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Capsule film reviews

****: Excellent

***: Good

**: Mediocre

*: Poor

*** Bad Lieutenant

Not a movie for the squeamish, writer/director Abel Ferrara's story about the self-destruction of a once proud and successful NYC homicide lieutenant is a fiery and poignant character study exploring the landscapes of the human soul. Keitel does a magnificent job with his portrayal of the reprehensible man, who is being corrupted by alcoholism, cocaine addiction, gambling, infidelity, extortion, and theft. At no point can we sympathize with the lieutenant's plight, but on some level we can all identify with his pain and desperation. -- Douglas D. Keller. Loews Harvard Square

**** The Crying Game

Neil Jordan's story of an IRA terrorist (Stephen Rea) is a remarkably well-written piece of work that at first seems to follow its protagonist in aimless yet intriguing directions, but eventually reveals itself to be a perfectly structured look at violence, race, love, and sexuality. Rea is ordered to guard a kidnapped British officer (Forest Whitaker), but he begins to care for the hostage and later flees to London, where he meets the officer's girlfriend (Jaye Davidson). The two halves of the film, which contain some completely unpredictable plot twists, become mirrors of one another, reflecting how understanding and compassion may be a means of salvation. --CR. Loews Harvard Square

* Falling Down

When Michael Douglas cracks under the pressures of society and lashes out with violence and rage, his actions should provide the basis for an intense and important movie, but this is an inane attempt to comment on the problems of America today, a thriller that is laughable at best, and a film that deserves to be deplored for the enjoyment it derives from the violence it claims to be critical of. Rather than strive for scathing realism, the story bloats into a ludicrous cartoon by portraying all of Douglas' victims as caricatures that offer mostly comic relief. And Douglas is really nothing more than a psychotic control freak, not a normal person the audience can feel empathy towards. -- CR. Loews Cheri

***1/2 A Few Good Men

Nearly every element of director Rob Reiner's adaptation of the military murder/courtroom drama clicks into place with the efficiency of a finely tuned machine designed to churn out entertainment. Sure it's unoriginal, but it's also extremely effective. The performances by Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson are stirring, and the photography, with crystal clarity and frequent symmetry in its images, is polished until it shines. For the officers in the story, precision leads to tragedy, but for the film it leads to a triumph of sorts. --CR. Loews Harvard Square

***1/2 Groundhog Day

Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is an arrogant, self-centered weatherman for a Pittsburgh television station who is sent to Punxsutawney, Pa. to cover the annual Groundhog Day festival. All is well until Phil wakes up the next morning to find that first, it is Groundhog Day all over again, and second, he is the only one who realizes it. Phil soon recognizes that no matter what he does there are no consequences for his actions, and he therefore aims to try anything he can think of. Credit is due to director Harold Ramis who manages to keep the premise fresh through hundreds of repeated Groundhog Days. This is one of the freshest comedies to come out in recent memory. --DDK. Loews Cheri

***1/2 Homeward Bound

Despite being aimed at a juvenile audience, the latest Disney release about two dogs and a cat travelling cross-country to find their family is sophisticated enough to appeal to even a college audience. Michael J. Fox and Don Ameche provide the voices of the two dogs and Sally Field provides the voice of the cat as all three pets think aloud while making their perilous journey. The script is well written and is quite funny overall, despite the corny morals that are presented. The hilarious and amazing footage of the animals in action truly makes this film, though. --Joshua Andresen. Loews Copley Place

**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. --CR. LSC Friday

** Love Field

Michelle Pfeiffer plays Lurene, a Dallas beautician whose obsession with the current president, John Kennedy, and his wife leads to a cross-country adventure and an interracial romance in this technically well-made and well-meaning drama that nonetheless fails to rise above mediocrity. After Kennedy's assassination, Lurene leaves her husband to travel to the funeral by bus, but after a series of mishaps she is driving east on the run from the FBI in a stolen car with a soft-spoken black man (Dennis Haysbert) and his daughter (Stephanie McFadden). The three grow close in a number of predictable ways as the movie treats racism and bigotry in an unimaginative and simplified manner. This dated and trite film is for Pfeiffer fanatics only. --CR. Loews Copley Place

*1/2 Passenger 57

This is a bad take-off of Die Hard set in the air. John Cutter (Wesley Snipes) is a terrorism and hijacking expert who happens to be aboard a plane when a terrorist (Bruce Payne) hijacks the plane. The movie uses clich after clich as the entirely predictable plot plods along. The premise could be interesting, but it gets turned into a final product that is as banal as it is unbelievable. --JA. LSC Saturday

**** Swing Kids

Set in 1939 Germany, this film concentrates on the "swing kids" who were a group of youth rebelling against the Nazi movement, wearing their hair long, dressing up in English fashion, and dancing to American swing music. Peter (Robert Sean Leonard) and Thomas (Christian Bale) are best friends forced to join the Nazi Youth movement. Initially figuring they can have it all (Hitler Youth by day, swing kids by night), they find that it is impossible to be a part of the Nazi party without being a full-fledged member. This puts strains on their friendship as Peter rebels against the Nazis while Thomas gets sucked into their way of thinking. Incredible acting and wonderful direction allow the interesting material to overcome an unfortunately predictable plot. --JA. Loews Copley Place