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On The Screen

HHHH:Excellent

HHH:Good

HH:Average

H:Poor

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 Harvard Square.

H The Cable Guy

The Cable Guy has been billed as Jim Carrey's departure from the clown act that made him famous, and after seeing this movie, most will agree that he should go back. Even for those who thought he wasn't funny before, this will look to be out of the frying pan into the fire. Carrey plays a psychotic cable guy who pushes his way into Matthew Broderick's life and won't leave him alone. Most of the commercials show the zany side, but there is a dark side to the story, and much of the material that tries to be funny is actually pretty disturbing. --David V. Rodriguez. Sony Cheri.

HH1/2 Eraser

Arnold Schwarzanegger plays a federal marshal responsible for the safety of witnesses, in this case, Vanessa Williams, a "bona fide honest person" who has information on a company selling high-tech weapons to foreign terrorists. But Arnold soon learns his boss is in on the deal and that he is being set up to take the blame, so Arnold goes out on his own to clear his name, save the witness, and save the world. Needless to say, he kills/breaks everything in his way. The action is fairly good, but uninspired. As far as Schwarzenegger movies goes, this rates in the middle. --DVR. Sony Cheri.

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. Kendall Square.

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.

HHH The Rock

A well-intentioned general takes over Alcatraz and threatens to fire rockets armed with nerve gas into the heart of San Francisco if the government doesn't agree to pay reparations to the families of dead soldiers. Enter Nicolas Cage, a FBI chemical weapon specialist, and Sean Connery, the only man ever to escape from Alcatraz; their job is to sneak onto "the rock" and disarm the rockets. It is basically another take-off of Die Hard, but a good one. Cage and Connery work well together, and there are many funny parts, as well as one of the best San Francisco car chase scenes ever. --DVR. 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.