Movie Article

The Long Hot Summer

Summer movie preview: 1991 -- ''Backdraft,'' ''Jungle Fever,'' and ''Point Break'' are some of the films coming out this season

May

Backdraft
Two brothers (Kurt Russell and William Baldwin), taking after their fireman father, battle blazes — and a wicked arsonist — in the Windy City. Robert De Niro plays a character based on Chicago arson investigator Donald Rimgale. Directed by Ron Howard, whose last outing, 1989's Parenthood, grossed nearly $100 million in U.S. theaters.

Inside Story: While De Niro went to a morgue to see fire victims and followed Rimgale with a tape recorder, Russell, Baldwin, and costar Scott Glenn prepared by riding with the Chicago Fire Department. ''Kurt was really digging this thing,'' says co-executive producer Brian Grazer. ''One night he got his face cut and came back with this adrenaline rush. All the actors liked it, but they were coughing up black soot. I finally had to send out a document saying nobody was allowed to go on live fire calls anymore.'' (Universal)

Hangin' With the Homeboys
In the first of a wave of realistic, personal looks at inner-city life, writer-director Joseph B. Vasquez chronicles one crucial night for four buddies from the South Bronx. Much of the film is autobiographical, including a recounting of Vasquez's first visit to a peep show at 17, when he and his compadres had one quarter between them.

Inside Story: Vasquez hopes to correct the image of the South Bronx circulated by The Bonfire of the Vanities: He walked out of the film as soon as he saw what director Brian De Palma had done to his old stomping grounds. ''When I saw these neighborhoods where I've been making films since I was 12 years old, with all those abandoned cars and all that rubble, it really pissed me off,'' he says. ''They must have spent $3 million to make it look like a s---hole. My film shows the reality. It doesn't make it pretty or ugly.'' (New Line)

Hudson Hawk
An action-adventure starring Bruce Willis and featuring Andie MacDowell, James Coburn, Richard E. Grant, and Sandra Bernhard. See story on Bruce Willis on the Level

Only the Lonely
Next up for the hugely successful Home Alone team of John Hughes and Chris Columbus is a romantic comedy starring John Candy as a Chicago policeman who abides by the strict household rules of his overbearing mother (Maureen O'Hara, returning after a 20-year hiatus in a film career that includes Miracle on 34th Street and The Quiet Man). Then Candy's character meets a funeral parlor cosmetician played by Ally Sheedy (The Breakfast Club), and experiences first love.

Inside Story: Sheedy studied embalming with a 28-year-old female mortician. ''We went up into a room with the table, and the floor with the drain in it for all the fluids. She showed me how to do the procedure — not on a real person — just what you cut and where you do different things,'' Sheedy says. ''She was trying to find someone who would actually let me watch an embalming, but nobody wanted me to. It's kind of a sacred thing.''

Soapdish
Sally Field stars as an over-the-hill, over-the-top soap queen who's in a lather about being edged out of The Sun Also Sets by ambitious starlets (Cathy Moriarty and Teri Hatcher) and a lecherous director (Robert Downey Jr.). Not even Rose (Whoopi Goldberg), her scriptwriter and only ally, can save her from career-threatening plot lines that bring her ex-lover (Kevin Kline) and cherished ''niece'' (Elisabeth Shue) onto the scene in this send-up of TV soaps.

Inside Story: An early script by Robert Harling (Steel Magnolias) had Field accepting a Daytime Emmy with ''You all really, really do like me!'' The line was dropped from the final script by Andrew Bergman (The Freshman). ''That was an inside joke for the reading. I was never going to do that,'' says Field, who figures once is enough.

Straight Out of Brooklyn
Writer-director-producer-actor Matty Rich — Hollywood's only 19-year-old quadruple hyphenate — drew his inspiration from friends and relatives for a brutally frank portrait of black working-class life in Brooklyn's Red Hook housing projects. Teenager Dennis Brown (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) robs a drug dealer so he can get his family out of the projects, but his parents face the terrible consequences.

Inside Story: With a Special Jury award from the Sundance Film Festival and "two studios grabbing at my throat," Rich may want to confine his next movie to a soundstage. The novice — who financed his debut with credit cards, radio fund-raising, and help from director Jonathan Demme — shot in Red Hook, where he sought permission from the reigning street-corner drug dealer. One scene was ruined when a carton of eggs was hurled from a rooftop at the actors. Interiors were shot in the safe — if dinky — apartment of Rich's grandmother, who cooked for up to 50 crew members every day. ''She would make all sorts of soul food,'' says Rich. ''Lunch was the best part.''

Thelma and Louise
Susan Sarandon stars with Geena Davis in a female buddy-road movie.

Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken
For sheer theatricality, you can't do much better than a horse with a pretty girl on it diving off a platform into a tank of water. Add a little historical perspective (the movie is based on the life of Sonora Webster), tragedy (she is injured during one stunt), triumph (she returns to dive again), and romance (this girl's in love), and you have a film only an animal rights activist could hate. Gabrielle Anwar saddles up as the heroine, alongside Cliff Robertson and Michael Schoeffling (Mermaids).

Inside Story: The film's death-defying dives weren't even close to the 40- footers with which Webster thrilled Atlantic City crowds in the '30s. Producer Matt Williams says Humane Society guidelines dictated that the jumps never exceed 10 feet. ''We accentuated them with low camera angles to make it appear to be 40 feet,'' he explains. He also used a mechanical steed — about one-quarter the size of a horse — for special effects.

June

City Slickers
Here's a movie for urban cowboys yearning for saddle sores. Mid-life is bleak for radio airtime salesman Billy Crystal, so when his pals Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby arrange a vacation herding cattle in the wild West, Crystal's fed up wife (Patricia Wettig) urges him to go and "find your smile." Jack Palance rides along as an eerily demonic trail boss who's a sucker for a harmonica tune.

Inside Story: The opener of Crystal and company running with the bulls in Pamplona was actually filmed on Universal's European Street in Los Angeles, but the looks of abject fear on the actors' faces are no re-creation. ''It was really scary,'' says Stern. ''Not only were the bulls behind us, there was a line of stunt guys who'd fall in front of us and let the cattle run over them. So we'd have to jump over their bodies and head for a safe spot behind a fence. (Director) Ron Underwood is a great person, but he's a little nuts.''

Jungle Fever
Spike Lee takes New York's racial temperature once again, this time by examining an interracial romance. A black architect (Wesley Snipes) from a gentrified part of Harlem falls for a white secretary (Annabella Sciorra) from Bensonhurst, the site of notorious antiblack violence in 1989. Jungle Fever promises to be one movie with a soundtrack worth listening to: It contains 11 new songs by Stevie Wonder, his first album in four years.

Inside Story: Although Lee's own stepmother is white, Jungle Fever isn't based on her relationship with his father, nor did he interview them for the script. ''It's not like (black-white liaisons) are from Mars or anything,'' says Lee. ''I didn't have to do any research.'' The windows of Floral Fantasy, a Brooklyn shop he rented for the shoot, were smashed during filming last September. The owner reportedly received a telephone threat saying, ''That's what happens when you rent to niggers.'' The self-assured Lee hired extra security and shrugged it off: ''We've been through this before,'' he says.

The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear
As Al Pacino returned to The Godfather, so Leslie Nielsen reprises his career-resuscitating role as hapless Lieut. Frank Drebin, who futilely tries to foil a plot to influence U.S. energy policy. Priscilla Presley, George Kennedy, and O.J. Simpson return in the slapstick comedy as well.

Inside Story: The Naked Gun 2 1/2 features a very environmentally conscious star vehicle: an experimental, partially solar-powered car, which appears as one of the energy-saving devices the evil petroleum consortium hopes to crush. Director-cowriter David Zucker, who already drives an electrically powered Ford Tempo, hopes to co-opt the movie's roadster when production wraps. He has driven it on the freeway and says it did 65. ''It's going to be the new Hollywood status symbol,'' he boasts.

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