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Capsule screen reviews

****: Excellent

***: Good

**: Mediocre

*: Poor

* Bebe's Kids

Based loosely on characters created in the late comedian Robin Harris' stand-up routines, this animated film shows the disastrous results of a date between a Harris-based character and a woman who insists on bringing along the trouble-making "Bebe's kids." The inconsistent animation is sloppy, and the script, by Reginald Hudlin of House Party fame, tries to balance politics and humor and fails to be convincing at either. You know it's a bad sign when the preceding short, "Itsy Bitsy Spider," is more entertaining than the feature. Loews Beacon Hill

***1/2 The Best Intentions

Bille August's presentation of Ingmar Bergman's screenplay is a lush but delicate work of art. The story deals with the troubles created by Bergman's parents, both to their vastly different families and to themselves. A priest (Samuel Frler) and a nurse (Pernilla August), the two believe themselves to be skilled at dealing with the pains of others, but remain either oblivious to or indifferent about the pains that they cause one another. The entire three-hour movie, particularly in the tremendous final scene, manages to convey a fragile image of beauty concealing a tragic core. Loews Nickelodeon

***1/2 Death Becomes Her

Robert Zemeckis' horror/comedy about the violent quest of two women for immortal beauty is cut from the same cloth as his cable program Tales From the Crypt. Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn purchase undead bodies only to discover that being able to take a lickin' and keep on tickin' may not be such a great thing after all. Don't expect much by way of satirical slants on society's obsession with appearance, though. This type of movie exists solely for the cheap thrill and sick joke, but the cast (which also includes Bruce Willis), director Zemeckis, and a great effects team prove themselves masters of these concepts. Loews Cheri

**1/2 Honey, I Blew Up the Kid

Guilty of some uninspired rehashing of many of the elements that made Honey, I Shrunk the Kids a hit, this sequel still has enough amusing new developments and amazing visual effects to help it overcome its shortcomings. Rick Moranis accidentally zaps his 21/2-year-old (Daniel and Joshua Shalikar), who proceeds to double in size, and in destructiveness, every few hours. All of the subplots and secondary characters are dreadfully lame, but the story of a monstrous toddler is fair as a funny symbol of the "terrible twos" and as a science fiction spoof. Loews Copley Place

**** Howards End

The filmmaking trio of James Ivory, Ismail Merchant, and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala have translated E. M. Forster's novel of class struggles in 20th-century England into a brilliant film that is an astonishing achievement. The screen is filled with contrasting elements such as the rich and the poor, the romantic and the pragmatic, and the urban and the pastoral. The alternately funny and moving story considers which group will ultimately inherit the nation. Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham Carter, and Samuel West are excellent, and Vanessa Redgrave and Emma Thompson are outstanding. Loews Harvard Square

**1/2 A League of Their Own

Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, and Lori Petty work very hard to rescue this film about the advent of women's baseball during World War II from its pedestrian and formulaic screenplay, and often they succeed. At its best, the movie is a funny and relevant story about women forging their own individuality and pride. At its worst, it panders to predictable and sappy plot elements that never quite ring true. Loews Fresh Pond

*** Single White Female

Strong performances by both Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh and director Barbet Schroeder's interesting use of lighting and color to create a vividly sinister setting start the film off strongly, but the early promise is never followed through. The interesting but glaringly sexist premise is that recently single Fonda has a deep need for companionship and Leigh happily fills the void with a similar but dangerous desire for attention. Eventually formula takes over, but despite a few ridiculous implausibilities, the film remains effective. Loews Cheri

*** Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

Beautifully filmed, cleverly plotted, brilliantly characterized, and incredibly confusing -- all these phrases describe David Lynch's latest freak show. The film is a deep exploration of the last seven days of Laura Palmer's mysterious and tragic life. If you enjoyed the television show, you'll love the movie ... but if you don't remember what the dancing dwarf or One-Eyed Jack's have to do with the story, you might as well stay home and watch Studs. Loews Nickelodeon

**** Unforgiven

One of the better westerns ever made, David Webb People's story about a retired gunslinger (Clint Eastwood) who agrees to hunt down two men for reward money is a richly written deconstructionist work that relishes its elliptical morality. In this version of the west, "sheriffs" beat men to keep violence out of their towns, "villains" are remorseful for what they've done, "heroes" only feel alive when killing, and no one can be forgiven when no one can really determine what is sinful. Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris are all excellent, and Eastwood's direction has a slowly building pace that allows even the most minor characters and events to be embellished with fine detail. Loews Cheri

1/2 Whispers in the Dark

The first half plays like a cinematic 900 number as patients describe their sadomasochistic fantasies and realities to their quietly attentive psychiatrist (Annabella Sciorra). The second half is a boring, laughable thriller with a killer whose identity is fairly obvious much too early. Terribly written, poorly realized, and completely useless, this is an unqualified disaster. Only Anthony LaPaglia as a police detective with a background in psychiatry escapes relatively unscathed by giving a moderately interesting performance. Loews Copley Place