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FEBRUARY 2, 1998: 

DECEIVER

According to the tagline in this film's advertisement, "There are two sides to every lie." Well, actually, no, there aren't, and I'm sick of being served up lines, looks and lighting that seem so slick but mean so little. Case in point: at the end of "Deceiver" a hooker teases a lone man in a darkened park: "You could get into a lot of trouble being out this late." He then flashes what's supposed to be a chilling grin at the camera, "That's the idea." Cue the overly dramatic music, roll the credits and never mind about the loose ends. In this stylish tale of mind games in the interrogation room, Tim Roth doesn't have a limp, but he does have temporal lobe epilepsy. The data provided on the disease, like that on absinthe, polygraphs and Van Gogh (who was, incidentally, played by Roth in "Vincent & Theo") is fresh and memorable. But the plot twists are actually plot grasps. Things -- false leads, lies -- happen, and they fill up space nicely, but they don't happen for any logical reason. As the murder suspect, Roth projects his familiar heavy-lidded insolence and Chris Penn is the dumb cop, but it's Michael Rooker's performance -- as the scary cop -- that keeps us on edge. All perspiration and pursed lips, Rooker spends the movie looking like a steam whistle ready to blow. Does he? If you see "Deceiver" you might be curious to see it again to find out if the plot remains organic (like "The Usual Suspects") once you know who the killer is. Don't bother -- or, to couch it in the language of a mediocre suspense thriller: Sometimes eight bucks can be the price of a deadly mistake. With Renee Zellweger as -- what else? -- the squinting, pouty victim. (Ellen Fox)


DEEP RISING

Now I know what "Titanic" was missing. Huge, jaw-snapping sea worms! In "Deep Rising," Treat Williams leads a rapidly thinning crew of gunners through the Argonautica, a cruise ship disabled by big worms during its maiden voyage on the South China Sea. We're working with a budget of distinctively un-Titanic proportions here. Early on, all the passengers are conveniently exsanguinated off-screen (represented by the sight of one shrieking, panicked woman getting sucked down the toilet) and throughout the film, the cast appears to be sloshing through the same dimly lit corridor again and again. The worms themselves, in contrast to the mechanical puppets from "Aliens," are clearly computer animations that have been superimposed onto live sets. Still, I found myself throwing my hands up to my cheeks and grimacing with each fresh kill the bulging, twisting worms made. And when I wasn't grossed out, I was giggling at the self-conscious delivery of all those macho action quips ("We've gotta get out of here, this thing's gonna blow!"). Be forewarned: though amusing, these quips never approach the mocking genius of those in "Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn." They're more like lines one groans at in a sincere film but which are now rendered campy in the context of their obvious overuse. Winking at us when you're being unoriginal, however, doesn't absolve you from being unoriginal. With Kevin J. O'Connor, Anthony Heald as the toothy captain and Famke Jannsen in a moist, clingy tank top. 106m. (Ellen Fox)


EYE OF GOD

Well-shot-but-ponderous drivel from writer-director Tim Nelson puts small-town waitress Martha Plimpton in the arms of convicted murderer Kevin Anderson, who has wooed her by mail for several years. Set in the Oklahoma oil fields, Nelson manages to pull off some striking compositions while punching the audience in the gut repeatedly with dreadful symbolism, self-important theatrical-style dialogue and a very high regard for metaphors involving eye-gouging, as well as some choice eye-gouging. 84m. (Ray Pride)


ILLTOWN

Nick Gomez' " Laws of Gravity," made for $42,000, was one of the best directorial debuts in years, energetic and idiosyncratic even while derivative of Scorsesian street sagas. His latest, "illtown," is beautifully shot by Jim Deneault, whose black-and-white images for "Nadja" and grimy color for "River of Grass," already impressed. "illtown" is incredibly handsome-looking, and boasts a cast of indiefilm stalwarts -- Michael Rapaport, Lili Taylor, Kevin Corrigan, Adam Trese -- running through Gomez' tale of mid-level drug dealers losing their cool, told in the style of the garish bubblegum hyperrealism of contemporary Hong Kong movies. Gomez gets down the particulars of the look and feel of contemporary central Florida, but many audiences will get lost in his variations on "Paradise Lost," with two bands of renegade fallen angels exterminating each other with great violence and little joy. It's a bold grab for the mythic, but delirium is a hard thing to sustain. (Ray Pride)


WHALES

"Whales" takes the underwater educational film to a new level. The directors are bona-fide whale researchers David Clark, Al Giddings and Dr. Roger Payne, it is filmed in six different beautiful locations, and shares several cool little details, like how the blue whale's largest arteries are big enough for a child to crawl through. Patrick Stewart is a very appropriate underwater Omnimax film narrator; and Yanni, famous among the diaper set for tunes like "Baby Beluga," does the soundtrack. But most importantly, "Whales" is an example of expert underwater camera work from Giddings, the cinematographer for "The Abyss." The bulk of the story follows the yearly trek of the humpback whale from Hawaii to Alaska, with a focus on subjects like how their songs travel distances of up to 1,000 miles or how they can survive on fatty blubber during periods of plankton deficit. There is also a touching "mama whale/baby whale" scene, as well as the expected "save the whales" stuff here and there. But "Whales" also includes several minutes of disconnected blue whale footage, which is fine because they are the largest mammals ever to exist on Earth; a brief cameo appearance by the killer whales, but not long enough to quench anyone's secret thirst for gore and violence; and the dolphins, too small and plentiful to be as awe-inspiring as their gigantic and sometimes dangerous relatives. Surprisingly, the highlight is the right whale, who "plays" by sticking his (her?) tail out of the water in order to cruise around in full-sail mode, whizzing around the bay and flopping around spastically. Sitting at a 30-degree angle staring at a 75-foot diameter screen, you truly feel like you are splashing around with the big guys. (Kevin L. Campbell)



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