Hollywood pulls out big guns

With this year’s summer lead-ins like Mission: Impossible III, Poseidon, the animated Over the Hedge, Superman Returns and The Da Vinci Code, Hollywood hopes to lure audiences back to theaters.

Mission: Impossible III the sequel to Mission Impossible I and Mission Impossible II has Tom Cruise back in action to confront the toughest villain he’s ever faced – Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an international weapons and information provider with no remorse and no conscience.

Wolfgang Petersen is back on the water with Poseidon, starring Kurt Russell, Richard Dreyfuss and Josh Lucas in a remake of the 1970s disaster flick about a luxury liner overturned by a tidal wave. “It was a chance to do a film reflecting our phobias today, our fear of terrorism or disaster, like 9/11 or whatever nature can do to us,” Petersen said. “A natural disaster like this is sort of a metaphor for the impossible and most disastrous thing you can imagine, and what would we do when it hits?”

Also returning to the water: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and director Gore Verbinski with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, the follow-up to their 2003 blockbuster. Dead Man’s Chest has Depp’s as a woozy pirate Jack Sparrow trying to weasel out of an old debt – his soul, which he owes to the sea devil Davy Jones.

Fighters for truth, justice and the rights of Mutant-Americans are back, led by X-Men: The Last Stand, the third installment in the franchise about the gang of super freaks, and Superman Returns, with the Man of Steel suiting up for his first big-screen adventure in almost 20 years. Bryan Singer, who made the first two X-Men movies, directed Superman Returns, which introduces Brandon Routh as Krypton’s favorite flyboy. Co-starring Kevin Spacey as villain Lex Luthor and Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane, the movie has Superman back on Earth after a prolonged absence.

The X-Men sequel, directed by Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour movies), reunites all key cast members, including Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Rebecca Romijn and Famke Janssen. Driving the action this time is the discovery of a “cure” for mutancy. Jackman said the movie will wrap up the X-Men trilogy, though another film is in the works centered on his Wolverine character – the bushy-haired mystery man with metal claws and rapid healing powers.

Summer also offers superhero comedies. Ivan Reitman’s My Super Ex-Girlfriend stars Uma Thurman as the ultimate woman scorned, a superhero who uses her powers to exact revenge on the boyfriend (Luke Wilson) who dumped her. Zoom stars Tim Allen and Courteney Cox in an Incredibles – like tale of a former hero gone soft.

Writer-director M Night Shyamalan has made late summer a Halloween prelude with such eerie hits as The Sixth Sense, Signs and The Village. He’s back with Lady in the Water the tale of an apartment manager (Paul Giamatti) who discovers a water nymph living beneath his complex’s pool and trying to escape creatures preventing her return to her own world.

Lady in the Water began as a bedtime story Shyamalan made up for his children, but it grew to an epic that took a month to tell – and a year to retell as the kids asked to hear it again and again.

Also on the fright front: The Omen, with Julia Stiles, Mia Farrow and Liev Schreiber in an update of the 1970s Antichrist tale, and An American Haunting, starring Sissy Spacek and Donald Sutherland in the story of a 19th-century family tormented by a supernatural presence.