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Blast San Francisco Bureau

Let's face it, some of us serious diehard film buffs can't be helped. Like drug-starved addicts, we rush to films on opening day, and brave wind, rain and long lines at the box office to waste our valuable time on mind-numbing, brain-dead movies like "Friday the 13th, Part 10." Or worse, "Titanic."

Hollywood traditionally used to save all its potential box-office blockbusters for summer and winter. With summer '97 bringing a record number of films to break the $100 million mark, studios have become greedier. Now they're trying to capitalize on audiences' hunger for big movies by releasing movies earlier, a sort of preemptive box-office attack before tackling you with a blitz of summer fare.

Beginning April 1st, the silver screen will feature a storm of new films big on star power, large on budget and probably short on quality. Get ready for the barrage. (Opening weeks are tentative. Some films may suck so much, studios may postpone or hold them back entirely.)

OPENING APRIL 1: Oil tanker captain Bruce Willis, meteorologist Keanu Reeves and sheriff's deputy Jodie Foster battle fierce flooding and monstrous ocean waves that threaten the entire Southern California coast in EL NINO, the latest natural disaster action thriller.

Sandra Bullock and Kevin Costner play army vets who cope with Gulf war-induced illness in the romantic drama SYNDROME.

Dust off your bell bottoms as director David Cronenberg explores uninhibited sexuality and moral ambivalence in the latest 1970s-set black comedy, DANCE FEVER, starring Nicolas Cage as a disco DJ, Will Smith as a Huggy Bear-ish pimp and Kevin Spacey as a hip dance-club owner.

APRIL 3: The mad-antics comedy ANTS IN YOUR PANTS finds exterminator Jim Carrey's house under siege by a pesty swarm of the arthropod variety.

Samuel L. Jackson is a vengeful priest who takes on the neighborhood thugs in the San Francisco-set THE MISSION. John Travolta co-stars as a retarded church janitor.

Those lovable little blue things THE SMURFS return in their own live-action film, this one starring Rick Moranis, Rosie O'Donnell and Christopher Lloyd as the evil Gargamell.

APRIL 10: Gen-X indie auteur Richard Linklater directs a modern-day, hipper-than-thou adaptation of Shakespeare's "Richard III" entitled HUNCHED OVER, with stars Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Courtenay Cox, David Arquette, Matt Damon, just about every other post-Brat Packer, Kevin Spacey and the legendary Paul Newman. Listen for music by Iggy Pop.

Director Jan DeBont follows his disastrous "Speed 2" with the disaster pic HINDENBERG, this time the story centering around star-crossed newlyweds Claire Danes and Chris O'Donnell, who are honeymooning aboard the doomed airship.

APRIL 17: Danny DeVito, Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Spacey are a couple of bumbling gangsters who run a Mafia front disguised as a men's clothing store that specializes in silk neckwear in the comedy MOB TIES.

In a role sure to change his boyish image, MacCauley Culkin breaks a long absence from films with the moody supernatural thriller HOST, in which he plays a young priest-in-training who is possessed by the spirit of a sadistic serial rapist-killer.

The newest cute-animal flicks, KITTY KADDY, features pro players Steve Gutenberg and Drew Barrymore whose lives make a wacky round for the worst when they encounter the golf-playing feline star Persia.

APRIL 24: In THE CIRCLE, Sean Connery and a secret alliance of aging cops match wits with Chicago mob soldiers in this Kevin Costner-less prequel to "The Untouchables," written and directed by David Mamet.

Playing a character loosely based on Desi Arnaz, Al Pacino dances, shakes and sings (well, he lip-syncs to Ruben Blades' vocals) as a nightclub entertainer in 1940s Florida in MAMBO, MAMBO.

Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider and director William Friedkin return to some familiar characters in FRENCH CONNECTION III, in which Popeye Doyle and company hunt down Belgian drug runner Jean-Claude van Damme.

MAY 1: MTV canceled them and said they were dead but Mike Judge's animated morons return in their second film BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD COME ALIVE (Apologies to Peter Frampton). Cameo voices by Lou Rawls, Bette Midler, Kevin Spacey and Burt Reynolds.

Dana Carvey makes another attempt at film comedy, resurrecting one of his more famous "Saturday Night Live" characters in CHURCH LADY.

Director Wes Craven finds himself on a horror-film roll, this time executive-producing the schlocky LEPER COLONY.

MAY 8: Being hyped as '"Animal House" invades Oxford,' British comedy PREP SCHOOL stars Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese, Kevin Kline and Vince Vaughn.

Morgan Freeman is the black sheriff and Bill Paxton is the white supremacist survivalist who are forced by circumstance to team up in the action/suspense thriller MOUNTAIN HIGH.

Hollywood shows it just won't learn from past mistakes ("Dante's Peak," anyone?), offering the lava aden ERUPTION, starring Kurt Russell, Wesley Snipes and Kevin Spacey. This time, a volcano threatens Manhattan.

MAY 15: Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin are on the lam from the Russian mob in MIDNIGHT RUN II: MOSCOW TRAIN.

Morgan Freeman plays a washed-up, alcoholic defense attorney defending Cuba Gooding Jr., a gay baseball pitcher diagnosed with multiple-personality disorder, against a murder rap with strong racial overtones in JUSTICE. Kevin Spacey also stars.

MAY 22: Real-life husband and wife Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker play loony hippies who stumble upon a shadowy Army base harboring a secret of the Third Kind in AREA 61. Kiefer Sutherland and Kevin Spacey play the bumbling Army officers chasing them.

MAY 29: Independent filmmaker John Sayles explores the tortured relationship between drug-addicted Denzel Washington and Elisabeth Shue in the drama CRACKHEADS.

Sylvester Stallone is a trucker who is kidnapped and sold into white slavery in Eastern Europe in DEADBOLT.

Julia Roberts plays closeted lesbian business executive April Alicia Addelson, who is trying to ward off the annoying amorous advances of co-workers Matthew Perry and Ethan Hawke in APRIL'S FOOLS.