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Aisle Seat Special Olympic Section

By Andy Dursin

Between the Olympics and Clinton's "zippergate," there hasn't been much reason to go out and pay to see a movie that offers clearly inferior entertainment (watching the White House denials and our President's carefully planned legalspeak is the most fun there's been on free TV since Geraldo opened up Al Capone's vault). This time of year isn't the most enthralling time to head out to the theater anyhow, where the studios have found the time to release shelf-ridden vehicles that came in well below expectations to multiplexes everywhere (say GREAT EXPECTATIONS, HARD RAIN and FALLEN a few times).

This week finds the big-screen adaptation of Michael Chricton's SPHERE hitting theaters, two months behind schedule and with poor word-of-mouth going for it. Despite featuring Dustin Hoffman (making his third straight appearance in a Barry Levinson film) and Sharon Stone in one of the most unattractive haircuts I've ever seen, Variety reported that the ending was still being worked on as recently as three weeks ago. Do I need to tell you that this is not a good sign? Meanwhile, Adam Sandler continues to pollute movie theaters everywhere, this time with THE WEDDING SINGER, a movie with a totally unfunny trailer and the gawky Drew Barrymore (still waiting to make her first big leading splash as an adult) co-starring. No thanks, I'll pass. In the meantime, if figure skating and late night ice hockey aren't your cup of tea, here's the scoop on a few recent film and video releases I have actually managed to sit through and survive.

*IN THEATERS

GOOD WILL HUNTING (***1/2): Gus Vant Sant's second excellent film in a row is a testament to superb ensemble acting and a solid script. Matt Damon excels as the troubled genius who works as a janitor at MIT, counseled by therapist Robin Williams and pal Ben Affleck while dating Harvard grad student Minnie Driver. Damon and Affleck, as you've probably heard, co-wrote the script for this character piece, which is perfectly content to gradually develop its characters without adhering to a standard Hollywood plot formula. Sure, you could say one of the monologues in the film was a bit much, or that the plot seems a bit disjointed at the start, but what GOOD WILL HUNTING does so effectively is capture a rich tapestry of characters at a certain time and place in life, and bring them to some kind of resolution at the finish without making it feel like the ending is half-baked and tacked on. Damon, Affleck, Williams, Driver, and Stellan Skaarsgard comprise the film's talented cast; Van Sant, an often eclectic director whose own talent usually enhances his projects (TO DIE FOR), here is happy to let the story do its work on its own, and the results speak for themselves. Additional kudos go out to Danny Elfman's fine, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS-like score, only some of which is featured on its accompanying soundtrack album. (R)

DEEP RISING (**1/2): A gigantic, squid-like monster is the menace behind this B-grade genre film, a totally unoriginal but somewhat entertaining piece of drive-in movie fare that will undoubtedly make more noise on video than it has in theaters. Smuggler Treat Williams and his motley crew are hired to bring a group of thuggish mercenaries (led by LAST OF THE MOHICANS' Wes Studi) into the South Seas, only to come across a deserted ocean liner filled with blood and bones. Stephen Sommers, who gave us the forgettable recent Disney remakes of Mark Twain's Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer adventures, wrote and directed this formulaic genre film, which is neither the best film of its kind (try TREMORS or THE RELIC for superior creature fun), nor the worst. The set-up is prolonged and nowhere near as clever as Sommers' script thinks it's being (and Kevin J. O'Connor, as Williams's comedic sidekick, turns in one of the most obnoxious performances to be found anywhere), but once the creature turns up, the movie gets going and provides the audience with an enjoyable, action-filled climax. The concluding punchline is equally amusing, certainly more so than Jerry Goldsmith's derivative score, which sounds like a second-rate copy of THE LOST WORLD and Alan Silvestri more than any of Goldsmith's best known genre efforts. (R, 97 mins)

*ON VIDEO

PICTURE PERFECT (***): Julia Roberts made three times as much money with the scatterbrained MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING at last summer's box-office, but this genuinely cute Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy provides substantially more entertainment. Aniston plays an advertising exec who lies her way to the top after getting passed over for a deserved promotion--her recipe to climbing the corporate ladder is by fabricating a relationship with good guy Jay Mohr (JERRY MAGUIRE), who really does like her (of course), but complications get in the way (of course). Aniston, reminiscent here of a young Teri Garr, is perfect in this enjoyable farce, with Mohr and Kevin Bacon (as Aniston's bad-boy colleague) turning in strong support. MOONLIGHTING creator Glenn Gordon Caron directed and co-scripted this amiable effort, so it's no surprise the movie has moments of wit and actual chemistry between its leads while the before-mentioned Roberts film suffered from a major identity crisis and inconsistent tone. Definitely worth a rental. (PG-13)

KULL THE CONQUEROR (**): Not quite as bad as I originally thought, Kevin Sorbo's big-screen debut is nothing but a more elaborate episode of his small-screen HERCULES show, minus an abundance of campy dialogue. Sorbo is surrounded by gorgeous femmes Tia Carrere (as the villainess) and Karina Lombard (the love interest), in a script concocted by Charles Edward Pogue (DRAGONHEART) during that ancient time when Arnold was still playing Conan. Subsequently, it figures that the movie has the basic structure of an '80s sword-and-sorcery flick, which is either good or bad--depending on your point of view. Regardless, KULL goes down better on the small screen than the big one, and should provide some escapism for undemanding viewers. (PG-13)

EVENT HORIZON (*1/2): A ship deep in space heads out to the outer-rims of the galaxy to find out what happened to the ship Event Horizon, which was presumed lost until it turned up in the far reaches of cold outer space, minus any signs of actual life. On the case are captain Laurence Fishburne, crew Kathleen Quinlan and Joely Richardson, and mysterious doctor Sam Neill, who may know more than he's saying about the secretive mission. Clearly, someone went to a lot of trouble assembling a talented cast, constructing evocative sets, and putting up the money for expensive effects when more attention should have been paid to the movie's agonizingly cliched screenplay, which manages to rip-off THE SHINING, HELLRAISER, ALIEN, ALIENS, 2010, and LIFEFORCE, to name just a few. The movie's premise is almost identical to Michael Chricton's novel SPHERE (coincidentally opening this week in its own celluloid adaptation), but the film gets increasingly ridiculous as it goes along, ultimately succumbing to unintentional laughs and one of the worst fade-out endings in genre history. Worth a look for genre die-hards, for its visual design if nothing else, though it's clearly anything but a video "event." (R, 97 mins. NOTE: If you have the chance, check out the movie in its fabulous looking and sounding Letterboxed laserdisc edition. A forthcoming Japanese import is said to incorporate less than 10 minutes of extra footage, even though EVENT director Paul Anderson said he willingly trimmed the movie down from its longer original version because the character development slowed it down. Or so he claims.)

EXCESS BAGGAGE (*): Alicia Silverstone's first movie since she blasted on the scene in CLUELESS is a total waste of time, the kind of project that should make Hollywood enforce laws regarding fledging young stars creating their own production companies. Silverstone here plays a spoiled, unlikable heiress who plots her own kidnapping, ultimately falling in love with scruffy-looking Benicio Del Toro while Uncle Christopher Walken (who clearly will now do anything for a check) is in hot pursuit to find his obnoxious niece. Badly directed, somberly written and sluggishly paced, the film is utterly devoid of any laughs or charm, and Silverstone looks equally uncomfortable in an atypically unpleasant role. (PG-13)

This column entirely the doing of Andy Dursin


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