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THE MOVIES : Who will get to the bank first? : THE LINE FORMS HERE

<i> Finke is a Times staff writer</i>

“Dick Tracy” is hotter than a revolver. “Days of Thunder” has the makings of a tornado. “Another 48 HRS.” is another hit. “Presumed Innocent” is presumed good. “Quigley Down Under” should have stayed there. And “Problem Child” has problems galore.

Who’s saying these things about this summer’s movies? Why, almost everyone, naturally. Because the Hollywood Grapevine--also known as The Buzz, The Heat, The Word-of-Mouth, The I-Heard-It-at-a-Party-From-Someone-Who-Knows-the-Assistant Director--is hard at work praising and punishing the newest bundle of movies about to be dropped at the doorsteps of theaters everywhere.

Sometimes it’s downright uncanny how accurate The Buzz can be. After all, the word in years past on “Ishtar,” “Jaws: The Revenge,” and “Who’s That Girl?” was all dead-on awful. But just when the Industry is getting a little too cocky about its ability to predict sure-fire hits and misses, along comes a sleeper like last year’s “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” to blow every handicapper’s system out of the water.

Which all goes to show that, in the end, people in the entertainment industry probably could obtain as accurate a preview of summer films by reading tea leaves or sorting Tarot cards as by conversing with one another.

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But, then, what would they have to talk about at Mortons?

Without a doubt, this summer’s most-buzzed movie is “Dick Tracy.” “Everybody at this point is picking ‘Dick Tracy’ as the big one of the summer,” says John Krier, president of Exhibitor Relations, which supplies industry news to movie-theater owners. However, any movie with this much heat has to generate some controversy. And The Buzz is that maybe kids aren’t going to identify with what was a fading comic strip, especially one that didn’t have a preceding TV show. Also, the highly stylized look of the film is questionable in this age of realism. As for the film’s stars, Madonna and Warren Beatty, both badly in need of a hit, the word is they look great.

“But as far as Madonna’s acting career goes,” warns Alex Ben Block, editor-in-chief of Show Biz News, an entertainment industry newsletter, “Hollywood still has to ask, ‘Who’s That Girl?’ ”

“Days of Thunder” promises to be as big, or even bigger, at the box office because it re-teams Tom Cruise with “Top Gun” producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. “They have a good feel for what the public wants, and Tom is the hottest star around,” says Jan Wood, executive vice president and head film buyer for Pacific Theaters chain. The only cautionary note being heard is that no race-car movie has ever made big money.

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By all accounts, this summer’s sequels seem like sure things. Unlike last year’s disappointing “Ghostbusters II,” these are being touted as better than (or at least equal to) the originals. “Another 48 HRS.” features Murphy in exactly the role his fans like to see him in--wisecracking, funny and action-packed--all those things he seemed to forget about in his last movies. But some pundits, like Gordon Weaver, an independent movie marketer, are worried about the “long gap” in time between the original and the sequel.

The good word on “RoboCop 2" is that exhibitors at the annual ShoWest convention of movie exhibitors gave its trailer a huge round of applause. And like “Die Hard 2,” it should benefit from huge videocassette sales of the original, which was like a two-hour trailer for the sequel. Most Hollywood experts think both Mel Gibson movies have heat. The only question is, which has more?

Word is that Carolco spent a fortune on “Air America,” partly because Gibson wanted a rewritten script that was funnier and less political. “I think Mel Gibson in an action picture is a hot ticket,” Krier says. But The Buzz on Gibson’s comedic debut in “Bird on a Wire” is even stronger amid reports of good research screenings.

More good word-of-mouth surrounds “Cadillac Man,” even though problematic sneak previews sent the producer and director scurrying back to New York City to reshoot some key opening scenes. Described as “ ‘Tin Men’ meets ‘Tucker,’ ” (though those films didn’t do well), this movie features a funny and fast-talking Robin Williams.

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“Quick Change” at this point can only be termed a definite maybe, in part because Bill Murray co-directed it. In the beginning, no fewer than four studios wanted distribution rights to the film, but now “I hear enthusiasm seems to have waned a bit,” says Block, who worries it’s another “Scrooged.” Others note that Time-Warner is “high” on the movie and its placement early in the summer.

Expected to do better is “Total Recall.” Arnold Schwarzenegger and director Paul Verhoeven (from “RoboCop”) are red hot, though The Buzz wonders about the film’s sci-fi elements.

But enough about the pictures that are certain to open big. What, if anything, is shaping up as this summer’s dark horse “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”? Those in the know say it’s going to be “Arachnophobia.” With Frank Marshall directing and Amblin behind it, this “sounds like a picture creepy enough to work,” Block says. And Pacific Theaters vice president and head buyer Wood calls it “suspenseful.”

Producer Bernie Brillstein, however, is predicting that this summer’s sleeper will be “Presumed Innocent.” “It just smells to me like a hit. I just think it’s got the goods.” Weaver agrees that “Presumed Innocent” should make it into the Top 10, thanks to the combination of Harrison Ford, director Alan J. Pakula and Scott Turow’s best-selling novel. “But it doesn’t even have to be good because the book was so big,” Weaver says.

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Another picture with good Buzz is “Memphis Belle,” the first feature film David Puttnam has produced since his California days. Though it suffers from lack of big box-office names, it’s said to be “just exquisite.” Block warns, however, that “this kind of movie really needs critical support. Otherwise, it could be another reason for David Puttnam to stay out of L. A.”

Also in the running is the loopy comedy “My Blue Heaven,” thanks to Steve Martin, whose trademark silver hair has been dyed brown and teased into a pompadour. However, for some reason--never good--this movie is not getting strong word of mouth. Wood, however, likes “the concept, the cast and the good placement in the back half of the summer.”

Another dark horse shaping up is John Milius’ “Flight of the Intruder.” Considered a strong action entry, the movie has enjoyed positive research previews. “The only thing is, it’s another Vietnam story,” Krier warns. “But I liked what I saw of the product reel.”

Animated films are in a category all their own, and this summer all three big cartoon features should be boffo. By all accounts, “Ducktales The Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp” should come out on top, since it’s already one of the most successful children’s TV shows in syndication. Disney’s “Jungle Book” should follow close behind. Perhaps able to beat out both is “The Jetsons: The Movie,” which should benefit from baby-boomer nostalgia and teens wanting to hear Tiffany’s voice as Judy Jetson.

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Next are those movies that can only be dubbed long shots.

First in this close-and-maybe-a-cigar category is “Young Guns 2,” a slick piece of movie-making from Morgan Creek that should get help from Joe Roth’s honcho position at Fox, the film’s distributor. “Any movie this exploitative and overly violent is bound to have an audience,” Block notes. “But it’s hard for me to get too enthusiastic.”

A better possibility is Spike Lee’s “Mo’ Better Blues,” a film less angry than “Do the Right Thing.” Generally movies about black musicians haven’t done well (remember “Bird”?). “You have to see if he’s doing anything in the concept of his films to expand his audience,” Weaver says. Still, Lee’s audience is as blindly faithful as Woody Allen’s, and the same holds true for David Lynch, whose mega-cool “Wild at Heart” could attract a wider-than-usual audience if ratings on his network-TV series “Twin Peaks” stay respectable. “Goldwyn thinks it’s going to have a biggie,” Krier notes.

Few people interviewed expect great things from “Ghost” after Patrick Swayze had two bombs in a row. Still, The Buzz is that Swayze’s popularity might reawaken if his character is as likable as his “Dirty Dancing” hero. The same holds true for “Betsy’s Wedding” with Alan Alda, who has residual heat from his wonderfully slimy performance in “Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

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Meanwhile, Fox is giving a big early push to Andrew Dice Clay in “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane.” Though the talk on this foul-mouthed comic who sells out amphitheaters turned negative when dealers at the Video Software Show got up and walked out during his performance, Fox mended fences by unveiling a G-rated Diceman at the ShoWest convention.

Even more confusion surrounds “The Two Jakes,” which is only fitting since confusion is that picture’s middle name. “There’s a reason why they keep re-editing and reshooting, and not because it’s good,” Block says. Still, the “wanna see” on the film is huge, and Jack Nicholson’s presence guarantees a good opening. “I’d like to see any film that generates that much comment,” Wood says.

And then, behind the “gotta see” and the “wanna see” movies come the “Well, I might go see this if I’m not washing the dog that night” pictures. Tops in this curiosity category is “Flatliners,” whose screenplay sold for $1 million. The Buzz on this “St. Elmo’s Fire” set in Harvard Medical School is that it’s a small concept stretched to its limit.

Finally, there are the movies with so little heat that Hollywood already is carrying them out in body bags. Especially those featuring TV stars.

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Though Pathe has put a lot of money into “Quigley Down Under,” do audiences really want to see Tom Selleck saying, “G’day, mate”?


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