Listings begin on Friday and may change after we go to press. For addresses and phone numbers, see the "Metro Chicago Movie Houses" directory. Films are recommended for qualities ranging from perfection to one perfect moment. Reviewers are identified after each review. Film is edited by Ray Pride.

Deconstructing Harry
Wag the Dog
The Sweet Hereafter

Because of holiday production requirements, not all showtimes were available at press time.

AIR FORCE ONE Directed by Wolfgang Petersen. Tom Clancy should sue the makers of "Air Force One." In this pro-forma actioner, Harrison Ford reprises his Jack Ryan role lock, stock and resourceful-in-peril-even though he's portraying a different character, Vietnam vet-turned-Boy Scout President James Marshall. The main problem with this leaden-winged movie is that it recycles more elements than the astronauts on Mir. (Frank Sennett) Arcada; Barrington Square; Logan Square Daily 2, 4:15, 6:30, 8:45; Ogden; Park Forest; Tivoli; Tradewinds; Village; York

*ALIEN RESURRECTION Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Jeunet does more-than-capable work in reviving the "Alien" franchise. "Alien Resurrection" suffers from uninspiredly gruff obscenity, so-so one-liners, a buoyant-yet-dull approach to much of the icky-goo and the gore, yet Jeunet, co-director of "Delicatessen" and "City of Lost Children," brings along both his rich, dark palette and gifted cinematographer Darius Khondji, to great effect. The movie's running time is mostly chase, with a few privileged moments of glare from the reincarnated, muscular mutant Ripley of Sigourney Weaver. Khondji loves Weaver's face and limbs, and loves Winona Ryder's even more. Ryder seems chirpy at some moments, but when her face floods with worry or regret, Khondji floods her face and liquid eyes with sweetest luminescence, while also retaining the layers of gloom, steel, muck and damp in the corridors or passageways behind her. The movie moves like the wind, then pauses for a close-up, then moves on, again and again. 108m. (Ray Pride) 600 N. Michigan; 62nd & Western; Bricktown Square; Burnham Plaza; Casino; Chatham; Chicago Ridge; Crestwood; Evanston; Hillside Mall; Hyde Park; Lawndale; Lincoln Village; North Riverside; River Run; Spring Hill; Streamwood; Village North; Webster Place

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS Directed by Anthony Weller. Disney tries to repeat last Christmas' horror counterprogramming of "Scream" with the release of this long-delayed, multiply-reshot part-Luxembourgese tax-shelter retread of John Landis' long-ago "An American Werewolf in London." The lovely Julie Delpy is on hand as the love interest. With Tom Everett Scott. Bloomingdale Court; Evergreen; Golf Glen; Hawthorn; Hyde Park; Old Orchard Gardens; Rolling Meadows; Spring Hill; Streamwood; Town & Country

AMISTAD Directed by Steven Spielberg. After blowing the lid off of the Holocaust, Spielberg applies his Oscar-honed instincts to yet another epoch of history, and the results are painful. A group of Africans are abducted from their homeland and taken across the ocean in the eponymous slave ship. Mutiny and bloodshed follow, the Africans are jailed in America, and a young lawyer (Matthew McConaughey; bad hair, worse accent) takes up their cause. The case ends up before the Supreme Court, where cranky old John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins, in high honey-glazed form) pleads for the Africans. It's a compelling enough story, with the potential for a great film, but in Spielberg's oddly unemotional hands, it plays as a series of poorly constructed cliffhangers with pat solutions. Yet "Amistad" has none of the passion of "Schindler's List." The portrayal of the Africans ranges from cartoonish to condescending. In one truly bizarre sequence, Spielberg has his African characters look over pictures in a Bible as though they were E.T.s cooing over a Speak-and-Spell. As with too many films of this ilk, the story is more about The White Guys than anything else. The young white lawyer's struggle is viewed with more passion than that of the struggle of the unjustly imprisoned, and the doddering ex-President's triumph is clearly more important than that of the Africans. Most of the cast seems in need of serious caffeine-most disappointingly, Morgan Freeman-and the only good performance belongs to newcomer Djimon Hounsou, in a thankless role that doesn't deserve his energy. With the exception of the terrifically gory opening mutiny, this is resoundingly disappointing work. Expect multiple Oscars. (Nick Digilio) 600 N. Michigan; 62nd & Western; Chatham; Crestwood; Hyde Park; Lake; Lawndale; Old Orchard

ANASTASIA Directed by Don Bluth. NewsCorp makes its major leap into the animated musical comedy fray, adapting the story of the Romanov princess's discovery of herself-ya, ya, ya!-against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution. Voices include those of Meg Ryan, John Cusack and Angela Lansbury. 96m. 62nd & Western; Chatham; Chicago Ridge; Cinema 12; Crestwood; Lake; Lawndale; Lincoln Village; Norridge; Old Orchard Gardens; Orland Square; Rolling Meadows; Streamwood; Village North; Water Tower; Webster Place

*AS GOOD AS IT GETS Directed by James L. Brooks. The queasy, uneasy, accomplished "As Good As It Gets" is filled with belly-laughs that make you itch. While it would be easy to call Brooks' mix of sentiment and brainy shtick an elevated form of sitcom, it would also be selling the work short. "Sitcom" is pervasive enough as a form of representation, or dramatic shorthand, but on television, the pejorative is usually applied to the kind of witless comedy where someone is always the butt of the joke, with the laughter always at someone's expense. "As Good As It Gets" is a more slippery animal. Jack Nicholson plays Melvin Udall, a successful Manhattan writer of romance novels who's afflicted with an unspecified condition, a kind of emotional Tourette's-he'll do anything. Nicholson gets to bray and ripple some of the most indecorous abuse heard outside of the redneck roles that Billy Bob Thornton gets hired for. Melvin is an obsessive-compulsive, a neat freak who goes so far as to keep different colors of M&Ms in separate glass canisters near his stacks of multiple-colored papers on which he prints his emotionally phony manuscripts. Everything must be on Melvin time: whether it's the gay neighbor Simon (Greg Kinnear, pretty good) or Carol, the waitress at his breakfast haunt (Helen Hunt, at once sturdy and winsome) with the ill son who keeps her up late at night, they reach out to or recoil from Melvin at the risk of his substantial gift for the verbal blitz. Nicholson telegraphs Melvin's discomfort-shy-of-insanity with exquisite body language, at once leonine and nuts, like his old friend John Huston in his late acting roles. (Nicholson's brow lifts noticeably even when he's in secondary focus.) Who else acting today could make something so bitter and hilarious of a line like, "People who are talking metaphors oughta shampoo my crotch!" In its simplest reduction, "As Good As It Gets" is about finding appropriate ways of giving and receiving love, and the tentativeness of Brooks and co-writer Mark Andrus' complications is what makes the movie so funny and so memorable. The editing is intriguingly jumpy, showing the amount of concentration Brooks and company brought to the melding of moods and styles of comedy, and there is a single shot that sings to the heavens, a majestic moment like an Edward Hopper canvas in motion, with cinematographer John Bailey placing a supernally lit Brooklyn night bus pushing through rain atop a bridge and into Manhattan. The only moment of true visual grace-not counting a handful of priceless sight gags I won't repeat-but there are moments of behavioral grace to savor. (Ray Pride) Bloomingdale Court; Esquire; Fox Lake; Golf Glen; Lake; Old Orchard Gardens; Ridge; River Run; Rivertree Court; Rolling Meadows; Spring Hill; Streamwood; Westridge Court

*BEAN Directed by Mel Smith. Brief, brisk, dumb without undue kiddie gross-out gags, "Bean" is a giddy, stop-and-start laugh machine, capturing Rowan Atkinson's television-bred Bean character, a man of few words, in the middle of more than a couple of well-made pranks and an even greater number of sloppily-shot and hastily-cobbled ones. (This time out, director Mel Smith eschews the "Un film de Mel Smith" credit he had taken on "The Tall Guy.") Atkinson's Bean is a cruel child, his expressions the gleeful garble of a nasty baby. He gets thrown off planes, lies, blows up Thanksgiving turkeys, draws graffiti on masterpieces. Some are funny, some are funnier, and it's all over very quickly. Working with writer Richard Curtis ("Blackadder," "4 Weddings & A Funeral"), one would hope that Bean will find himself in the center of a comedy of sustained brilliance, rather than an intermittently wonderful one that's grossed over $100 million worldwide before opening in the U.S. 85m. (Ray Pride) Arcada; Barrington Square; Fox Valley; Foxfield; Logan Square Daily 2, 3:35, 5:15, 6:50, 8:30; Ogden; Park Forest; York

BENT Directed by Sean Mathias. A bond develops between two homosexual men while interned at Dachau. A filming of Martin Sherman's stage play, starring Lothaire Bluteau, Clive Owen, Ian McKellen, Brian Webber and Mick Jagger. Music by Philip Glass. 104m. Fine Arts

*BOOGIE NIGHTS Directed and written by Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson's epic-length portrait of a surrogate family-damaged souls seeking a little dignity while churning out porno movies in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley in the late 1970s-is, on its surface, nonjudgmental. But there's a keen intelligence at work in shaping the gaudy set pieces and potentially trashy drama, even without taking Anderson's portrait of the home video industry's baleful impact on the porn business as a metaphor for Hollywood filmmaking as well. Offhandedly witty and sleekly paced, it's a terrific, energetic picture. There's a sweet conundrum about "Boogie Nights," one that infuriated me the first time I saw it. "Boogie Nights" is about shallow people with shallow dreams. They wouldn't know what to do with their fantasies if they came true, because they do, and everything goes crazy anyway. What does Anderson think? It takes some time to figure it out-and probably will produce a lot of heated discussions, a sure side effect to an almost certain hit. "Boogie Nights" takes place between the late 1970s when porn was shot on film, and the early 1980s when cheap, fast videotape took over. Burt Reynolds, grave yet wry, is Jack Horner, a maker of smut who somehow thinks he can elevate the form. Julianne Moore is his troubled wife, using the nom de porn "Amber Waves," and their coterie of cast-and-crew misfits grows by one when Horner encounters Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), a busboy in a nightclub. Horner sizes Eddie up as a prime prospect for exotic stardom, a confused young man with a particular gift to whom Horner says, more businessman than hedonist, "I bet you have something wonderful in your jeans just waiting to get out." Anderson got the inspiration for his story when he was 17 and saw a ŒCurrent Affair' profile of the porn-suicide Shauna Grant, as well as an in-depth Rolling Stone article about John Holmes, whose infamous gift is shared by Wahlberg's character. The greatest strength of Anderson's work is perhaps the earnestness of his characters, their clueless desire to somehow better themselves. They dream, they scheme, they fail. Panavision. 157m. (Ray Pride) Piper's Alley; York Art

>DECONSTRUCTING HARRY What I wouldn't give for a large sock filled with horse manure. The Los Angeles Times' grizzled veteran reviewer Kenneth Turan slotted "Deconstructing Harry" into his top ten of 1997, asserting that "it is a scathing look at marriage, adultery and the literary life, Woody Allen's twenty-eighth feature is his most compelling and accomplished in years, psychologically acute, biting [sic] funny and willing to make audiences writhe in fury." I wish I had seen that movie. There's simply not a witty moment in "Deconstructing Harry," and the few jokes that prompt laughter are scattershot cruelties. The easily-pleased may savor the "shock" of hearing the lead character, a blocked novelist named, wouldn't you know, Harry Block, and embodied by the now-creaky and rheumy 62-year-old Allen, call an ex-wife a "world-class cunt." Zowie! That's enough to make me think it's Philip Roth! Some selfish, sex-mad Jewish writer! Unless of course, I'd actually read Philip Roth, whose little-regarded 1995 "Sabbath's Theater," for instance, has vim, vigor, anger and bile to spare, as well as a felicitous prose style. Obscenity and scatology are elevated pursuits; Allen's script seems content to have unimaginative swears. He's also got black prostitutes, prominent product placement for Glenmorangie single-malt Scotch and skits that go nowhere, as well as the usual panoply of guest stars-eighteen by my count. We musn't omit the roster of much-younger women, such as Judy Davis, Amy Irving and Elisabeth Shue, all ready to knock boots with him. But Allen has protested that Harry Block is not Woody Allen. No. Nope. Not at all. (Saul Bellow's crack that "Some writers are better met than read" seems to suit both Block and latterday Allen.) Allen claims that he wrote this script under the title "The Meanest Man in the World" and that every lead actor he offered the role to turned it down, begging off that it didn't suit their schedules. Let the great man down easy! There was no one to tell him that his pocket-lint style of composition had simply eked out a nice mat for the bottom of the desk drawer. (While we're at it, someone should go out and dig up Fellini and make him answer for what license Allen has taken from his work.) Janet Maslin of the New York Times likes this one, too. "Rancorous brilliance," she booms, "Poisonous, brazenly autobiographical comedy." Earlier this year, Maslin did a wondrous job of provoking Manhattanite fear of impoverished whites with a review that effectively destroyed the distribution of Harmony Korine's rancorously brilliant "Gummo." Now she's kissying up to Woody's no-longer-fine whines, which I found as uninteresting and contemptible as she did the younger man's film. Allen's only champions seem to be his peers-urban, middle-aged, privileged consumers of art and literature whose job it is to regurgitate the work of others. A cobwebby mirror to see oneself reflected back in? Double apostasy it may be, but "Deconstructing Harry" made me long for the timeless wit and stunning visual inspiration of a Henry Jaglom movie. 97m. (Ray Pride) 600 North, Wilmette, Webster Place, Norridge, Oakbrook, One Schaumberg, Quarry, Ridge. Lake; Village North

*EVE'S BAYOU Directed and written by Kasi Lemmons. "Eve's Bayou" is a dark and complicated family drama, set in the Louisiana bayou in the summer of 1962, and told from the perspective of 10-year-old Eve Batiste. The Batistes are one of Louisiana's most prosperous black families, and Eve's father, Louis (Samuel L. Jackson) is known for "fixing things" all around the town, even while the family might use a little fixing of its own. While her mother, Roz (Lynn Whitfield) is a keeper of the family heritage, little Eve feels more of an affinity toward her aunt Mozelle (Debbi Morgan), who believes that intuition and things supernatural may hold the key to the family's secrets that she will discover over the course of a summer. The performances are all taut and topnotch-Jackson may never have imbued a role with such complexity-and there's an accomplished swelter to Lemmon's humid world. 109m. (Ray Pride) 62nd & Western; Chatham; Lawndale; River Run; Water Tower; Woodfield

FAIRYTALE A TRUE STORY Directed by Charles Sturridge. To see fairies, say the two schoolgirls in "Fairy Tale," you must believe. But it's never clear what is so unbelievable about "Fairy Tale" that prompted its makers to tag on the claim, "A True Story." "Fairy Tale" doesn't ask the audience to accept anything especially extraordinary in Hollywood terms: What are a few fairies to moviegoers used to believing in Jurassic Park? The result is a patchwork quilt: children will cuddle in its magical moments, while the less wee might at times feel the temptation to visit the land of nod. 99m. (Sam Jemielity) Barrington Square; Ogden

FLUBBER Directed by Les Mayfield. Too bad no one sprayed Flubber on "Flubber." Sagging from beginning to end as if marching in muck, this remake of Disney's 1961 "The Absent-Minded Professor" offers too few laughs and too many schmaltzy subplots. 95m. (Sam Jemielity) 62nd & Western; Chatham; Chicago Ridge; Cinema 12; Crestwood; Evanston; Fox Lake; Golf Glen; Lawndale; Lincoln Village; Norridge; North Riverside; One Schaumburg Place; Orland Square; Ridge; River Run; Rivertree Court; Stratford Square; Streamwood; Water Tower; Webster Place; Westridge Court

FOR RICHER OR POORER Directed by Bryan Spicer. The demands of the IRS drive Manhattan well-to-dos Tim Allen and Kirstie Alley-with the help of a stolen taxi-into the warm-'n'-fuzzy arms of the Amish community of Intercourse, Pennsylvania. From the director of the Tom Arnold classic, "McHale's Navy." With the ever-so-winsome supporting cast of Larry Miller, Michael Lerner and Wayne Knight. 115m. Bloomingdale Court; Bricktown Square; Chicago Ridge; Cinema 12; Crestwood; Golf Glen; Lincoln Village; North Riverside; One Schaumburg Place; Ridge; River Run; Rivertree Court; Streamwood; Water Tower; Webster Place; Westridge Court

FORGOTTEN SILVER Directed by Peter Jackson, Costas Botes. Cheerful apocrypha on the first century of cinema, positing one Colin McKenzie as a pioneer New Zealand filmmaker who made remarkable discoveries, including a process for making film stock by using flax and egg whites and the first color film. Supported by "archive" footage and stills, Jackson's 1996 mockumentary has its admirers. 52m. Shown with Robert Sarkies' "Signing Off." Facets Daily 7, 9, Sat-Sun 3, 5

*THE FULL MONTY Directed by Peter Cattaneo. Local zeroes make good. A hilarious treat, "The Full Monty" is a directorial debut of rare confidence. Cattaneo, an old hand at British television comedy and short films, has turned what sounds like terminally jokey material into something quite wonderful, a deadpan comedy of character that plays like a sparkling successor to the best moments of Bill Forsyth's comic work. I had avoided seeing the movie at Sundance because of its reported plot-unemployed steelworkers in Sheffield in the north of England turn to Chippendale's-style stripping to make money. Robert Carlyle, wonderfully different from his threatening Begbie character in "Trainspotting," hatches the plot only after we've seen both comic and touching illustrations of the depths of anguish in the lives of each of his pals. Stripping in front of every woman in town becomes a comic metaphor for mad, fucked desperation. Along the way, each of the half-dozen men hesitates according to their own eccentric logic, and the language is a cloud of comic slang. (Ray Pride) Piper's Alley; Skokie; Woodfield

*GATTACA Directed and written by Andrew Niccol. "Gattaca" is a curious hybrid, with a story every movement of which encapsulates its theme, in the densest sense of Hollywood classicism, yet it is captured in the amber of a look as glassy and monumental as contemporary European art movies. Ethan Hawke is an outsider in a world a couple of centuries hence, a natural birth in a world of genetically engineered children. Vincent Freeman. Even the name of this man-Freeman-who must fake his identity through complicated borrowings of another man's blood, DNA, urine-belongs in a world that is cool in two respects: Niccol's rigidly formal, deliciously piss-elegant direction is as determinist as the possible world he suggests; and the expressive artifacts-clothing, cars, houses, monuments-that celebrate the industrial designer as the great artist of the twentieth century. The future Earth of "Gattaca" is as cold-blooded as the lobby of an expensive hotel or an airline terminal-or their breathless, transient populations. Once you get beyond recalling the line in Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves," you've summarized the movie and all that's left is to let the rich look of the movie and Michael Nyman's sober, lucid score wash over you. Some have rejected "Gattaca" out of hand as ponderous, suffocating artiness, but there are few themes I can think of where this burnished, serenely confident style could be more appropriate. Panavision. 112m. (Ray Pride) 900 N. Michigan; Village

*GOOD WILL HUNTING Directed by Gus Van Sant. Charm is a funny thing, as mysterious as any of the components that a movie comprises. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, two handsome, up-and-coming actors wrote "Good Will Hunting" for themselves to star in, and in the meantime, with Affleck in "Chasing Amy" and Damon in "The Rainmaker," they've become hot, hunky commodities. But that doesn't guarantee the kind of lucid appeal we see on screen. What happened? Through five years of Hollywood intrigues, their sometimes florid, yearning script finally wound up in the hands of van Sant, who works with uncustomary visual restraint. An intensely acted feel-good movie seems an unlikely quantity from the career chronicler of sweetly lawless outlaws, but here it is. Will Hunting is a janitor at MIT, an unlikely mathematics genius and autodidact philosopher who's more content to get into dust-ups with his childhood buddies and to drink his life away. Whenever someone gets too close, whether math professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard), or Harvard undergraduate Skyler (Minnie Driver) who falls in love with the pretty-mugged brawler (Driver is a big bonus in this boy's-story- smart, darling and never subordinate to any other character). On one hand, "Good Will Hunting" could be taken as a modestly more ambitious version of studio high-concept: the therapeutic opening-up of a character's adolescent pain in "Ordinary People" meets the precocious genius of "Searching for Bobby Fischer" or "Amadeus." Yet the pop simplicity of the script-particularly once Lambeau brings Robin Williams' damaged therapist into the picture-is actually a joy. Etched with van Sant's trust of his actors and a remarkably textured use of Boston's Irish South End neighborhood, it all comes together to create a charming, affecting fairytale about finding the roles of parents and siblings satisfied in the larger world. 120m. (Ray Pride) Cinema 12; Lake; One Schaumburg Place

GUANTANAMERA (Cuba, 1995) Directed by Tomas Gutierrez Alea, Juan Carlos Tabio. Conchita Brando and Raul Eguren star in the story of a woman who returns to her village after fifty years in the city. "We are exposed to the triumphs and hardships of life in Cuba today," crows the press release. 104m. Village

HOME ALONE 3 Directed by Raja Gosnell. It was less than half an hour before the yaws set in. Not the yawns-loud, gaping, rude ones that rip through the air. Not the "aws"-reserved for only the cutest and cuddliest of warm, loving puppies. The yaws. You can't look them up, but you'll sure feel them if you go to see John Hughes' barrel-bottom-scraping remake of "Home Alone." Mopy mophead Alex D. Linz is brought aboard to replace the nearing-majority, party-hearty Macauley Culkin. "Home Alone 3" opens with an Asian-set prologue worthy of straight-to-satellite action programmers. A quartet of North Korean-funded arms thieves ogle a microchip-encrusted motherboard that could "help us control the region!" according to their boss. They're full of good plans. "Here-hide it in the toy car-We'll sail right past airport security!" (Their low-jinks are accompanied by a score that nears the level of 1970s softcore Europorn Muzak.) While Gosnell, longtime editor to Chris Columbus, seems to have a nice handle on the use of a mobile camera, Hughes' script stinks. When the family parrot joined in with a stream of repartee and Alex's piercing "Augghh!" at the sight of chicken pox was greeted with "Mom! Alex slammed the toilet seat on his thing again!" I knew it was time to go. The cold air was good. To paraphrase the long-gone Culkin, "Noooooooooooooooooo!" 104m. (Ray Pride) Chatham; Chicago Ridge; Cinema 12; Crestwood; Golf Glen; Lake; Lawndale; Lincoln Village; Norridge; Old Orchard; One Schaumburg Place; Orland Square; Ridge; Rivertree Court; Stratford Square; Streamwood; Water Tower; Webster Place; Westridge Court

I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER Directed by Jim Gillespie. A new stalker-shocker from Kevin Williamson, writer of "Scream," starring Jennifer Love Hewitt; the salubriously goofy Sarah Michelle Gellar; Ryan Phillipe and Freddie Prinze, Jr. 100m. Village North

*THE ICE STORM Directed by Ang Lee. Lee's chilly, exquisite portrait of two families in suburban New Canaan, Connecticut, 1973 is a triumph of mood over material, a work of intense texture and rewarding behavioral acuity. Kevin Kline, Joan Allen and Sigourney Weaver are among the adults; the adolescents include Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood, Adam Hann-Byrd, and in a marvel of a performance as a driven, disturbed, sexually precocious 14-year-old, Christina Ricci. The cinematography by Frederick Elmes and the music by Mychael Danna dazzles. Take one elegant, enigmatic shot for example: from the perspective of a commuter train reaching its stop-signed end of the line, Danna's score sprinkles bell-like gamelan music of great beauty as we see a row of middle-aged white men, hats clamped to heads, clutching briefcases, swaddled in identical tan Burberrys. The elegiac forward motion, the fantastic choice of music, the sudden register of the morbid plight of the men-haunting. Marvelous stuff, and certainly not to be typed as a "seventies backlash" picture. Lee and his screenwriter-producer James Schamus are after something much more mysterious and may have grasped it. 112m. (Ray Pride) Casino; Fine Arts; Park Forest Art

THE IMAX NUTCRACKER The IMAX corporation hired Christine Edzard, the writer-director of 1988's Oscar-nominated "Little Dorrit," to make an IMAX 3-D version of the E.T.A. Hoffman story, with Tchaikovksy's music. Growing into their role as a movie studio, IMAX reportedly reshot and reedited the film, which Edzard has supposedly disowned. The cast of more than 150 includes "dainty sugarplum fairies," Miriam Margolyes, Heathcote Williams and Patrick Pearson. Navy Pier

*IN & OUT Directed by Frank Oz. A one-joke premise-what happens when movie star Matt Dillon accidentally outs one of his Indiana high school teachers while accepting an Oscar?-is enlivened by screenwriter Paul Rudnick's deft gagwriting. While the film seems slight at even a modest 90 minutes, there are many, many smart laughs. Kevin Kline's the teacher; Joan Cusack his unknowing, chaste fiancée; and Tom Selleck is on hand as a pushy, openly gay TV-tabloid reporter looking for the story-or kiss-of his life. (Ray Pride) Barrington Square; Fox Valley; Foxfield; Ogden; Park Forest; Tivoli South; York

*INTO THE DEEP A gripping theatrical experience. I could not fall asleep no matter how hard I tried. Just as my eyes would droop, a crazy lobster would be molting his shell down there in the forest of giant kelp. My breathing would slow-only to be quickened by the marauding attack of the sea star, or the spawning frenzy of the squid, or the teeth-cleaning rituals of the sea lions. By the end, I was tired, but exhilarated. There's always the spin cycle down at the laundromat, I guess. (Frank Sennett) Navy Pier

THE JACKAL Directed by Michael Caton-Jones. A labyrinth carved from Velveeta. Despite the advance press in which Bruce Willis crowed about his daring, daring, daring scene in which he kisses a man on the lips, I was anticipating a better movie than the production manager's nightmare of geographic sprawl that's on display. (And yes, the preview audience did howl when the two men kissed, much as they might at the sight of a cute little puppy being ripped in half on-camera.) Jumping from location to location, accompanied by stern titles-"Moscow"; "Montreal"; "Helsinki"; "Helsinki Airport"-"The Jackal" quickly becomes an outlandish smear of complication and crudeness. Willis plays yet another one of those just-too-damn-smart ubermonsters, those strenuously implausible yet all-powerful, all-knowing tricksters. Mostly he smirks, like Hudson Hawk without the harmonica. Richard Gere does passable work as Declan Mulqueen, an IRA terrorist brought onto an FBI team despite the fact he's a prison lifer and not to be trusted; and Sidney Poitier, as the FBI agent-in-charge, is strident, eye-rolling and outright awful. Still, Diane Venora has fun as a facially scarred Russian major, sleek and glossy as a seal, puffing cigs with silken relish. The credits by Imaginary Forces, the company behind the opening sequences of "Seven" and "The Island of Dr. Moreau," are hypnotic. Then, the movie. (Ray Pride) 900 N. Michigan; Biograph; Burnham Plaza; Chatham; Chicago Ridge; Orland Square; Plaza; Village North

*JACKIE BROWN Directed and Adapted by Quentin Tarantino. What's new and notable in Tarantino's third feature is the calm and gravity at its center. Working from Elmore Leonard's novel, "Rum Punch," the 33-year-old director, after almost four years away from directing features, still plays with his customary devices: inspired casting, sudden bursts of violence, outrageous and profane comic monologues, non-linearity of time. But the effect is more melancholy than kinetic. At over two-and-a-half hours, this genre riff will wear out most audiences. Still, it's a strong career move from someone who's realized he shouldn't try to top "Pulp Fiction." Tarantino's script celebrates Leonard's standard roster of deceitful, double-crossing, down-and-dirty losers and losers on their way back, such as Pam Grier, fine, but all too restrained, as stewardess Jackie Brown, who finds herself caught coming back from Mexico with $50,000 in her flight bag. She's carrying it for small-time arms dealer Ordell Robbie, played by Samuel L. Jackson as a smooth and utterly deluded ex-con. Jackson is regal, commanding the screen, even when his words reek of trademark Tarantino-isms. Robert Forster is superb as Jackie's smitten bail bondsman; among the other actors getting in on the loopy digressions are Robert De Niro, Michael Keaton and Bridget Fonda.155m. Biograph; Burnham; Esquire; Bloomingdale Court; Cinema 12; Evergreen; Golf Glen; Hawthorn; Hyde Park; Lake; Old Orchard Gardens; Rolling Meadows; Streamwood; Town & Country

KISS THE GIRLS Directed by Gary Fleder. "Seven" meets "Silence of the Lambs" in a new thriller starring Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd. Village

*KISS OR KILL Directed by Bill Bennett. The outlaw couple genre, a subset of the road movie, is open to endless variations, limited only by how well you keep your eyes up on the highway ahead. It's also open to endless retreads, so many Bonnies, so many Clydes, so little inspiration. But Bennett's conspicuously charming "Kiss or Kill" is pretty much a delight from start to finish, working with Frances O'Connor and Matt Day, two fresh-faced actors seen earlier this year in "Love and Other Catastrophes." Bennett had been bedeviled for more than a decade by this story of two lovers on the run who can't trust each other. While Bennett helmed the ill-fated Sandra Bullock-Denis Leary vehicle, "Two if by Sea," his two decades of experience allowed him to blossom in the looser form of "Kiss," which snagged five Australian Film Institute Awards, including Best Picture, last Friday. There's an offhand panache that leavens even some pretty dark moments. Petty crimes lead to larger deceptions, and soon a pile of bodies are left in their wake. Witty, farcical and uncommonly smart, Bennett's semi-improvised caper is a sweet piece of malice. Nikki and Al are a pair of grifters who latch onto libidinous businessmen in hotel bars, whereupon Nikki chats them up and after she's drugged them, she and Al shake them down. One such scam goes awry and they're soon bolting across the Australian desert, encountering one delicious minor character after another. The hand-held shots, jump-cutting and a general sense of unease and enigmatic portent draw us inexorably into Nikki and Al's twisted, often hilarious, world. Charm is part of any con and the greatest part of this smooth anecdote. It's amazing nowadays when you can grin through the darkest complications of a plot-or when you even care to. 86m. (Ray Pride) Piper's Alley

*L.A. CONFIDENTIAL Directed by Curtis Hanson. Hanson's unlikely distillation of James Ellroy's vigorously plotted novel "L. A. Confidential" is a slashingly-paced 140-minute thriller starring Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, a pair of Australians, as two complex cops in a 1953 Hollywood intrigue. It also stars James Cromwell as the silkily menacing L.A. police chief, Kevin Spacey as a Dean Martin-cool cop who's technical advisor to an early television show much like "Dragnet," Kim Basinger as a Veronica Lake-like siren and Danny DeVito as a gleeful dervish of dirt who collaborates with Spacey in digging out the lowdown among the Hollywood highlife for his Hush-Hush sleaze-rag. Panavision. (Ray Pride) Biograph; Casino; Crestwood; Hyde Park; Rolling Meadows; Water Tower; Woodfield

LATIN BOYS GO TO HELL Directed by Ela Troyano. A low-budget exploration of sexuality, teenage angst and violence in Latino Brooklyn, in a melodramatic style reminiscent of Mexican telenovelas. Much play with gay, straight and macho stereotypes is promised. 70m. Music Box Daily 5:45, 9:45, Fri-Sat midnight

THE LITTLE MERMAID Directed by John Musker, Ron Clements. As part of the regular seven-year rotation of Disney mulch through the four seasons of theatrical release, video rental, Disney Channel programming and ABCDisney broadcast, the mega-musical for the 14-year-old little girl in all of us returns just in time to run roughshod over poor l'il "Anastasia." Barrington Square; Fox Valley; Foxfield; Ogden; Park Forest; Rolling Meadows; Streamwood; Tivoli South; Tradewinds; York

THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE Directed by Jon Amiel. Bill Murray plays a Blockbuster clerk from Des Moines who shows up in London for a surprise visit to his snooty banker brother (raven-eyebrowed Peter Gallagher), who quickly shuffles him off to an interactive murder-mystery "experience." An easy mix-up makes him the unwitting center of real-life spy intrigue, and therein lies the premise that propels a hearty dose of secret-agent gags and mod suspense music. If someone had cared enough to thread a plot through the Defense Minister, the packet of letters, and the French maid's outfit, it could have been a slightly better movie, one that aspired to the heights of, say, "The Man With One Red Shoe." Joanne Whalley is on hand as a haggard stand-in for what could have been Liz Hurley. 92m. (Ellen Fox) Barrington Square; Foxfield; Logan Square Daily 2:15, 3:55, 5:40, 7:25, 9:05; Ogden

*MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL Directed by Clint Eastwood. Flipping through the pages of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," you want for a Robert Altman movie that probably exceeds Altman's reach even at the height of his powers. Where a jam-packed movie, both kaleidoscopic and filled with fireworks, could come from Berendt's nonfiction book, Eastwood and writer John Lee Hancock ("A Perfect World") take another tack. The core conflict is social, with colorful, nouveau riche, closeted antiques dealer Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey, in a performance of silken splendor) being accepted into the high society of Savannah, as well as the demimonde, where he finds his rough trade hustler boyfriend (Jude Law). Eastwood's pace seems leisurely and generous, but after a few days, disappointment settles in and you're back to thinking what a great movie could have been made of Berendt's work. The most conspicuous flub is John Cusack's performance. While Cusack's John Kelso is meant to be a stand-in for Berendt, on reflection, he seems a better representation of Eastwood. Eastwood's never been afraid of letting himself look foolish, from the orangutan-shines of "Every Which Way But Loose" to the baby-oil s-m hijinx in "Tightrope." In "Midnight," every slack-jawed and gaping reaction shot by Cusack, happily making mental note of all the colorful oddballs around him, makes one think of Eastwood. While the feeling is not one of condescension, it doesn't seem to be one of comprehension, either. A good example would be the very funny, but overextended appearances of one Lady Chablis, a trash-talking African-American preoperative transsexual who was acquainted with some of the case's actual players. Something doesn't ring right at the end of the movie. A portrait of an outsider, Jim Williams, working with wit and style to become an insider in Savannah, needs more than an outsider to the South, who simply watches, never grasping the events before his eyes or the camera. Where "Rainmaker" is a nicely-appointed potboiler, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" may very well be a locals-friendly, yet still classic case of carpetbagging. 154m. Panavision. (Ray Pride) Broadway; Casino; Esquire; Evanston; Plaza; Village North.

MORTAL KOMBAT ANNIHILATION Directed by John R. Leonetti. Thirty-three quarters' worth of video games or one movie? It's your $8.25, use it wisely. With Robin Shou, Talisa Soto and James Remar. 93m. 62nd & Western; Barrington Square; Fox Valley; Foxfield; Logan Square Daily 2:05, 3:45, 5:30, 7:15, 8:55; Ogden; Park Forest; Rolling Meadows; Tradewinds; Village; York

MOUSEHUNT Directed by Gore Verbinski. "Mouse Hunt" is "Tom & Jerry" with human actors, an occasionally entertaining hodge-podge of cartoon violence with no soul. (Sam Jemielity) Bricktown Square; Chatham; The Commons; Crestwood; Esquire; Hawthorn; Hillside Square; Lincoln Village; Old Orchard Gardens; One Schaumburg Place; Orland Square; Ridge; River Run; Spring Hill; Stratford Square; Streamwood; Westridge Court

MR. MAGOO Directed by Stanley Tong. From the longtime Hong Kong comedy and action director comes this live-action version of the clumsy, oblivious, half-blind cartoon character, with Leslie Nielsen inviting the wrath of representatives of the vision and humor impaired. With "Malcolm McDowell as Cloquet." 97m. Bloomingdale Court; Cinema 12; One Schaumburg Place; Ridge; River Run; Stratford Square; Streamwood

THE POSTMAN Directed by Kevin Costner. Costner's followup to the overrated "Dances With Wolves" is a frighteningly self-indulgent mess that runs an excruciating three hours and contains more closeups of Costner than "Wolves" dared. It's the year 2013-you know the lay of the land, I'm sure, your basic post-apocalyptic-blasted-desert-no Government-roaming weirdos-lone drifters-turpentine-for-water kind of future. One night, the drifting Costner sleeps in an abandoned postal delivery truck. He snags a mailman's uniform and a mailbag, then pretends to be a postman to get entrance to border towns. To get some food and shelter, he tells the despondent denizens that the government has been restored and President Richard Starkey (Hey! Get it? That's Ringo!) has restored the postal system. This so inspires everyone that Costner not only gets fed, he gets laid as well. Soon, an adoring Larenz Tate starts delivering mail himself, recruiting more folks to deliver letters. The evil Will Patton, whose army of horse-riding, raping, pillaging maniacs will do anything to squelch the rumors of a restored government, isn't happy. It's distracting from his life's work of crushing the spirits of the dirty faced, post-apocalyptic cuties. Not only is "The Postman" subpar on all levels-you know, little things like acting, script, direction-but it's also further proof that Kevin Reynolds, one-time friend of Costner and director of the brilliant "187," has a lot more to do with "Dances With Wolves" than Costner would care to admit. (Nick Digilio) Evergreen; Fox Lake; Golf Mill; Old Orchard Gardens; River Run; Rivertree Court; Rolling Meadows; Spring Hill; Stratford Square; Streamwood; Town & Country; Westridge Court

*THE RAINMAKER Directed by Francis Coppola. While there's little even the most gifted director could do to rise above a John Grisham potboiler, Coppola has confected a high-toned, tender rendition of dreary potboiler material. You can guess the plot-kid lawyer (sweet-faced, wild-eyed Matt Damon) and comic sidekick (Danny DeVito) go up against the world (an evil insurance company, in the incarnation of eye-rolling, facial-ticcing Jon Voight) and after a few twists, make a magnificent court win of it all. The usual Grisham stuff. But, with the help of a precise, piercing voice-over written by Michael Herr, who did the same favor for "Apocalypse Now," Coppola does the most he can with limited material. But the greatest pleasure comes from the radiantly-imagined Memphis, owing in large part to double Oscar-winning cinematographer John Toll. The temperature of the movie, of its late summer Tennessee is a kind of sepulchral warmth. There are niceties that would mean so much in a great movie, from the slightly exaggerated high and low angles take in odd perspectives of interiors to small details such as Claire Danes' battered wife, sitting in a wheelchair in a hospital cafeteria, bare feet flexed, leg arced, defining a long shot as she first meets crusading young lawyer Damon. But what finally gives "The Rainmaker"'s portrait of a young man learning to be an ambulance chaser its lasting savor are the autobiographical implications of Coppola's telling. For years, he's threatened to settle his financial responsibilities and return to personal, self-generated movies like "The Conversation." When the young lawyer turns his back on Mammon and Memphis, one roots as much for Coppola's 58-year-old hopes as the young lawyer's. Panavision. 133m. (Ray Pride) Biograph; Crestwood; Esquire; Golf Glen; Norridge; Old Orchard Gardens; Orland Square; Plaza; Rolling Meadows; Spring Hill; Stratford Square; Town & Country; Village North; Westridge Court

*SCHIZOPOLIS Directed by Steven Soderbergh. A $200,000 experimental feature by Soderbergh, "Schizopolis" leaps happily from lucidity to literal babbling, from cool visual style to nutball gibbering. Soderbergh, less than pleased with the work he had done with "The Underneath," arranged to make a guerrilla-style production, a kind of throat-clearing exercise, with himself as director, writer, cameraman and lead actor. It seems to be a parody of a Scientology-like religion called "Eventualism," and then a quirky satire of the contemporary workplace, then as quick as you make sense of that, Soderbergh lurches in another direction. Confounding at first, it becomes a playful, near-Dada experience and there are moments inspired and nonsensical throughout that seldom fail to amuse or at least happily perplex. (Ray Pride) Village North Fri-Sat midnight

*SCREAM 2 Directed by Wes Craven. "Rule one of sequels," says one of the endlessly knowing college students in "Scream 2," "Sequels suck." Not so with Craven's thunderously paced, boisterously funny direction of Kevin Williamson's continuation of last Christmas' $100 million hit, a self-reflexive comedy that takes itself apart even as it puts the audience on. After the bloodbath of "Scream," the relentlessly spunky Sidney (Neve Campbell) has moved on to a small-town Ohio college. Jamie Kennedy, the movie-mad Randy, studies film there, still infatuated with Sidney and spouting movie lore left and right. But Courtney Cox's brittle, testy Gale Weathers wrote a trashy insta-book that spawned the movie-within-a-movie that opens "Scream 2." As a sample of the many jokey layers, "Stab," as it's called, runs with Sidney's snide aside in "Scream," and stars Tori Spelling as the silver-screen lead. A copycat killer (or killers) slash their way into a dark and knowing dissection of whether on-screen violence can find its way into an audience's lap. Smelling a story, Weathers, as well as David Arquette's now-confident Deputy Dewey, descend on the school. The jam-packed two hours that follow are like a blithely witty rendition of Agatha Christie for the nineties, with suspicion generously apportioned among a large cast. 120m. Panavision. (Ray Pride) 600 N. Michigan; 62nd & Western; Bloomingdale Court; Bricktown Square; Burnham Plaza; Chatham; Cinema 12; The Commons; Crestwood; Evanston; Evergreen; Golf Glen; Hawthorn; Hillside Mall; Hillside Square; Hyde Park; Lawndale; Lincoln Village; North Riverside; Orland Square; Ridge; River Run; Streamwood; Webster Place; Woodfield

A SELF-MADE HERO Directed by Jacques Audiard. Matthieu Kassovitz (director of "La Haine" and "Assassin(s)") stars as a man who fakes his wartime service, impersonating a hero in Paris in the winter of 1944-45. Joining the Resistance, he takes on an important post in the French occupation zone in Germany, gaining honors, admiration, power and love. With Anouk Grinberg, Sandrine Kiberlain, Jean-Louis Trintignant. 105m. Music Box Daily 7:30, Sat-Sun 1:35, 3:40

SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. Brad Pitt sports Ralph Fiennes' yellow hair and his own honey skin in this lustrous but lifeless adaptation of Austrian adventurer Heinrich Harrer's experiences in the Himalayas. To be fair, no one, not even Pitt, can compete with the breathtaking scenery. Against a crisp blue sky, climbers with frost-encrusted beards dig their crampons into gleaming white walls of ice. Crimson-robed monks rustle into toasty rooms of wood and gold so vividly dressed, you can almost smell the incense. (Ellen Fox) Village

SOUL FOOD Directed by George Tillman. A shot-in-Chicago family drama, centered around the ritual of Sunday family dinners. With Vanessa L. Williams, Vivica A. Fox, Nia Long, Michael Beach, Mekhi Phifer, Jeffrey D. Sams and Irma P. Hall. 115m. Park Forest; Village

>*THE SWEET HEREAFTER Directed and written by Atom Egoyan. See Film feature. Panavision. 112m. Fine Arts

*THE TANGO LESSON Directed and written by Sally Potter. The plot of Sally Potter's luscious "The Tango Lesson" is simple: Potter discovers the tango in Paris, becomes devoted to tango master Pablo Veron and talks to him about making a movie, where she, unlike in the tango, will be able to lead. Aided by Veron's alternately athletic and playful choreography, and the ravishing black and white of Robby Muller's cinematography-chalk, shadow, gray-"The Tango Lesson" unfolds with the silken grace of a dream. It may be the most maverick act by a filmmaker this year. 105m. (Ray Pride) Music Box Daily 5:40, 7:40, 9:50, Sat-Sun 1:40, 3:40

THRILL RIDE Glimpses of the craft of corporate-financed motion-simulation rides, which give the sensation of actual entertainment, advertised in all the glory of IMAX. 40m. Museum of Science and Industry Daily 10am, 10:50am, 11:40am, 12:30, 1:20, 2:10, 3, Sat-Sun 3:50, 4:40

*TITANIC Directed and written by James Cameron. Time is James Cameron's great hiccup. His worlds warp the future with the past, and several movies he's made, such as "Terminator 2" and "True Lies," have also suffered from breathless hurry to meet studio release dates. Pre-release buzz on the multi-hundred-million-budgeted "Titanic" dwelt on the cash invested by a pair of media conglomerates. But now that "Titanic" is on the horizon, you can see for yourself that it's probably Cameron's best movie, and certainly one of the best of the year. While as a driven storyteller, Cameron not only tries to raise the level of commercial moviemaking standards, he also erects dauntingly colossal challenges to himself as a filmmaker. And as with the "Terminator" movies, time and memory remain his fixation. Cameron dares to combine his knack for spectacle with the intimate details of a sweetly corny love story between the privileged, but trapped young socialite, Rose (Kate Winslet) and the dead-broke, spirited artist Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio). Then he provides a contemporary set of bookends, unfolding the story through a 101-year-old survivor's recounting if the story to a crew of techno-buccaneers who intend to salvage valuables from the long-dead wreck. While Cameron's dialogue never rises to literature, his storytelling verve, in details large and small, again demonstrates his grand range of skills. The deft balance of intense intimacy and immense spectacle is thrilling. (Ray Pride) 62nd & Western; Burnham Plaza; Chatham; Chicago Ridge; Cinema 12; Crestwood; Fox Lake; Golf Mill; Hillside Square; Lawndale; McClurg Court; Norridge; North Riverside; Old Orchard; Ridge; Rivertree Court; Stratford Square; Streamwood; Webster Place; Westridge Court; Woodfield

*TOMORROW NEVER DIES Directed By Roger Spottiswoode. This time out, he introduces himself to the villain as "Bond, James Bond," a banker who specializes in "hostile takeovers." When a henchman checks out bond's cover, he finds the record a tad too spotless and surmises he must be a spy. But all anyone would have to do to confirm this, presumably, is to run an internet search that would pop up the fact that Bond's a commander in the royal navy. Although the pacing of "Tomorrow Never Dies" flags a bit compared to Brosnan's introductory Bond romp in 1995's "Goldeneye," the opening setpiece and title sequence are among the most stunning in the series (complete with sheryl crow's solid title track). Michelle Yeoh, the beautiful, high-spirited chopsocky star of "Supercop"-who's known in Hong Kong as the female Jackie Chan-proves the first truly worthy distaff sidekick for our decadent western hero. The obligatory business with M, Q and Moneypenny is a bit too jokey and product-placement-heavy, perhaps, but Dame Judi Dench has grown on me in the role of Bond's savvy handler, and the gismos are stupendous. Although Pryce should stick to selling cars and playing mopes like the one he essayed in "Glengarry Glen Ross," this is still a smart, sassy, thoroughly satisfying thriller. Panavision. (Frank Sennett) 600 N. Michigan; 62nd & Western; Burnham Plaza; Chatham; Cinema 12; The Commons; Crestwood; Fox Lake; Golf Mill; Hillside Mall; Hillside Square; Lawndale; Lincoln Village; Norridge; North Riverside; Old Orchard; One Schaumburg Place; Ridge; Rivertree Court; Stratford Square; Streamwood; Webster Place

>*WAG THE DOG See Tip of the Week. Lake, Water Tower, Northbrook Court, Old Orchard, One Schaumburg.

WASHINGTON SQUARE Directed by Agnieszka Holland. An adaptation of the Henry James novel, made once before in 1949 as "The Heiress" by William Wyler. Heiress Catherine Sloper (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is considered plain and awkward, and when she falls madly in love with handsome young wastrel Morris Townsend (Ben Chaplin), her father, played by Albert Finney, fears for her virtue and her fortune. 115m. Woodfield

*WINGS OF THE DOVE Directed by Iain Softley. While it seems unlikely, the former video director's adaptation of Henry James' "The Wings of the Dove" (written by Hossein Amini) is of a piece with his two earlier movies. While James purists will opt for the fug of their yellowing Penguin paperbacks, Softley and Amini have produced a handsomely appointed romance that rustles with desire, both thwarted and rewarded. And though it's one of the best-looking movies of the year, there are also performances of note, particularly Helena Bonham Carter. Capturing both her offhand, contemporary vivacity and her "period" looks, Softley allows Carter to smile or glower and all the decor in the world of the frame melts away. (Linus Roache and Alison Elliott are two more corners of the London and Venice-set triangle.) Among the liberties taken is a striking, emotionally painful nude scene near the film's end, as well as transporting James' 1902 novel to 1910.103m. (Ray Pride) Piper's Alley; Woodfield

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