May 28, 1984 12:00 PM

For movie stars these days, getting into shape for a film is as important as getting into character. The summer’s lead-off feature, The Natural, teams up two of America’s most beloved institutions: baseball and Robert Redford. For Redford, whose last feature was Brubaker in 1980, playing middle-aged rookie Roy Hobbs required some coaching and practice. New York Mets and Yankees batting-practice pitcher Tony Ferrara was on deck to assist Redford with fielding the part. And while some critics have picked off the drama for its slow delivery, Redford thinks the American passion for baseball will see it through: “It has to do with one person at bat against nine people trying to get him out. Everyone in this country wants his turn at bat.”

Despite Redford’s return, for most moviegoers producer George (Star Wars) Lucas and director Steven (E.T.) Spielberg are the boys of summer. Their latest collaboration, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, is a prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, again starring Harrison Ford as Indiana. Kate Capshaw is a nightclub singer whose clothes and constitution aren’t made for Ford’s misadventures, and 12-year-old Ke Huy Quan (said to be the hottest child actor since Henry Thomas in E.T.) makes his screen debut as the youngster who becomes Indiana’s sidekick.

As usual, there is an excess of encore engagements—among them, Star Trek III: the Search for Spock, Meatballs II and Cannonball Run II, which puts Burt Reynolds back behind the wheel after bombing in the bedroom as The Man Who Loved Women. The obligatory all-star cast includes the Hollywood Rat Pack of the ’60s: Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine.

Conan the Destroyer, the sequel to Conan the Barbarian, again co-stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and his muscles, but this time there’s less gore. The producers believe a PG rating, as well as the appearance of basketballer Wilt Chamberlain, will increase the box office take. (However, as he did in the original to the dismay of animal lovers, Arnold will once again slug his favorite camel.) Even Arnold reshaped his frame for physique-conscious Hollywood. “I actually got a little more muscular for the sequel,” he confesses. Still, the toughest thing for Schwarzenegger was his co-star Grace Jones, who plays a wild warrior. “Everything you see her do on video is not acting at all,” he says. “That’s really her. She’s wild and crazy.”

The actress playing summer’s other superhuman comic-book character also found herself in a few crazy situations. For former Charlie’s Angel Tanya Roberts, filming Sheena on location in Kenya meant working with a cast of zebras, lions, chimps and other hotshots of the animal kingdom. “We did scenes only 20 feet in front of 600 wild elephants. It was pretty outrageous,” says Tanya. So is her synopsis of the movie: “It’s an action film about love and the maturing of a girl into a woman.”

Tanya’s troubles making Sheena cannot compare with director Sergio (A Fistful of Dollars) Leone’s troubles after he finished his flick, Once Upon a Time in America. It’s a gangster epic that careens from the Roaring ’20s to the Swinging ’60s. Robert De Niro is Noodles, a New York hood whose criminal pursuits eventually pit him against gangster pal James Woods. Leone delivered a blood-and-guts version running nearly four hours. The Ladd Company, releasing the film in America, trimmed it to just over two hours—despite the director’s protests. Consequently, Once Upon a Time in America has achieved the distinction of cult-film status even before its June 1 release.

The kings of comedy this season may be Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Harold (Stripes) Ramis, soon to be known as Ghostbusters. The trio play three parapsychologists who lose their grant and moonlight, if you will, as eccentric exorcists. Recalls Ramis of the filming, “Danny, Bill and I had to act against characters who weren’t there. ‘Look scared’ was the main direction. Then, ‘Look more scared.’ ”

In their off-kilter and off-color remake of The Corsican Brothers, Cheech and Chong get into history but not out of their vices. Even with swords, horses and a cast of thousands, Tommy Chong promises “there are doper bits. It’s actually the same movie, only we’re in costume.” Some things about summer movies never change.

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