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Summer films that withered on the vine

Take a whiff.

The smell that's coming from the multiplex this summer is not popcorn or perspiration, but the putrid output of an industry that has sold its soul for spectacles.

More often than not, they're 3-D spectacles, distributed by studios that have gone blind to human-size comedies and dramas.

This was supposed to be the season that 3-D evolved from a novelty to the dominant mode of movie presentation. But week after week, we got overblown sequels and special-effects fiascoes, many of which were filmed in the traditional two dimensions and then retrofitted to filch extra money from a gullible public.

Fantasy flicks like "Clash of the Titans" and "The Last Airbender" would have been bad enough in 2-D - the latter film got some of the worst reviews of the millennium - but with a 3-D ticket surcharge, they were downright criminal.

When the weather got warm, expectations heated up; but a year from now, few will remember - let alone rent or buy - titles like these:

"Iron Man 2," which had a tin heart and leaden shoes; "Robin Hood," which forgot to buckle its swash; "Prince of Persia," which sank like sands through an hourglass; "The A-Team," which earned an F for flatulence; "Knight and Day," which came and went; "The Sorceror's Apprentice," which had no magic; and "Salt," which had no flavor.

The female audience, which is usually underserved in the summer, was offered a smorgasbord of stinkers. "Sex and the City 2" offended audiences from America to Arabia, "Letters to Juliet" was marked "return to sender" and "Twlight: Eclipse" was howlingly limp.

Comedy? Adam Sandler's all-star insult-a-thon "Grown Ups" was a case of arrested development. And Steve Carell sandwiched two of the worst comedies of the year - "Date Night" and "Dinner for Schmucks" - around one of the nicest surprises: the evildoer cartoon "Despicable Me."

Animation was one of the saving graces of the summer. "Shrek Forever After" ended the ogre franchise on a high note, and the poignant "Toy Story 3" was rightly the biggest hit of the summer.

Other deserved hits included the Far East remake of "The Karate Kid," in which producer Will Smith passed the torch to son Jaden, and the most talked-about film of the summer: director Christopher Nolan's "Inception."

I had mixed feelings about "Inception" because I didn't have an emotional investment in a story about corporate sabotage; but the dream-infused film was undeniably worth watching on the big screen - and analyzing afterward.

In the dog days of August, three stars on a short leash tried to retrieve their career mojo: Michael Cera in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," Julia Roberts in "Eat Pray Love" and Will Ferrell in "The Other Guys."

Our summer fling with Hollywood is over and, unless it showers away the stench before the back-to-school season, we might transfer our affections elsewhere.