Play it again, Hollywood …

America seems to be trapped in the cinematic Era of the Sequel. If you’ve seen it once, you’ll see it again.

And again.

The apes are back, Charlie’s Angels are back, even Vietnam is back (yes, “Apocalypse Now Redux” has just been released and it’s even longer than the original 2.5-hour epic).

For some reason – possibly an overwhelming wave of industry-wide ennui – the height of Hollywood creativity today seems to be adding a “2” or “3” to the title of a previously released film, tossing in a couple of new characters or perhaps tacking on a diabolically clever plot twist.

In a pinch, an extended shot of Cameron Diaz’s bikinied buttocks bouncing across the screen can be substituted for the aforementioned diabolically clever plot twist.

It should be noted that the original film to which the obligatory “2” or “3” is attached doesn’t necessarily have to have been all that good in the first place. If it played Peoria for more than three days, it’s sequel material.

“I Know What You Did Last Summer” is a good case in point. The original was bad, the sequel was worse and the sequel’s sequel is still pending.

Unfortunately, “pending” doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be produced some day. I fear it’s only a matter of time until “I Think I Remember What You Did a Couple of Summers Ago” explodes across the screen in a theater near you.

What’s going to happen when Hollywood runs out of sequels, remakes and revivals?

I’d like to speculate about a whole new generation of producers and directors who will soon emerge from the collective ruin of 21st-century American cinema and lead moviegoers to a brave new frontier.

But I won’t.

No, what will probably happen in the not-too-distant future is that the movie industry will begin producing carefully crafted sequel compilations in a desperate attempt to keep disenchanted theater audiences from turning to monster truck rallies for entertainment.

The secret to successful sequel compilations will be a simple matter of selecting two or three obvious box office hits from past seasons and carefully blending them into a single film that says it all, does it all and projects a lively new perspective to jaded moviegoers.

“Titanic” was a smash, right? And so were “Rush Hour” and “Pearl Harbor.”

All we’ve got to do is launch a luxury liner on a doomed voyage of destiny on the eve of World War II – maybe in, like, the Bermuda Triangle – and then have it attacked by Japanese torpedo bombers while star-crossed lovers desperately search for fulfillment among bullet-riddled lifeboats and hastily discarded party hats.

The passengers’ only hope of ever seeing land again will, of course, be in the hands of Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker.

Throw in a cameo appearance by Harvey Keitel as the enigmatic, crack-smoking, pistol-wielding captain, and you’re on your way to a bona fide box office bombshell.

Ought to lend itself to a great sequel …

Originally published August 19, 2001