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On the Screen

****: Excellent

***: Good

**: Average

*: Poor

***1/2 The Age of Innocence

The film version of Edith Wharton's novel homes in on of the conflict felt by Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis), who must balance the rigid social code of 1870s New York and his passion for Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), his fiancee's independent and intellectual sister. Despite the Victorian setting, this is obviously the work of director Martin Scorsese, who specializes in movies about people's struggles to make decisions. The directing is meticulous and the sense of authenticity is impressive. The chemistry between Day-Lewis and Pfeiffer is also powerful, but the camera focuses on the internal struggles of the two and thankfully avoids the torrid sex scene typical of Hollywood movies. --Craig K. Chang. Loews Nickelodeon

*** 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 sparkle. Gene Hackman gives a performance that virtually guarantees him another Oscar nomination as Avery Tolar, a lawyer who has been corrupted by years at the firm, but still recognizes the idealism he once had; Holly Hunter is devastatingly funny as the secretary who helps Mitch pull off his scheme. Ed Harris, as the FBI agent working to expose the firm, and Wilfred Brimley, as the sinister security chief for the firm, are also noteworthy. --Jeremy Hylton. Loews Copley Plaza

***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 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. LSC Saturday

***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 Charles

*** 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 Charles

*** 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 Cheri

*** Parenthood

Director Ron Howard assembled a huge cast for this comedy about some not-so-traditional American families; the cast includes Steve Martin, Tom Hulce, Rick Moranis, Martha Plimpton, Jason Robards, Mary Steenburgen, and Dianne Wiest. The movie explores nine parents and their children, in a family spanning three generations. Although the movie is overly sentimental at times, this short coming is often made up for with a mix of humorous scenes. There are a number of memorable shitcks, including Steve Martin's clown act, the diarrhea song, and Rick Moranis's classroom serenade. Parenthood successfully mixes the serious side of parenthood with some unexpected and entertaining scenes. --Patrick Mahoney. LSC Sunday