It’s winding down on the dog days of summer, when late August releases try to pick up that last bit of summer movie business. The majority of the blockbusters have typically long since been released, with a few sleepers hoping to break through with audiences. It’s been that way for a long time in Hollywood, and so here’s a look at some of the releases from years past in theaters on the last week of August – this time focusing on 1980, 1990 and 2000.
“Smokey and the Bandit II” (PG)
After the successful business the first “Smokey and the Bandit” did, it seemed inevitable that a sequel would come along. That’s not to say there were a bunch of unanswered questions at the end of the 1977 film, but I’m sure for Universal (the studio releasing the movie) it felt like easy money. But the story involving the “Bandit” (Burt Reynolds, seemingly on cruise control) and the “Snowman” (Jerry Reed) transporting an elephant from Florida to Texas (does the reason really matter?), is strained. It’s essentially just a set-up for a lot of high-speed chases, car crashes, corny jokes and exasperated looks from Jackie Gleason (one had to wonder if he was really acting here). It’s passable entertainment; not nearly as much as the first one and not nearly as bad as the third one. I guess that’s faint praise.
“Men at Work” (PG-13)
If you had ever dreamed of seeing real-life brothers Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen co-starring in a movie together as garbagemen, then you’re in luck here. In the sporadically funny, yet almost cartoonish comedy, “Men at Work” the brothers are sanitation engineers (and lazy ones, to boot) who get caught up in a murder cover-up after discovering a dead body on one of their routes. Bumbling policemen and hit men get involved in the pursuit of the duo, who are joined in their exploits by an aggravated supervisor (Keith David). Estevez also wrote and directed the movie, which manages to generate a few laughs along the way. Still, most of the comedy is predictable and tired, with lots of dead body jokes thrown in. (Didn’t “Weekend at Bernie’s” pretty much run this premise into the ground?)
“The Cell” (R)
After seeing “The Cell,” there’s no denying that it’s director, Tarsem Singh, has a unique visual style. However, his storytelling prowess leaves something to be desired. For one, the screenplay by Mark Protosevich is a rather gruesome and unpleasant trip into the mind of a serial killer. This film also came out about the time that the serial killer genre was in oversaturation. Jennifer Lopez plays a psychotherapist recruited by the FBI to employ a new experimental technique she has developed on comatose serial killer Carl Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio in an over-the-top performance). She will enter his mind with the hopes of finding one of his kidnapped victims who is still alive, but in danger of drowning in a well slowly filling with water. The visuals are definitely the best part of the film, but are also overdone and, at times, just plain grotesque. Singh’s career certainly never took off after this film, having only directed one movie that has been released since, 2006’s little seen “The Fall.”