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On the Screen

*** The Firm

Director Sydney Pollack has assembled a fine ensemble cast in this screen adaptation of John Grisham's The Firm. Mitch McDeere (Tom Cruise) graduates from Harvard Law School and accepts a huge salary from a small Memphis, Tenn. firm. He discovers the firm works for the mob and develops a risky plan to expose the firm without going to jail or getting killed (with a little prodding from the FBI). The plot is fast paced -- a two-and-a-half hour movie feels like only two hours -- and the cast is outstanding. Cruise acts relatively well, but his co-stars are outstanding. Gene Hackman is outstanding as Avery Tolar, a lawyer who has been corrupted by years at the firm, but still recognizes the idealism he once had, and Holly Hunter is devastatingly funny as the secretary who helps Mitch pull off his scheme. Ed Harris, as the FBI agent, and Wilfred Brimley, as the sinister security chief for the firm, are also noteworthy. --Jeremy Hylton. Loews Copley Plaza

**1/2 Free Willy

There's not much to criticize in this formulaic story of a boy and his whale, but then again there isn't much to praise. Jesse (Jason James Richter), an angry, abandoned 12-year-old who's been in and out of foster homes, gets caught vandalizing an amusement park. The park won't press charges if Jesse repairs the damage and the movie sets course for its happy ending, as Jesse works at the park, finds a loving new set of foster parents, and befriends Willy (Keiko), a whale suffering in captivity. The script sets up a few expected obstacles in Jesse's path to happiness and Willy's path to freedom -- like an evil park owner who wants to kill Willy to collect insurance money and Jesse's own anger about being abandoned -- but there's never any doubt a happy ending is in store. None of this is terribly compelling, but director Simon Wincer keeps the movie from being overwhelmed by sentimentality, and the acting is solid. Take a younger brother or sister to see it. I wish I had. --JH. General Cinema Westgate Mall

***1/2 The Fugitive

The ultimate chase movie begins with the ultimate special effect -- a train and bus wreck staged not with miniatures, but with the real thing. The wreck frees Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford), wrongfully convicted of murder, from the bus transporting him to prison, setting up a two-hour chase between Ford and his pursuer, the dedicated federal marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones). Ford is the big name star, and though he gives a great performance, Jones gets all the good lines. His single-minded devotion to upholding the law makes him, in a strange way, a more interesting character than intelligent nice guy Kimble. "I didn't kill my wife," insists Kimble, trapped in a drainage pipe; "I don't care," replies Gerard, and attempts to bring in his suspect. The Fugitive is an exciting movie, and a well-paced one, too, as Kimble's escapes grow ever more narrow and improbable, eventually leading up to a taut climax and a satisfying ending. For once, the hype was worth the wait. --Deborah A. Levinson. Loews Cheri

***1/2 In the Line of Fire

Clint Eastwood follows up Unforgiven with this gripping thriller about a Secret Service agent tracking a psycho stalking the president. Eastwood, crusty as ever, plays Frank Horrigan, ostensibly the last active agent present at the Kennedy assassination. John Malkovich brings incredible creepiness to the character of Mitch Leary, an ex-CIA killer obsessed with presidential assassins. Leary torments Horrigan with phone calls mocking Horrigan's inability -- or unwillingness -- to sacrifice himself for Kennedy, and leads the Secret Service on a cross-country chase, always several steps ahead of the game. The script is impressively tight for one not based on a book, and Eastwood and Malkovich both give over-the-top performances. If only Rene Russo's Secret Service agent had more to do than be a foil for Horrigan's sexist remarks and later, be his love interest. --DAL. Loews Copley Place

*** Jurassic Park

Michael Crichton's dinosaur epic translates well to the big screen (not surprising given that the book read like a screenplay), and Steven Spielberg does a good job in metamorphizing the dinosaurs from harmless cutesies to malevolent predators. Despite fine acting from Sam Neill and Laura Dern as an archaeologist and his paleobotanist girlfriend, the dinosaurs, both animatronic and computer-generated, are clearly meant to be the stars of the film. Most realistic of the menagerie is the sick triceratops lolling on her side; least, the herd of grazers that stampede across a field as Neill and two children run for cover. It's good to see Neill, a talented actor and star of many British and Australian films (including My Brilliant Career) and Dern, who finally started to get plum roles after her success in Rambling Rose, get the exposure they so richly deserve. Jurassic Park isn't stellar filmmaking, but its individual elements add up to make it a whirlwind, entertaining ride. --DAL. Loews Copley Place

*** Manhattan Murder Mystery

Woody Allen's latest tale of angst-ridden New York intellectuals tells the story of a mild-mannered book editor (Allen) and his energetic but bored wife (Diane Keaton) as they become involved in solving an alleged murder case. As in any Allen film, sexual tensions complement the action, with old friend Ted (Alan Alda) coming on to Keaton's character, and sexpot author Marcia (Anjelica Huston) setting her sights on Allen. The result is $6.75 worth of stakeouts, soulful stares, sexual stress, and silliness. Manhattan Murder Mystery may center upon a rather bland murder plot, but it also provides a tight script, savagely spastic Allen performances, and the excellent supporting cast audiences have come to expect from an Allen film. --Matthew H. Hersch. Loews Harvard Square

*** Much Ado About Nothing

Actor/director Kenneth Branagh once again brings Shakespeare to the big screen, this time with a frothy comedy set in a sun-drenched Tuscan villa. Though the list of supporting cast members is impressive -- Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton, and Brian Blessed, to name a few -- all are outshown by Branagh's Oscar-winning wife, Emma Thompson. As sharp-tongued Beatrice, Thompson steals nearly every scene she's in; every scene, that is, except those with Branagh, who plays certified bachelor Benedick. The screen fairly sparkles when the pair is on and conversely, is merely ordinary when they are not. Of course, this is not so much the fault of the actors or directors as it is of the play, which surrounds Beatrice and Benedick with a cast of one-note characters (particularly lovers Claudio and Hero, who define young, beautiful, and vapid). The cinematography, however, is lush and gorgeous, and Branagh brings a lightness to Shakespeare's often slapstick and off-color humor that makes the film well worth watching. --DAL. Loews Harvard Square

***1/2 Orlando

Tilda Swinton's curious, angular beauty makes her a perfect cast as Orlando, an Elizabethan courtier who never ages and wakes up one morning to discover that he has become a woman. Bestowed everlasting youth by Queen Elizabeth (a delightfully campy Quentin Crisp), Orlando survives a broken heart, insults to his poetry, a stint as ambassador in a war-torn Arab country, dreadfully boring salon conversation, and even a final assault on her home and property rights, which as a woman, she must relinquish. Based on the Virginia Woolf novel of the same name, Orlando is a frank, witty look at the differences not only in the way society treats men and women, but ultimately, at the differences between the sexes. --DAL. Loews Nickelodeon

** Sleepless in Seattle

Sleepless in Seattle, yet another entry in the harmless romantic comedy genre, stars Meg Ryan as (surprise!) a slightly ditzy blonde and Tom Hanks as the widower she falls for after hearing him on a late-night radio talk show confessing his love for his dead wife. Ryan, realizing how perfectly empty her relationship with her fiance is, embarks on a quest to find Hanks, while Hanks' precocious son Jonah (Ross Malinger) pushes his father to answer the pile of love letters he's received after the talk show stint ... and guess whose letter Jonah most wants his father to answer? The movie is consistently funny in a low-key, inoffensive way, Hanks is adequate, Ryan isn't too annoying -- but Nora Ephron's script ties every loose end so neatly that there's no room for unpredictability. --DAL. Loews Copley Place

*1/2 So I Married an Axe Murderer

So few Saturday Night Live alumni have gone on to make hit after comedy hit; why should Mike Myers be any exception? He's talented, alright, but not even Steve Martin could salvage this weak scripting. Myers plays Charlie Mackenzie, a poet unable to commit in his romantic relationships. Enter stunning blonde butcher Harriet Michaels (Nancy Travis), Charlie's dream woman. There's only one hitch -- Harriet may be the serial axe murderer described in a Weekly World News story. Though some individual jokes are genuinely funny -- my favorite being Myers' chastising his mother for calling the Weekly World News "the paper" as if it were The Boston Globe -- many jokes fall completely flat. Axe Murderer's one saving grace is Myers' performance as his Scottish father, an extension of the Everything Scottish SNL skit. Watching Myers as his dad croaking through "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" to bagpipe accompaniment is worth maybe a couple bucks, but certainly not $6.75. --DAL. Loews Charles