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A Shaken Bacon.

By Jesse Fox Mayshark

FEBRUARY 14, 2000:  One of the fun parts of Barry Levinson's Diner was guessing which members of the young, promising cast would go on to conquer Hollywood. In retrospect, the answer is none of them, exactly. Mickey Rourke flared and then spectacularly fizzled. Steve Guttenberg wanted to be a new Jimmy Stewart but ended up as a new John Ritter. Daniel Stern...well, he made money on Home Alone, I guess. Timothy Daly had that Wings TV show (yes, it was as bad as you remember). True, Ellen Barkin has had her high points, but she kind of played out the smoky femme fatale bit. And even if you liked Mad About You (I did, for a little while), it's hard to think of Paul Reiser as much more than a watered-down Alan Alda.

But then there's Kevin Bacon. As in "Six Degrees of..." He'll never be a great actor, and he's never been in any "great" movies. But from his bit part in Animal House through his scary psycho-killer turn in The River Wild, he's been dependably decent in an awful lot of pretty fair entertainment. Faint praise, maybe, but there's something inherently likable about the guy. He may be the closest thing to a studio-system journeyman (think Fred MacMurray) in modern movies.

Case in point is his latest effort, Stir of Echoes (1999, R), which had the misfortune of being an okay ghost story in circulation at the same time as a terrific ghost story (The Sixth Sense). The plot, taken from a Richard Matheson novel, is standard fare: a regular joe (Bacon) accidentally taps into the netherworld and starts getting messages from a mysterious dead girl, with predictably disruptive consequences for his work and family life. But the movie is sturdily constructed and well paced, and director David Koepp has a good feel for the blue-collar Chicago neighborhood where it's set. It's nice to see working-class characters presented with sympathy and without condescension; when Bacon and his wife leave their young son asleep at home while they go across the street to drink beer at a neighbor's party, you understand it's because they can't afford a babysitter. And Bacon is completely plausible as a 30-something guy with good intentions, a drab job, and rock 'n' roll dreams that he's never quite outgrown.

Other Bacon bits worth checking out include Criminal Law (1989, R), which pits him as a playboy accused of murder against an uncharacteristically restrained Gary Oldman; the death-row drama Murder in the First (1995, R), his most "serious" work; and his arguable career highlight, the effortlessly charming monster movie Tremors (1989, R). The latter film has a small desert town of lovably quirky characters, led by Bacon and a grizzled Fred Ward, defending themselves against giant carnivorous worms. It's just the kind of B-movie goof-off that brings out the best in Bacon's lopsided smirk.

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