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On The Screen





HHH1/2 The Birdcage

The American version of the French farce La Cage aux Folles succeeds on many levels, thanks in part to its ebullient performances. Armand (Robin Williams) is the owner and musical director of a nightclub in Miami's South Beach section, while his lover Albert (Nathan Lane) is the diva-in-drag who's the star performer at the club. The trouble starts when Armand's son (Dan Futterman) starts courting the daughter of a conservative U.S. Senator (Gene Hackman) whose election platform is steeped in "moral order" and "family values." By the time the film reaches its climactic, comic showdown between the two families, the message of "family" and the characters' foibles are so skillfully exploited that one overlooks the expected degrees of slapstick, even when resorting to gay stereotypes. Director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Elaine May have struck the appropriate comic and social chords for this film to be a witty, beguiling, and relevant film. -Scott C. Deskin. Sony Copley Place.

H1/2 Dead Man

Johnny Depp stars as William Blake, an accountant from Cleveland running for his life in the Old West. He travels west to get a job but he is soon involved in a murder, and men are hired to find him. He meets an outcast Indian who agrees to help him because he mistakes William for a famous poet by the same name. The characters are interesting, and the movie does a good job at conveying the subtlety within a scene, but the story moves at such a crawl that the rewards aren't worth it. -David V. Rodriguez. Kendall Square.

HHH Fargo

Joel and Ethan Coen revisit familiar territory, both personal and professional, in this tale of crime in the heartland. Set in the wintry Minnesota landscape from which the two brothers escaped a few years ago, this story of a kidnapping plot gone bad retreads the success of the Coens' first movie, Blood Simple. This revisiting is underlined by the casting of Frances McDormand, Blood Simple's femme fatale, but in a very different role - a pregnant police chief with more brains, determination, and grit, not to mention moral sense, than anyone else in the movie. -Stephen Brophy. Sony Nickelodeon.

HHH Flirting with Disaster

David O. Russell (Spanking the Monkey) fulfills the promise of his directoral debut with this delightful, offbeat film about a man (Ben Stiller) who travels west with his wife (Patricia Arquette) and an adoption counselor (Tea Leoni) to find his natural parents. As the adoptive parents, Mary Tyler Moore and George Segal make a believable neurotic impression; as the natural parents, Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin are the ex-flower children with a dark side. Taken all together, the cast and the slapstick situations are enjoyable in a feel-good sort of way, which is more than you can say about most film comedies these days. -SCD. Sony Nickelodeon.

HH Heaven's Prisoners

In this crass crime melodrama, hard-boiled ex-cop Dave Robicheaux (Alec Baldwin) and his wife (Kelly Lynch) become embroiled in a plot that involves drug enforcement agents, New Orleans mobsters, and an eight-year-old Latin American illegal immigrant girl. As convoluted as this all sounds, there are guilty pleasures to be found in the shootouts and the dialogue from the back-room dealings. Eric Roberts plays a half-wit drug dealer with disaffected tough-guy panache and Teri Hatcher is an amusing, somewhat over-the-top femme fatale. Even Alec Baldwin turns in a good performance; but then again, why should you care? -SCD. Sony Copley Place.

HH1/2 Mission Impossible

Never mind the title: Besides the famous theme tune and the initial premise of the Impossible Mission Force, Brian De Palma's film version of the 60s spy drama has very little to do with the TV show. IMFleader Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) presents his team with a mission to intercept a top-secret list of agents for sale to a worldwide legion of criminals, but when things go awry in Prague, superagent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has to weave his way through the various plots and counterplots to find a traitor within the organization. This is Cruise's picture, and, though much of the "team" is dispatched early on, the remainder of the big-name cast is wasted. Even though the film moves at a swift enough pace so that you don't have time to dwell on the implausible plot details, the only memorable setpiece is Cruise's wire-suspended entrance into an impregnable, sterile CIA computer room. -SCD. Sony Cheri.

HH1/2 Spy Hard

Leslie Nielsen plays Dick Steele, a.k.a. agent WD-40. The movie feels a lot like the Naked Gun series, but is not as funny. The film looks thrown together, and much of the humor feels like it was written moments before being filmed. Most of these jokes work, and the film is overall pretty good, but it is a mystery how some of these jokes could have made their way into the final product. -DVR. Sony Copley.

H1/2 Twister

Not surprisingly, Twister's only redeeming quality is its stunning special effects. Considerably less effort was put into the drama side. After the first 10 minutes, an accurate outline of the story is obvious, and there isn't a unique plot element throughout - Helen Hunt is driven by a childhood trauma, and hopes to someday conquer the force that killed her father; Bill Harding wants to get out of the storm-chasing business, even though his instincts are renowned and unmatched by anyone in the field. The visuals are good, but not good enough to carry the mediocre story.-A. Arif Husain. Sony Cheri.