April is the cruelest month, and not just for T.S. Eliot.
At the multiplex, throughout April, we're in for a brutal, Darwinian survival test for several A-list stars of yesteryear -- from Kevin Costner to Nicole Kidman to Jude Law -- all of whom are currently on the comeback trail. Some of them may end the month on their way back to their former glory, and some will see their careers shredded even further.
Here are our best guesses as to who will thrive and who will starve.
Last Big Hit: 2013 cartoon "The Croods" (starring voice role); 2009 drama "Knowing" (leading role)
Comeback Effort: Drama "Joe" (April 11)
Prospects: Cage is earning the kind of acclaim he hasn't seen in years for delivering a real, non-cartoonish performance in this rural drama as the title ex-con, who becomes the unlikely mentor to a teen (Tye Sheridan) in need of adult guidance. That doesn't mean this dark indie film will be a hit, but it could make both critics and casting directors take the over-the-top action star more seriously.
On Deck: Crime drama "Tokarev," due this summer
Last Big Hit: 2013's "Man of Steel" (in a small supporting role); 2006's "The Guardian" (in a starring role)
Comeback Effort: Sports drama "Draft Day" (April 11)
Prospects: Costner used to be king of the sports movie (from "Bull Durham" to "Field of Dreams" to "Tin Cup"), but this one puts him in the executive suite, not on the field, in what looks like the NFL's answer to "Moneyball." His two most recent films ("Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" and "3 Days to Kill") haven't fared that well, but with three movies out already in 2014, Costner seems bent on making a comeback, whether moviegoers want him to or not.
On Deck: Yet another sports drama, "McFarland," about a track coach, due in November
Last Big Hit: 2011's "Bad Teacher"
Comeback Effort: Comedy "The Other Woman" (April 25)
Prospects: Back in 2002, Diaz tried to jump-start the genre of raunchy female ensemble comedies with "The Sweetest Thing." The result was a huge flop, in an era when Diaz's films routinely earned $100 million or more. Those Diaz salad days are long gone, but movies like "Bridesmaids," "The Heat," and Diaz's own "Bad Teacher" have proved there is an audience for raunchy female comedy. Given how few other comedies there are this month, "Other Woman" has a real shot.
On Deck: Another risqué comedy, "Sex Tape," due July 25.
Last Big Hit: 2011's "Just Go With It" (in a small supporting role); 2005's "The Interpreter" (in a starring role)
Comeback Effort: Historical drama "The Railway Man" (April 11)
Prospects: For the last decade or so, despite such efforts as "Bewitched," "The Golden Compass," and "Australia," Kidman hasn't had a major mainstream hit. She has, however, been comfortable starring in arcane indie dramas with slim commercial prospects. This one, in which she plays the wife of a man (Colin Firth) traumatized by his World War II experiences, will be one of the latter.
On Deck: Psychological thriller "Before I Go to Sleep," due this fall.
Last Big Hit: 2010 drama "The Last Song"
Comeback Effort: Spiritual drama "Heaven Is for Real" (April 16)
Prospects: Kinnear has shifted gears in recent years from comic leading man to overwhelmed dad roles. This is one of the latter, but in a marketplace that has been kind to such faith-based films as "Son of God," "God's Not Dead," and "Noah," there may be a decent-sized audience for this feel-good fable as well.
On Deck: Offbeat thriller "Murder of a Cat" debuts April 24 at the Tribeca Film Festival, with a possible late 2014 release to follow.
Last Big Hit: 2011's "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"
Comeback Effort: Indie crime thriller "Dom Hemingway" (April 2)
Prospects: Like his "Cold Mountain" co-star Kidman, Law has spent the last few years playing more quirky roles in indie dramas than leading roles in mainstream films. His Cockney ex-con title character here is one of his grimiest -- and richest -- roles in recent memory, one likely to earn him little commercial love but plenty of critical raves.
On Deck: Submarine thriller "Black Sea," due in December
Last Big Hit: 1998's "Antz" (a starring voice role)
Comeback Effort: Comedy "Fading Gigolo" (April 18)
Prospects: Stone continues to trade on her sex bomb image, playing a client of the similarly middle-aged John Turturro as the aging hustler of the title. But the film's focus seems to be less on Stone than on Turturro and Woody Allen as his unlikely pimp. (Turturro also wrote and directed the film.) In any case, the film seems too low-profile to do much to boost the careers of anyone involved.
On Deck: Romantic drama "What About Love," due Valentine's Day 2015.