ''Visitors to the set could watch the footage in 3-D as I was filming,'' says Brevig. ''This is definitely moviemaking of the future.''
Talk about a small part: Murphy plays a one-and-a-half-inch-tall creature from planet Nill who comes to Earth disguised in a computerized, human-size self. Much of the action takes place within the ''Dave'' machine. ''You are inside the inner workings of a robot,'' says Robbins, who also directed Norbit. ''There's different chambers and a whole crew that runs this thing.'' Union plays mini-Dave's second in command and love interest, but we're really excited to find out who tackles the part of Lieutenant Buttock, the officer in charge of you guessed it the badonkadonk.
The Dark Knight
It's impossible to know how Ledger's performance in The Dark Knight might have been perceived had the actor lived to see the film's opening. His wildly different approach to the Joker ''totally fearless'' is how director Nolan described it in an interview on the set last year would surely have drawn attention anyway, if only for the deeply creepy clown makeup splattered all over Ledger's face. But the star's death adds a tragic resonance to the turn that nobody could have anticipated. Already there is talk in Hollywood about a posthumous Oscar.
Of course, The Dark Knight was intended to be one of this summer's biggest sequels. Picking up the story line from Nolan's 2005 Batman Begins and revisiting that film's gloomy, contemplative tone it once again stars Bale as the brooding caped crusader, with Caine returning as butler Alfred, Morgan Freeman as inventor Lucius Fox, and Gary Oldman as Lieut. Gordon. This time, though, Maggie Gyllenhaal takes over for Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes (a.k.a. Bruce Wayne's love interest) and Eckhart enters the picture as DA Harvey Dent (a.k.a. Two-Face). Expect the usual eye-popping Bat-action, including a chase scene with a sleek new Bat-pod, much of it shot the old-fashioned way, with real actors and real explosions.
Still, there's no denying that Ledger's death has made The Dark Knight an Event Movie of an altogether different sort one of the last screen performances by a young actor who had already earned one Oscar nomination (for Brokeback Mountain) and who seemed destined for a career filled with more. Even before his death, Ledger's casting in Jack Nicholson's former role was one of the most intriguing aspects of this production. ''I knew from the first day on the set that Heath was going to totally redefine the Joker,'' says Eckhart. ''He just really got into it and took the character to the limit. He went for it. I know the film is going to be perceived differently now, but that could be a good thing. You know, maybe it'll just make people think about Heath's talent.''
In 2001, Streep took ''six screaming 11-year-olds'' to see Mamma Mia! on Broadway for her daughter's birthday party. ''I thought it would be fun for them,'' she says. ''Of course, I was up in the aisle, dancing and screaming and yelling. It was an infusion of joy I just fell in love with it.'' So deeply, in fact, that Streep wrote the cast a fan letter, which eventually made its way to the show's architects: Lloyd, writer Catherine Johnson, and producer Judy Craymer. So when it came time to cast the big-screen version of the $2 billion-grossing worldwide hit, Lloyd & Co. figured it couldn't hurt to ask the Most Nominated Actor in Oscar History if she might want to star. ''They called me and said, 'You probably won't be interested, but...''' Streep recalls. ''I said, 'Are you crazy?! I would love to do this!' It was a done deal.''
The latest project to appeal to Streep's lighter side, Mamma Mia! is the buoyant story of a single mother (Streep) whose daughter (Seyfried) invites three of Mom's ex-beaux to her wedding, hoping to figure out which one is her father. The $65 million flick has romance, laughter, and heartache and it's all stitched together by the exuberant tunes of ABBA. ''The music suffused the whole atmosphere, so it was impossible to be in a bad mood. And I try, believe me!'' jokes Streep, who, like the rest of the cast, did her own singing. She quickly got over any nervousness about performing in front of Benny Andersson (he and fellow ABBA cofounder Björn Ulvaeus are exec producers on the film): ''It was rock & roll. You just did it!'' As for 22-year-old Seyfried (HBO's Big Love), who was born long after the band's heyday, she became a certified fan especially of the title track. ''Mamma Mia brings alive something in you,'' she says. ''No matter who you are, it's just a really exciting song.'' My my, how can we resist it?
Kirk De Micco
We could tell you that Space Chimps is a bleakly comic, Bergman-style family drama. But we'd be lying. ''It's monkeys in space!'' says director and co-writer Kirk De Micco. More specifically, this animated movie follows three chimpanzee astronauts named Ham III (Andy Samberg), Luna (Cheryl Hines), and Titan (Patrick Warburton) as they try to end the tyrannical rule of an evil alien (Jeff Daniels) on a distant planet. Far-fetched, you say? The plot is actually based in reality somewhat. In the movie, Ham III is a descendant of real-life chimpnaut Ham, who was shot into space in 1961. ''I've always loved The Right Stuff,'' says De Micco of the 1983 film about Chuck Yeager and America's early space program. ''In the film, Yeager says, 'You think a monkey knows he's sitting on top of a rocket that might explode?' I looked into Ham and did some research and I was like, What if they did know that?'' According to the director, the result features a good deal of ''Pythonesque silliness'' courtesy of Samberg, as well as some slightly broader comedy: ''There's a lot of stuff for kids, the kind of monkeys-falling-off-treadmills gags. You really can't have enough monkeys falling off treadmills.''
At the height of rap-rock a decade ago, who could have predicted that Durst and Ice Cube would one day team up to make an inspirational film about a girl who joins a boys' football team? The two have obviously grown up since the late '90s, but it's still jarring to imagine the Limp Bizkit frontman helming a major Hollywood movie. ''He had control of the set more than some of the veterans I work with,'' says Ice Cube, also a producer on the film. ''Fred has lived the rock & roll lifestyle, so he has that been-there, done-that attitude, and he wants to be taken serious as a filmmaker.''
John C. Reilly
Ferrell, Reilly, and McKay had such a fantastic time making the hit 2006 NASCAR comedy Talladega Nights together, the trio swore that they would collaborate on another film at some point. ''And we followed through!'' says Ferrell with a laugh. ''Every time a movie wraps, there's e-mails exchanged, there's tears then you never talk to anyone again. But this time we spitballed a bunch of ideas. It was Adam who said, 'What if you guys are two men that still live with your single parents and they get married?''' So Step Brothers finds Ferrell and Reilly dwelling in uncomfortably close proximity to each other and their respective parents, played by Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins. The Judd Apatow-produced gagfest was written by McKay and Ferrell, but it was an actual chapter from Reilly's life that provided the inspiration for one of the film's raunchiest plot points. ''John had an older brother who was obsessed with him not touching his drum set,'' says Ferrell. ''And there's a specific moment in regards to that which is very R-rated. I don't want to give it away, but it involves me placing a part of my anatomy on his drum kit.'' McKay confirms that the bawdy comedy is ''a pretty hard R. Are we as dirty as The 40 Year-Old Virgin? I think we're in that range. Although Apatow probably had more female nudity than we have.'' And what does that say about McKay, Ferrell, and Reilly? ''That we're idiots.''
Matthew Broderick and Alan Alda play nephew and uncle in Diminished Capacity, a comedy set in the very sexy world of baseball memorabilia. Virginia Madsen costars (July 4).... Bill Maher and director Larry Charles (Borat) team up for the documentary Religious, which tackles thorny issues like politics and religion (July 11).... Australian comedy Kenny tells the story of a man who delivers Porta Pottis. Could its star, Shane Jacobson, be a worthy successor to Yahoo Serious? (July 11).... Lou Reed's Berlin documents the singer's performance of his extremely dark 1973 album over the course of four nights at Brooklyn's St. Ann's Warehouse in 2006 (July 18).... A criminal profiler can read minds in the Hong Kong thriller Mad Detective (July 18).... Boy A is the tale of a preteen murderer who's finally released from prison as an adult. Basically, the antidote to Mamma Mia! (July 23).... Baghead is literally about a guy who wears a paper bag over his head. Visual proof that Hollywood is running out of good ideas for movies? (July 25).... Emma Thompson gets her classic-British-literature groove back by starring in this adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited, directed by Becoming Jane's Julian Jarrold. Matthew Goode (Match Point) costars (July 25).... No Regret is a Korean romantic drama about two men who fall in love but struggle to overcome their class differences (July TBA).
Steve Daly, Jeff Jensen, Chris Nashawaty, Missy Schwartz, Jessica Shaw, Benjamin Svetkey, Adam B. Vary, Josh Wolk