Summer movies now arrive on two tracks. There are the action-saturated blockbusters the ones that dominate the entertainment-media complex and there are the smaller, quieter, idiosyncratic films that qualify as ''counterprogramming.'' The beauty of the setup is that the two tracks don't necessarily compete. The sheer pervasiveness of blockbusters feeds everyone's appetite for movies (it's no accident they're called popcorn movies: You don't want to stop eating). The essence of counterprogramming is that, having gorged on spectacle, we're that much more eager for an alternative, for something that feeds the soul as well as the senses. Here's a roundup of notable small releases set to open this month.
Anyone who saw The Commitments or The Snapper will be happy to know that The Van, directed by Stephen Frears from another one of Roddy Doyle's raffish novels of Irish low life, also stars Colm Meaney, the wonderful burr-faced actor from the first two films. He plays an unemployed family man who, along with his buddy, starts a fish-and-chips-and-burger van, a greasy operation that has less to do with making money than with giving the two a way to soak up their time. No actor can make cussed blokery as genial as Colm Meaney. The whole movie is genial a tribute to the Irish spirit of communal desperation. Yet genial is all it is. By the time the two men get their grub-mobile up and running, The Van has run out of gas. C+