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.

Critical Care
Red Corner

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) 900 N. Michigan Daily 4:30, 9:15; Bloomingdale Court; Burnham Plaza Daily 9:15, Sat-Sun 4:30; Cinema 12; Evanston Daily 7:10, Sat-Sun 1:50; Evergreen; Fox Valley; Hillside Mall; Hyde Park Daily 7:15, Sat-Sun 2:15; Rolling Meadows; Village North Daily 7:45, Sat-Sun 3:35

*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 'Current 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. 154m. (Ray Pride) Bloomingdale Court; The Commons; Crestwood; Esquire Daily 12:15, 1:15, 3:15, 4:15, 6:45, 7:45, 10, Fri-Sat 11:10; Golf Mill; Grove; Lincoln Village Fri 6:30, 9:30, Sat-Thu 8:15, Sat-Sun 2:15, 5:15; Norridge; North Riverside; Oakbrook Daily 6:30, 9:30, Fri-Sun 12:30, 3:30; Old Orchard Gardens Daily 12:30, 3:30, 6:30, 9:30; One Schaumburg Place; Orland Square; Piper's Alley Daily 1:30, 3:40, 4:50, 7, 8:10, 10:15, Fri-Sat 11:15, Sat-Sun noon; Rice Lake Square; Ridge; River Run; Rivertree; Springhill; Streamwood; Westridge Court

CONSPIRACY THEORY Directed by Richard Donner. With Mel Gibson in the central role of Jerry Fletcher, a conspiracy-buff-stalker-patsy-punster given bad headaches by the day's news and memories of a dark past and obsessed with Justice Department attorney Alice Sutton (Julia Roberts), "Conspiracy Theory" is less serious drama than a remake of "The Manchurian Candidate" with Daffy Duck in the central role. Donner's New York is a delirium of intense sensation -- from the ready clichs of Soho's cobbled streets and the towers of sewer steam at each corner -- to memorable, if sometimes pat, visual strokes such as Times Square being a continual tectonic event, or having Jerry's front door line up perfectly with the World Trade Center in the near distance, where the kind of conspiracy he believes in resulted in a notable explosion a few years ago. Donner, whether bored with storytelling or growing in ambition, has followed up the ponderous, yet zestily shot "Assassins" with another great-looking movie, filled with gorgeous compositions and strikingly stylized lighting. There are moments, rain-drenched sick-soul-of-Europe art-movie moments, where "Conspiracy Theory" attains an almost Tarkovsky-like level of visual density. It's just not infused with any meaning. The result is less cynical than blissfully absurd, with the galloping incoherence driving out of mind the concern that much of the movie's exceptionally potent imagery, drawn from the culture's shared century of blood-drenched history and media overload, is being wrongfully invested in mega-budgeted pulp.135m. (Ray Pride) Chestnut Station Daily 7, 9:40, Sat-Sun 1:30, 4:15; Ogden; Tivoli; Tradewinds; Village Daily 7:40, Sat-Sun 3:15; York

*CONTACT Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Moving from the crackerjack mix of narrative confidence and special-effect integration of "Back to the Future" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" to the worldwide audience acceptance of the not-so-sunny "Forrest Gump," Zemeckis has become the prime practioner of a kind of speculative fiction that is both icy and warm, that tickles at satire while struggling to find plausibility for the events on screen, however outlandish or unlikely. "Contact" looks toward the stars and suggests but one simple notion: The face of God is the face of those you love. What a great place to start. Panavision.150m. (Ray Pride) Ogden; York

*COP LAND Directed and written by James Mangold. "Cop Land" is something mournful, elegiac, a taut, action-driven movie with stylized dialogue, an overriding concern with ambiguous motivations and some scenes told almost entirely through striking and sometimes grandly bold images. (Ray Pride) Chestnut Station Daily 7, 9:35, Sat-Sun 1:30, 4:15; Fox Valley; Ogden; Park Forest; Village Daily 5:40, 9:45, Sat-Sun 1:50; York

>CRITICAL CARE While screenwriter Steven Schwartz's words never rumble onto the screen like Paddy Chayefsky's did in Lumet's 1975 "Network," there is enough outrage at contemporary managed-health fiascoes here to fill several movies and a couple of op-ed columns. James Spader is a third-year intensive-care resident at a slightly futuristic, money-driven urban hospital, who becomes enmeshed in the legalities surrounding the case of a comatose man being kept alive for his estate rather than whether he has any chance of recovery. Some of the acting is awful -- turn your eyes away from Kyra Sedgwick as a gold-digging airhead -- and a subplot involving Wallace Shawn as an emissary from hell is subpar. But there is the spectacle of Albert Brooks as a doddering alcoholic who runs the ICU, cutting to the heart of the film's concerns behind old-age makeup and with vaudeville-sharp timing. With Helen Mirren, Jeffrey Wright, and behind a wimple and lofting, winged white headgear, Anne Bancroft. (Ray Pride) Fine Arts Daily 2:15, 4:45, 7:30, 10:15, Sat-Sun 11:45 am

*DEVIL'S ADVOCATE Directed by Taylor Hackford. At the end of "The Godfather," when Al Pacino takes on the responsibilities of his dark and damaged family, a door closes. The deep, sensitive eyes of the young actor were revealed instead as black pools of malice, treachery, corrupt potential. Years, and "Godfather" sequels, pass. In 1983, who would have thought, watching Al Pacino go coke-crazy, method-mad as Tony Montana in "Scarface," that he was only beginning the steep ascent toward the performance style that would mark his late career, toward his most grandiloquent role-Satan in "The Devil's Advocate." Let's start on the right hoof with "The Devil's Advocate." It's ripe, rollicking trash, brazen, shameless, a hoot. Nuts. Shockingly funny. Bad. The story is ostensibly about the great tests faced by a cocky young man. Keanu Reeves is a never-beaten young Florida defense attorney tempted into choosing a jury for a New York law firm. (Reeves' attempt at a Panhandle drawl is actually kind of sweet.) He brings along his equally pretty and ambitious wife, the statuesque Charlize Theron, despite baleful warnings of the city's evil and iniquity from his weathered, religious mom, Judith Ivey. Once this southern-bred Ken and Barbie arrive on the sleek streets of Manhattan, the city glistens alongside them. As in his last movie, "Dolores Claiborne," director Taylor Hackford works with bright lights, big colors, bigger moments. Endless opportunity awaits those who sacrifice themselves to the demands of the law firm. The pair wind up thrown, not to the wolves, but to nattily dressed John Milton (Pacino), barrister to the dark side, counsel to murderers, arm merchants, and good friend of New York Senator Alfonse D'Amato, who makes a jaw-dropping appearance as a pal of Milton. There's no subtlety at any moment, and that's what makes "The Devil's Advocate" so entertaining. The instant Reeves enters the firm, brimstone wafts through the air. Pacino is still capable of playing dodgy little men-his work in "Donnie Brasco" shows signs of acting, rather than performing. But when he plays broader strokes, Pacino relishes the chance to start at an eye-popping, "r"-rolling, arm-waving freak-out in order to blow the top off over-the-top. What's bracing is what a ride the director makes of this low-ball high-concept-Satan as the greatest, most evil lawyer of them all, a silver-tongued maker of mischief and destroyer of virtue. Pacino brings both colossal vanity and lack of shame to his characterization of the farthest fallen angel. I don't know if his work in "The Devil's Advocate" is brilliant or just crackpot, and I doubt I'll ever have the curiosity to see it again to decide. The script is filled with perverse twists and turns. There is murder and mayhem, masturbation and reckless sexual fantasy, twists and double-crosses, nudity, mutilation. And blood. There is shock as well in Pacino's Milton's stream of unconsciousness, a level of invective, of sheer, profane blasphemy that is jarring in a studio release. The words pour from the devil himself, yes, but the scorch is audible in an audience's shocked, uneasy laughter. There's a carnal, carnival sideshow to every aspect of "The Devil's Advocate," but once we're in the game, we simply watch and wait for Pacino to be consumed by a pillar of id, ego, bellow and brimstone. Pure fire. We are not disappointed. (Ray Pride) Biograph Daily 7, 9:50, Sat-Sun 1, 4; Bricktown Square Daily 7, 9:40, Sat-Sun 1:15, 4; Burnham Plaza Daily 7, 9:50, Sat-Sun 1, 4; Chicago Ridge; Crestwood; Esquire Daily 12:30, 1:30, 3:30, 4:45, 6:30, 8, 9:45, Fri-Sat 11; Fox Lake; Foxfield; Golf Mill; Hillside Square; Lincoln Village Daily 7, 9:50, Sat-Sun 1, 4; North Riverside; Old Orchard Daily 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9,10 Sat-Sun noon; Orland Square; Rice Lake Square; Ridge; River Run; Rivertree; Springhill; Stratford Square; Streamwood; Westridge Court; Woodfield

DIARY OF A SEDUCER (La Journal du Seducteur) Written and directed by Daniele Dubroux. Chiara Mastroianni plays Claire, a 20-year-old Parisian student of psychotherapy who one day discovers a magical copy of Kierkegaard's "Diary of a Seducer" which propels her into the lives of a half-dozen other troubled souls. With Melvil Poupaud, Mathieu Amalric and Jean-Pierre Leaud. 95m. Music Box Daily 5:20, 7:30, 9:40, Sat-Sun 1:20, 3:20

*THE EDGE Directed by Lee Tamahori. Tamahori recovers nicely from the shambles of "Mulholland Falls" with this David Mamet-written boy's-own adventure in the wilds of Canada. After a plane crash, Rupert Murdoch-like billionaire Anthony Hopkins is pitted against the wilds and Alec Baldwin, a fashion photographer and competitor for trophy wife Elle Macpherson's affections. Hopkins' billionaire works with a writer's mind, dredging up anecdotes and untested theories to figure out the next step that may get them out of the forests before starving or being eaten by grizzlies. (Mamet's mogul brings to mind Henry James' dictum, "A writer is someone on whom no fact is ever wasted.") Tamahori and Mamet work simply, quickly tearing away the flimsy layers of social rhetoric and misrepresentation between the men. Baldwin is also a hoot with his playfully freakish delivery of Mamet's trademark cadences. After a while, they're like a couple of privileged brats, bickering like Siskel and Ebert in the wild. The action is reasonably compelling, and the result seldom descends into macho delirium. 122m. Panavision. (Ray Pride) Cinema 12; Village Daily 5:45, 9:45, Sat-Sun 1:50

*THE END OF VIOLENCE Directed by Wim Wenders. With his exquisite sense of composition and color, of camera motion and musical accompaniment, Wenders' movies make plot and characterization seem almost beside the point. Unfortunately, in a movie as lushly imagined and seductively photographed as "The End of Violence," when story rears its shaggy head, most audiences will smirk or even laugh aloud. Bill Pullman plays a successful producer of violent movies whose personal life is falling apart; wife Andie MacDowell needs more attention than he can provide. A robbery turns into a carjacking, then a multiple murder, and he's thrust into a real-life intrigue. Unfortunately, it's not very convincing. A second strand of story, with Gabriel Byrne as a surveillance expert setting up a grid of video cameras around Los Angeles, provides the potential for many striking ideas about the entire idea of watching, of voyeurism, of the passive consumption of violent images. But not enough is made of this congruence -- or incongruence -- between the lives of the two characters. Wenders' film references are wide and catholic. The banks of monitors are reminiscent of his countryman Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse character, one of the great intellectual versions of the all-powerful boogieman in film history. And the observatory building is site of some of the most famous scenes from Wenders' one-time collaborator Nick Ray's "Rebel Without A Cause." Without this information, some of the choices of location and imagery may puzzle the average audience. Perhaps not. The pulse of the movie is lush and satisfying, but Nicholas Klein's ambitious script simply doesn't add up. "The End of Violence" opens with a bravura sequence that demonstrates the separation between the portrayal of violence and violence itself that's an utter knockout, but when Wenders attempts to engage larger ideas as his simplistic story progresses, he's far less successful. (Ray Pride) Village Daily 7, 9:15, Sat-Sun 2:30, 4:45; Woodfield

THE EXORCIST (1974, USA) Directed by William Friedkin. Pea soup, sans croutons. (Ray Pride) Navy Pier Fri-Sat 11, Sun-Thu 9

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." Is it that two English schoolgirls took -- or doctored -- photographs of fairies during World War I? Or is it the uproar those photographs created after notables such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini entered the fray to determine the photos' authenticity? In fact, "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 movie focuses on cousins Frances (Elizabeth Earl) and Elsie (Florence Hoath), who debate fairy lore in a night-lit attic bedroom, then spend their days at a small creek, playing with Queen Mab and her winged minions. Elsie's brother, Joseph, who dies of pneumonia before the film begins, spent his short life engulfed in fairies; his heartbroken parents, Arthur and Polly Wright (Paul McGann and Phoebe Nicholls), discourage serious-minded Elsie's pursuit of the little ones. But Polly desperately wants to believe, and mischievous Frances, staying with the family while her father fights in France, steals Arthur's camera to take photos of herself and Elsie cavorting with fairies as a gift to Elsie's mom. Eventually, Conan Doyle (Peter O'Toole) catches wind of the photos and enlists Houdini (Harvey Keitel), known for debunking false claims of theosophists and mediums, to investigate the girls' claims. Despite all this hoopla, though, the movie lacks dramatic focus. (Although the beautiful, recurring fairy-cam effects following a buzzing creature's flight through the florid woods by the brook and spying displaced fairies crossing a busy road, recall the floating feather at the beginning of "Forrest Gump.") The diffuseness defeats any hope of "Fairy Tale" attaining the child-adult crossover appeal of "The Little Mermaid" or "Babe." 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) 600 N. Michigan Daily 12:40, 2:50, 5, 7:10, 9:20; Crestwood; Fox Lake; Lake; Lincoln Village Daily 7:15, 9:20, Sat-Sun 1, 3:05, 5:10; Norridge; Old Orchard Gardens Daily 12:45, 2:55, 5:05, 7:15, 9:30; One Schaumburg Place; Orland Square; Rice Lake Square; Ridge; River Oaks; Rivertree; Springhill; Stratford Square; Streamwood; Webster Place Daily 1:45, 4:30, 7, Fri-Sun 11am; Westridge Court

*4 LITTLE GIRLS Directed by Spike Lee. Lee's first documentary, an HBO production, is worthy work with can't-miss emotional material: the story of the lives shattered when a pipe bomb killed four young girls in a Birmingham, Alabama, church in 1963 at the height of the battle against civil rights in the South. Lee assembles witnesses to a crime that was intended to put an end to integration in Birmingham, as well as family members and cultural figures such as Walter Cronkite, Jesse Jackson and Bill Cosby to comment on the broader implications of the terrorist murder of the four children. A shoo-in for Oscar consideration. (Ray Pride) Music Box Daily 5:30, 7:40, 9:50, Sat-Sun 1:30, 3:30

*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) Cinema 12; Lake; Oakbrook Daily 7:30, 9:35, Fri-Sun 1:15, 3:20, 5:25; Orland Square; Park Forest Art; Piper's Alley Daily 2:15, 5:15, 7:30, 10, Sat-Sun 11:30am; Rolling Meadows; Village North Daily 6:45, 8:30, Sat-Thu 10:15, Sat-Sun 1:30, 3:15, 5

THE GAME Directed by David Fincher. "7 1/2"? A successful businessman gets the gift from hell from his brother. Starring Michael Douglas, Sean Penn and Deborah Kara Unger. 134m. Panavision. Casino; McClurg Court Daily 7:15, 9:50, Sat-Sun 2:15, 4:45; Orland Square; Rolling Meadows; Stratford Square; Village North Daily 7:45, Sat-Sun 3:20

GANG RELATED Directed and written by Jim Kouf. Jim Belushi and the late Tupac Shakur are street detectives who go into the drug business, under the hand of the co-writer of "Operation Dumbo Drop" and "Another Stakeout." With James Earl Jones, Lela Rochon, David Paymer, Gary Cole and "Dennis Quaid as William." Hillside Mall; River Oaks; Village North Daily 5:40, 10:05, Sat-Sun 1:15

*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 -- belong in the glossy contemporary magazines such as wallpaper* 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. By law, Freeman is among those left to the menial work. Society's elite are those who are the most genetically refined. But Freeman has a dream, to become an aerospace engineer for the Gattaca Corporation, yet complications erupt in the final weeks before he can finally blast off this planet that has tried to damp down the unpredictable parts of human spirit. A romance with Uma Thurman follows, as well as a murder and an investigation by Alan Arkin, overseen by the patrician and plummy Gore Vidal as the team leader, wittily shown as the apotheosis of genetic perfection. Niccol has made a film the themes of which are so apparent, it's almost impossible to discuss them. 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. 121m. (Ray Pride) 600 N. Michigan Daily 12:40, 2, 3, 4:30, 5:20, 7, 7:40, 9:20, 10; Bloomingdale Court; Cinema 12; Crestwood; Evanston Daily 4:50, 7:20, 9:50, Sat-Sun 11:40am, 2:20; Golf Glen; Lake; Lincoln Village Daily 7:30, 10, Sat-Sun 2:20, 5; Norridge; Oakbrook Daily 7:20, 9:40, Fri-Sun 2, 4:45; Orland Square; Rice Lake Square; Ridge; River Oaks; Rivertree; Streamwood; Webster Place Daily 2, 4:40, 7:30, 10:15, Fri-Sun 11:15 am; Westridge Court; Woodfield

GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE Directed by Sam Weisman. Watch out for those abs! Disney's inflation of Jay Ward's TV cartoon character is embodied by buffed-up Brendan Fraser, whose sweetly lithe and mostly naked form, judging from the stills, should appeal to the 14-year-old closet queen in all of us (to paraphrase another critic from another context). Aside from the memorably bone-headed title song, this version has a script by Dana Olsen ("It Came From Hollywood"), gentled by a rewrite from Audrey Wells ("The Truth About Cats and Dogs"). "George," which Disney's calling a "live-action family comedy-adventure," was a small kid's movie until a marketing tie-in with a fast-food chain led to a few tens of additional millions being poured into the budget. With Leslie Mann, Greg Crutwell, Richard Roundtree and John Cleese "as the voice of an ape named 'Ape.'" Cinema 12

GOOD BURGER Directed by Brian Robbins. An inflation of a sketch from the popular teen-oriented Nickelodeon series "All That," in which two "offbeat high-school teens," Ed and Dexter (Kel Mitchell and Kenan Thompson) pitch in to help a burger joint called Good Burger become the hottest fast-food spot in town. Can Megaburger's merger offers be far behind? 94m. Ogden; Park Forest; York

GRIZZLY MOUNTAIN Directed by Jeremy Haft. Prior to an imminent video release, "Grizzly Mountain" brings us the long-unawaited return of Dan Haggerty as Mountain Man Grizzly Adams. This time out, he's visited by a couple of goddam brats who fall into "a mysterious time-tunnel cave and end up back in the Old West!" the press release informs. "Now armed with the know-how of the future," it breathlessly relates, "And a bag full of toys, our kids and the Mountain man lead the Indians and animals in an all-out hilarious battle to save Grizzly Mountain and get back to the future." Hoo-ha! 96m. Not available for preview. Cinema 12; Norridge; One Schaumburg Place; Orland Square; River Oaks; Town & Country; Water Tower Daily 12:40, 3, 5:10, 7:15, 9:20

*HERCULES Directed by John Musker, Ron Clements. Disney's animated "Hercules" never hits the nitrous highs of Robin Williams' maniacal spiels in "Aladdin," but as consistent craft, it hits a standard for brisk, shapely entertainment rarely matched by live-action Hollywood fare. Co-writer-director-producers Musker and Clements showed their mettle with "Aladdin," and set out to mold a Frank Capra or Preston Sturges screwball comedy out of the elements of the Hercules myths. The endless anachronisms, including an extended series of riffs on the merchandising of heroes and celebrities, never chafe. (Even a gag like "Zeuuuuusy! I'm home!" in a Desi Arnaz intonation works in these capable hands.) Notable among Hercules' obstacles to returning to Mt. Olympus from earth are Hades, voiced by and animated in the style of James Woods; a hundred-headed Hydra's nightmare for the kiddies; and smart adult comedy that never gets too racy, yet includes a zesty one-liner about Oedipus' troubled home life. Even the big thumbs of Disney co-workers Siskel and Ebert come in for some flaming satire. (Ray Pride) Arcada; Ogden; Park Forest; Tivoli; Tradewinds; York

HOODLUM Directed by Bill Duke. Epic Harlem gangster saga (but shot in Chicago) with Andy Garcia as Lucky Luciano, Laurence Fishburne as Bumpy Johnson (the gangster on whom his "Cotton Club" role was based) and Tim Roth as Dutch Schultz. With Vanessa Williams, Cicely Tyson, Clarence Williams III and Queen Latifah. Park Forest; Village Daily 7:35, Sat-Sun 3:25

*THE HOUSE OF YES Directed by Mark Waters. Oooh, USA TODAY didn't get it. Now I know I like "The House of Yes." Waters' adaptation of Wendy MacLeod's long-running San Francisco stage hit is still rife with hothouse theatricality, but it boasts one of the most nuanced performances of the year, by Parker Posey. Medicated and no longer completely deluded, she still only answers by the name of her favorite identity: Jackie O. Posey is a sparkler in all her roles, yet in collaboration with Waters and his editors, her Jackie O. can balance between hysteria and calculation in every moment, just shy of twirling into the void. She's obsessed with her namesake, the Kennedy assassination, and all too fond of her twin, Marty (Josh Hamilton). When Marty comes home for Thanksgiving with fiancee Lesly (Tori Spelling) the scene is set, as mom Genevieve Bujold puts it, "I'm going in the kitchen to check on the turkey and hide the knives." Waters' control of the levels of comedy and pathos in a very, very black comedy impresses. It's still theatrical, but he knows when to cut and where to put the camera. A rare enough talent. (Ray Pride) Water Tower Daily noon, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10

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, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillipe and Freddie Prinze, Jr. 100m. 900 N. Michigan Daily 2, 4:15, 7, 9:40; Bricktown Square Daily 7, 7:50, 9:10, 10, Sat-Sun 1:20, 2, 3:30, 4:30, 5:40; Burnham Plaza Daily 7:50, 10, Sat-Sun 1:20, 3:30, 5:40; Chicago Ridge; Crestwood; Evergreen; Fox Lake; Fox Valley; Foxfield; Golf Glen; Grove; Hawthorn; Hillside Square; Hyde Park Daily 5:15, 7:30, 9:45, Sat-Sun 12:15, 3; Lincoln Village Daily 7:30, 9:40, Sat-Sun 1, 3:10, 5:20; North Riverside; Old Orchard Gardens Daily 12:45, 3, 5:15, 7:40, 9:50; Rice Lake Square; River Run; Rolling Meadows; Springhill; Stratford Square; Streamwood; Town & Country; Webster Place Daily 2:30, 4:50, 7:20, 9:15, 10, Fri-Sun noon

*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. (Ray Pride) Fine Arts Daily 2, 3:15, 4:30, 6, 7:15, 8:45,10, Sat-Sun 12:45

*IN AND 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 fiance; 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) Bloomingdale Court; Broadway Daily 7:30, 9:30, Sat-Sun 1:30, 3:30, 5:30; Crestwood; Esquire Daily 1, 3:05, 5:15, 7:30 Fri-Sun, Tue-Thu 7:30; Hawthorn; Lake; Norridge; Oakbrook Daily 7:40, 9:50, Fri-Sun 1:10, 3:20, 5:30; Old Orchard Gardens Daily 1:15, 3:15, 5:15, 7:15, 9:15; Orland Square; Plaza Daily 8, 10, Sat-Sun 2,4, 6; Ridge; River Run; Rolling Meadows; Springhill; Streamwood

*INTO THE DEEP The last ocean-exploring Imax film I saw had a score by Sting. With the pretty pictures and music, it attained what I believed at that time to be the highest calling of the Imax technology: It shut the kids up for forty minutes and gave the adults beautiful pictures and soothing music during the moments when they woke up from the stupor induced by plush seats and heavy air conditioning. Although the music wasn't quite as good for "Into the Deep," the 3-D undersea exploration now playing at Navy Pier, I actually found it to be a gripping theatrical experience. Even though my family, including a 13-year-old brother, was in town, and even though we'd spent the better part of the weekend visiting various tourist haunts, 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 Daily 11:20, 12:40, 2, 3:20, 4:40, 6, 7:20, Fri-Sat 8:40, 10, Fri-Sat, Mon-Thu 10am

KISS THE GIRLS Directed by Gary Fleder. "Seven" meets "Silence of the Lambs" in a new thriller starring Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd. Bricktown Square Daily 7:15, 9:50, Sat-Sun 2:15, 4:45; Chicago Ridge; Cinema 12; Crestwood; Evanston Daily 5, 7:30, 10, Sat-Sun noon, 2:30; Evergreen; Foxfield; Golf Glen; Grove; Hillside Square; Hyde Park Daily 5:30, 7:45, 10:15, Sat-Sun 12:15, 3; Lincoln Village Daily 7:30, 10, Sat-Sun 2:15, 5; North Riverside; One Schaumburg Place; Rice Lake Square; River Oaks; Rivertree; Stratford Square; Streamwood; Water Tower Daily 12:30, 2, 4:30, 6, 7, 9:30; Webster Place Daily 1:15, 4, 6:45, 9:30; Westridge Court

*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) 600 N. Michigan Daily 12:30, 1, 3:20, 4, 6:10, 7, 9, 9:50; Cinema 12; Golf Glen; Grove; Lake; Norridge; Oakbrook Daily 7, Fri-Sun 1:40; Old Orchard Gardens Daily 1, 3:50, 6:40, 9:30; Plaza Daily 7, Sat-Sun 1:30; Rice Lake Square; River Oaks; Rolling Meadows; Streamwood; Webster Place Daily 12:30, 3:30, 6:30, 9:40

A LIFE LESS ORDINARY Directed by Danny Boyle. A tepid disappointment. Boyle, writer John Hodge and producer Andrew MacDonald have starred Ewan McGregor in each of these three films with a stolen bag of cash at the center, and they repeat most of their technical crew as well. With "A Life Less Ordinary," one wonders if they thought after the great success of their first pair of pictures, they owed themselves one. A chance to stretch. A chance to explore. A chance to wallow in whimsy in the snow-peakedWasatch range of Utah. The lush snickers of "Shallow Grave" and the brilliant momentum of "Trainspotting" are little in evidence. Mismatched angels Delroy Lindo -- tall, dark, perplexed -- and Holly Hunter -- short, snarled in long blonde hair and perpetually horny -- are dispatched by the archangel Gabriel (Dan Hedaya) to force, by any means necessary, the union of Scots migr, janitor and would-be trash novelist McGregor and spoiled heiress Cameron Diaz. Hunter has a grand time behind a machine-gun, tumbling off car crashes like a tiny Terminator in a Coen Brothers remake of those movies, smoking, getting punched, chewing tobacco, dressing in a suite of high-heeled zip-up knee-high boots (white vinyl, black leather, brown leather). McGregor plays the tousle-haired, passive waif-boy as charmingly as can be; as the peppery kidnap victim turned kidnap mastermind, Diaz is both funny and often dazzlingly lovely. Her prim and petulant heiress, living a life transacted in David Hockney-blue swimming pools in coronas of sunshine, in ebony Town Cars, dressed Audrey Hepburn-style in form-fitting black cashmere sweaters and body-hugging pants is suggestive but never developed through the script's arbitrary events. Oh yeah, comedy -- you don't need consistency! Pump in another pop song there, will ya, Danny boy? Energy, that's it, energy. Bit parts are interestingly cast -- Tony Shalhoub dazzles, as always, as a bar owner where he actually invests wit and pathos in a few lines where his character imagines "a heaven for glamorous pussy" Stanley Tucci gets to act up as a demented dentist whose engagement to Diaz ends when she shoots him in the head after the opening credits. A fast-cut trailer for the movie led me to anticipate something special, but, oh well. There are scattershot flickers of invention and wit throughout -- it's never dull and often charming -- yet the scenes that sing are only blissful kinetics, no subtext, no dread, no especially big laughs. "A Life Less Ordinary" is closer to rock video than anything Boyle has done yet -- images and ideas, clattering in a pop-drenched void, anxiously lying there, awaiting a fresh draft never to be written. Once the movie ends, we're treated to a spoken-to-camera duologue by McGregor and Diaz, followed by a lengthy Claymation sequence under the end credits. Don't some people know when they've had too much of an indifferent thing? 101m. (Ray Pride) 600 N. Michigan Daily 12:20, 1:20, 2:40, 3:40, 5, 6, 7:20, 8:20, 9:40; Cinema 12; The Commons; Crestwood; Golf Glen; Grove; Hawthorn; Lake; Oakbrook Daily 9:50, Fri-Sun 4:30; Old Orchard Gardens Daily 12:50, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45, 10; One Schaumburg Place; Plaza Daily 9:40, Sat-Sun 4:15; Rice Lake Square; Ridge; River Oaks; Stratford Square; Streamwood; Webster Place Daily 1, 3:45, 6:15, 9; Westridge Court

THE MATCHMAKER Directed by Mark Joffe. Janeane Garofalo plays a Massachusetts Senator's assistant who's shipped off to Ireland to dig up any long-lost relatives or ancestors of her boss who might enhance his re-election chances. Garofalo arrives in the tiny town of Ballinagra during (wouldn't you know?) the annual Matchmaking Festival! A comedy, they say. With Denis Leary, Milo O'Shea, Jimmy Keogh. 96m. Evanston Daily 7:45, Sat-Sun 3; McClurg Court Daily 10, Fri-Sun, Tue-Thu 8, Sat-Sun 2, 4, 6; One Schaumburg Place; York Art

*MEN IN BLACK Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Sonnenfeld's amiably surrealist sf-detective comedy -- think "Ghostbusters" directed by former cinematographer Sonnenfeld's old bosses, the Coen Brothers -- is best enjoyed if you lower your expectations. Don't expect the world. (Don't expect other worlds.) And don't let anyone give the jokes away. Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith are strong as the mismatched duo of detectives who keep track of the aliens living in our midst, or more precisely, on the island of Manhattan. Everything's less than a shrug to the characters. Wouldn't it make sense if your weird neighbor turned out to be from another planet? Aliens live amongst us and some of their faces turn out to be very familiar. The broadest reactions come from the pair's boss, in the form of the national treasure that is Rip Torn's left eyebrow. Rick Baker's featured creatures are smoothly integrated into their scenes, and Bo Welch's inspired production design is a consistent delight, mingling recognizable, comically abused New York City locations, with sets of a cool retro-futurist look, able to suggest steely contemporary office design, 1960s Scandinavian furnishings in the style of Eero Saarinen and the iconography of flying saucers, all at once. What could be more logical, for instance, than an alien seeking shelter to run into the dizzyingly involuted whorls of the Guggenheim Museum? While Ed Solomon's script, based on the comic book series of the same name, is less inspired after a terrific first forty minutes or so, this is still slick, enjoyable stuff. 95m. (Ray Pride) 900 N. Michigan Daily 2:20, 7:15; Burnham Plaza Daily 7:15, Sat-Sun 2:20; Cinema 12; Evanston Daily 4:40, 10:10, Sat-Sun 11:50 am; Evergreen; Hillside Mall; Hyde Park Daily 5, 10, Sat-Sun noon; Rolling Meadows; Village North Daily 5:55, 10:05, Sat-Sun 1:45

*MRS. BROWN Directed by John Madden. In "Mrs. Brown," a bracing and convincing portrait of Britain's Queen Victoria (Judi Dench), director John Madden and writer Jeremy Brock embroider the whispers and rumors that surrounded her friendship with a Scottish servant, John Brown (Billy Connolly). The heart of the movie lies in the lucid performances by Dench and Connolly, yet Madden, a stage veteran with a couple of indifferent movies to his credit, works cleanly and efficiently, finding the means to convincingly portray, through pause and glance, through blocking and motion, the impossible gulf between the pair. (Ray Pride) Woodfield

THE MYTH OF FINGERPRINTS Directed and written by Bart Freundlich. A J. Crew Cheez Doodle. To paraphrase Tolstoy, while happy families are all alike, all unhappy-family movies, when done poorly, are alike as well. Something's missing in "The Myth of Fingerprints"; something's slipped away and it's not the lives of the characters, who exist mostly as shadows of performances past from the talented actors given an arbitrary, uninteresting script to inhabit. (We won't even bother with the act of drawing one's title from the lyrics of a Paul Simon song.) Thanksgiving in New England after a family's been thrown to the winds for three years. Everybody shares the same dumb secret. Dad got drunk at a party once and snuck a kiss from somebody else's girl. Motivations are either cardboard or so elliptical they're incomprehensible. The only actor on screen who burbles with the repressed rage seemingly intended to motor the movie is Julianne Moore. Her character, Mia, is an asshole and Moore is magnificent. Then other characters talk: take James LeGros' neighbor, who's changed his name to Cezanne. Please. Roll call! Taciturn dad: Roy Scheider. Bulwark mom: Blythe Danner. Simple-hearted, soft-headed yuppie brother: Noah Wyle. Stick of wood fiance for Mia: Brian Kerwin. Sweet young sister: Laurel Holloman. You could go on. Freundlich does. "The Myth of Fingerprints" is too, too precious. 90m (Ray Pride) Village Daily 8, Sat-Sun 4; Woodfield

NOTHING TO LOSE Directed and Written by Steve Oedekerk. Tim Robbins is a yuppie adman who believes his frisky yuppie wife, Kelly Preston, is cheating on him. Hitting the road in a haze of rage, he's carjacked by out-of-work, slapdash thief Martin Lawrence. What does he care? He kidnaps Lawrence, intending to dump him in the Arizona desert. Complications ensue, some clever, some inane, but their growing alliance and eventual dependence on one another charms throughout, without ever unduly pushing racially-charged gags. Still, Oedekerk's slack pacing, meandering gags -- check out Oedekerk's own cameo as a relentlessly gyrating night watchman -- and a fondness for the sentimental diminish the genuine ease Robbins and Lawrence demonstrate between their duo of unlikely buddies. If you make it that far, be sure to stay after the credits: There's a world-class punchline you won't want to miss. (Ray Pride) Chestnut Station Daily 7:45, 9:45, Sat-Sun1:45, 3:45, 5:45

THE PEACEMAKER Directed by Mimi Leder. The first rocket out of the Dreamworks SKG plant is a snazzy yet superficial action drama, based on research by co-producers Leslie and Andrew Cockburn. Working as journalists for "60 Minutes" as well as leading magazines, the Cockburns are conversant with a great deal of trouble in the world and a lot of it seems stuffed into Michael Schiffer's action-heavy script. Nuclear scientist Dr. Julia Kelly (Nicole Kidman), who's turned from designing nuclear weapons to thwarting their proliferation, joins forces with her military liaison, Col. Thomas Devoe (George Clooney), after the Russian Mafia steals a warhead. Their world gleams, all shiny high tech with all the requisite Michael Mann-like jabber that comes with the territory. There are clever script machinations that clunk as often as click, and the action is punctuated by on-screen titles reminding us that our dynamic duo is jetting around to keep the globe safe for our children. Devoe fights with his fists and his dirty underworld contacts; Kelly fights for what's right. It's reasonably gripping, but there's far too much sketchbook-sanctimony, such as near the end, when a Sarajevan piano-teacher-turned-terrorist moans about his dead child while clutching an LED-timered nuke, sprawled across an altar in a central Manhattan cathedral. There is one great laugh, however, after Devoe and Kelly have slaughtered all the bad guys in a long, bloody chase and shootout in the center of Vienna and return to their hotel room. They agonize for a few seconds, then Kelly's laptop perks up with a ham-handed product placement, "Welcome! You've got mail!" Oh, she explains, that document we lost in the hand-to-hand firefight, I also sent it to my American Online account. The room was up for grabs: in the real world, wouldn't the message have been along the lines of, "We're Sorry, There are Too Many Requests Pending. Please try again later." It would probably be unfair, as well, not to single out the always-gorgeous Kidman's delightful saving-the-world ensemble, a body-hugging pair of creamy tan jersey pants; stylish, sensible flats for those sudden runs across traffic-clogged midtown and a trim, sleeveless black top with a naughty, dipping v-neckline. The outfit has all the calculated sass of a magazine layout and it sure kept me happily distracted. Forget the children, get me the 800 number so I can order all my Christmas gifts. 122m. Panavision. (Ray Pride) 600 N. Michigan Daily 1:30, 4:15, 7, 9:45; Casino; Cinema 12; Fox Valley; Grove; Norridge; One Schaumburg Place; Rice Lake Square; River Oaks; Streamwood; Village North Daily 5:40, 7:50, 10, Sat-Sun 1:20, 3:30

PLAYING GOD Directed by Andy Wilson. David Duchovny puts down the blank stare and takes up a shotgun in the role of Dr. Eugene Sands, "a surgeon who is forced to abandon his career and is lured deep into the underworld of mobster Raymond Blossom." Ray B. is played by Timothy Hutton, with that bleached hair he's got in the attractions, boy, we're scared. Still, Wilson was the director of the British television series, "Cracker," and that's not a bad credit. Full-lipped actress Angelina Jolie plays "his seductive girlfriend Claire." With Peter Stormare, Tracey Walter and John Hawkes as "Flick." Old Orchard Gardens Daily 1, 3:15, 5:30, 7:45, 10; Water Tower Daily 7:15, 9:30

>RED CORNER Directed by John Avnet. See Film feature for an interview with screenwriter Robert King. Bloomingdale Court; Bricktown Square Daily 7, 8:15, 9:40, Sat-Sun 1:45, 2:30, 4:15, 5:15; The Commons; Crestwood; Fox Lake; Foxfield; Golf Mill; Lincoln Village Daily 7, 9:45, Sat-Sun 1:30, 4:15; McClurg Court Daily 7, 9:40, Sat-Sun 1:30, 4:15; North Riverside; Oakbrook Daily 7:10, 9:45, Fri-Sun 1:30, 4:15; Old Orchard Daily 2, 4:45, 7:30, 10:15; Orland Square; Rice Lake Square; River Run; Rivertree; Rolling Meadows; Springhill; Streamwood; Town & Country; Webster Place Daily 2:15, 5, 7:45, 10:30, Fri-Sun 11:30 am; Westridge Court

ROCKET MAN Directed by Stuart Gillard. The director of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3" helms a kid's outer space story, wherein "astronut" Harland Willaims finds himself on the way to Mars. Complications, as well as "grizzled veteran astronaut Bud Nesbitt (Beau Bridges)," ensue. 93m. Previewed after press time. Crestwood; Grove; Hillside Mall; One Schaumburg Place; River Run; Streamwood; Water Tower Daily 12:30, 2:45, 5:10

SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET 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. Ducking out on Fatherland and fatherhood, cocky Nazi Olympian Harrer purposefully deserts his pregnant wife in 1939 to scale a Kashmiri peak but winds up tramping around the Himalayas (sans Lonely Planet) and befriending the young Dalai Lama years before Richard Gere. Pitt plays Harrer adequately, owing less to his tight-lipped monotone than to his gift for exuding snot-nosed arrogance. You'd like to think his stiffness is a conscious emulation of Aryan reserve, but it's more likely he's just trying not to make any quick, jerky moves in one of the first movies that doesn't compel him talk like a flamboyant hick. (Ellen Fox) Biograph Daily 7, 9:40, Sat-Sun 1:15, 4:15; Cinema 12; Crestwood; Esquire Daily 2:30, 5:30, 8:30; Fox Lake; Golf Glen; Lake; Lincoln Village Daily 7, 9:40, Sat-Sun 1:15, 4:15; Norridge; Oakbrook Daily 6:50, 9:45, Fri-Sun 1, 3:50; Old Orchard Daily 1:45, 3:45, 6:45, 9:45; Orland Square; Rice Lake Square; Ridge; River Oaks; Rivertree; Stratford Square; Streamwood; Westridge Court; Woodfield

*SHALL WE DANCE? Directed by Masayuki Suo. Suo's movie starts with the feel of cliche in motion, heightened only by a sense of being a "Hello Kitty" edition of Jacques Tati, where merely pointing a camera at a cryptic urban wonderland like Tokyo's allows so much to be read into the story. Shohei (Koji Yakusho) is a stiff-lipped accountant, the embodiment of Japan's long-suffering "salaryman" who works to fulfill the expectations of others. Taking the train from the city to the suburbs each evening to his hunched square of a house and small green patch of lawn and tiny red car that suggests a sewing machine more than horsepower, Shohei's face is blank. When his train pauses at a station one evening, he looks up into the neon of night and spies a melancholy face, a doe-eyed slip of a woman staring out a window into fathomless distance. Charmed. Another night. Fascinated. Finally, he gathers the nerve to climb the stairs of the building, where he discovers that the woman teaches ballroom dancing. She is Mai (Tamiyo Kusakari), a dancer who looks down on those she teaches. He joins, watching her from a distance as he becomes as obsessed with the tango and waltz, the fast-step and the rumba, as he is with her mysterious form. The teachers and classmates are all types -- a word I use to suggest keenly acted stereotypes -- yet the predictability of some situations and jokes is leavened by charm and compassion. Shohei also discovers that he shares a secret with his eccentric office co-worker, Mr. Aoki. Naoto Takenaka gives a comic performance of such utter grotesquerie, charm and heart that the jaw drops.118m. (Ray Pride) 600 N. Michigan Daily 2:15, 4:45, 9:45, Fri-Sun, Wed-Thu 7:15; Woodfield

A SMILE LIKE YOURS Directed by Keith Samples. Romantically comic sperm and ova jokes abound as Greg Kinnear and Lauren Holly play harried marrieds having trouble making baby. Chestnut Station Daily 7:15, 9:15, Sat-Sun 1:15, 3:15, 5:15; Ogden; York

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. Burnham Plaza Daily 7, 9:40, Sat-Sun 1:40, 4:20; Casino; Crestwood; Evanston Daily 5:15, 10:20, Sat-Sun 12:15; Evergreen; Fox Valley; Hillside Mall; Hillside Square; Hyde Park Daily 4:30, 7, 9:30, Sat-Sun 11:30am, 3; Lincoln Village Daily 7, 9:45, Sat-Sun 1:30, 4:15; Norridge; North Riverside; River Oaks; Rolling Meadows; Streamwood; Water Tower Daily noon, 2:30, 3:30, 5, 7:30, 8:30, 10

>SWITCHBACK Dennis Quaid and Danny Glover ride herd on a mess of suspense film clichs as they hunt down a serial killer who offs his victims by pressing a glinting blade to their groins, at which time the camera pans back to reveal their grimacing faces. FBI agent Frank LaCrosse (Quaid) shows up in Amarillo on the trail of the killer whose latest slick move is the abduction of LaCrosse's son. Meanwhile, a crackers railroad man (Glover) picks up a preppy hitchhiker (My So-Called Jared Leto) en route to the Rockies. There's only so much that good actors can do. While Quaid doesn't manufacture silent fortitude as well as Harrison Ford, there are touching moments, such as a quiet "I love you" to his wife over the phone where he tries his damnedest to hold it together. Danny Glover has much more fun as the crusty-but-chatty suspect, making himself at home in motels, auto repair shops and freight trains. These stalwarts aside, you'd think no one would have the balls to string together so many hackneyed plot devices. But here they come, with "Die Hard" scribe Jeb Stuart earnestly wheeling out the naive babysitter, the brawl in the honky-tonk, the aloof Feds razzing the good ol' boy local police, the fight scene on the speeding train. Best of all, when a burly patron starts choking on diner food... well, let's just say it's a good thing there's an Exacto-knife and a plastic straw on hand. This was Stuart's first screenplay, penned while he was still at Stanford, which may explain why so many scenes take place in a white 1977 Eldorado upholstered with color glossies of nude playmates. Construction of this "very important set" necessitated a two-day photo shoot with Playboy photographer Kim Mizuno using professional models. Nice work if you can get it. With Ted Levine and R. Lee Ermey as "Sheriff Buck Olmstead." (Ellen Fox) Biograph Daily 7:15, 9:45, Sat-Sun 2:15, 4:45; Burnham Plaza Daily 7, 9:45, Sat-Sun 1:45, 4:15; Cinema 12; The Commons; Crestwood; Evanston Daily 4:30, 7, 9:40, Sat-Sun 11:30am, 2; Fox Valley; Golf Glen; Grove; Hillside Square; Lake; Norridge; Plaza Daily 7:15, 9:45, Sat-Sun 2:15, 4:15; Rice Lake Square; River Run; Rivertree; Rolling Meadows; Stratford Square; Streamwood; Town & Country; Water Tower Daily noon, 2:30, 5, 7:30, 10

*TELLING LIES IN AMERICA Directed by Guy Ferland. We all know how the story of "Telling Lies in America" turns out: the teenage Hungarian emigre of Cleveland in 1962 grows up to write "Flashdance" and "Jagged Edge." Karchy Jonas grows up to write "Sliver" and "Jade" and "Showgirls." Karchy Jonas -- or as his real-life author calls himself, Joe Eszterhas, under the sway of his new wife, realizes that he can return to his roots and the ideas in one of his earliest screenplays and concoct a sweet, sensitive coming-of-age story. Of all of Eszterhas' many reinventions of himself, from Hungarian kid to daily journalist, from Rolling Stone essayist to the highest-paid screenwriter, this could be perhaps the best. As a vocal advocate of screenwriters' interests, about the only thing Eszterhas needs to live down is director Paul Verhoeven's continuing assertion that "Showgirls" is an "elegant" film. "Telling Lies in America" isn't a strict autobiography, but Eszterhas says it hews close to things he felt and saw as a kid in a new land -- Cleveland! -- in the early 1960s. As directed by Ferland (a protg of director Joel Schumacher), whose first feature, "The Babysitter," was suitably ominous, "Telling Lies" boasts modest virtues of characterization, of place and time, and for Eszterhas, a sweet sense of humor the writer would do well to pursue. Brad Renfro plays the 17-year-old Karchy, a chronic liar who wants to impress everyone around him, particularly at the snobbish private school his father (Maximillian Schell) sacrifices to send him to. In the months before their naturalization, Karchy fibs his way into be an assistant to slick, hard-drinking, heavy-smoking deejay and impresario Billy Magic (Kevin Bacon at his best). Working on a $4 million budget, less than some of the writing veteran's fees, Ferland does a fine job of creating a Cleveland he never knew. Tops of buildings with frames full of sky recur. Onion domes of cathedrals are cheek-by-jowl with chromium diners. (Ray Pride) Fine Arts Daily 3, 5:45, 8, 10:30, Sat-Sun 12:30

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. Piper's Alley Daily 2, 4:30, 9:45, Fri-Tue 7:15

*WEED Doug Wolens' entertaining documentary about the Eighth Annual Cannabis Cup and Hemp Expo, held in smoky Amsterdam, is one of a burgeoning number of intimate, off-hand projects that have seen the light of day almost entirely because of the ease with which one can shoot on video and bump the result up to 35mm film. "Weed" is an amusing glimpse at the 450-location, ever-tokin' coffeehouse culture of that city and the 1,500 or so visitors who descend for five festival days on behalf of hemp. For those so inclined, "Weed" will prove a hemptronic, weedarific treat, a cheerful glimpse at another culture's subculture. Lotsa happy folks. Lotsa smiles. Some giggles. (Ray Pride) Village North Fri-Sat midnight

WISHMASTER Directed by Robert Kurtzman. A portmanteau of horror tales, "presented" by Wes Craven. The Djinn -- a wicked genie -- takes on three enemies, played by Robert Englund (who played Freddy Kreuger) Tony Todd (The Candyman) and Kane Hodder (Jason from the "Friday the 13th" series). Canadian producer Pierre David asserts in the press notes, "With 'Wishmaster, we're really pushing the envelope, but with a team like this, what else would you expect?" Well, previews for critics, for one thing. Arcada; Chestnut Station Daily 7:30, 9:30, Sat-Sun 1:30, 3:30, 5:30; Fox Valley; Fox Valley; Norridge; Ogden; Park Forest; Tivoli South; Tradewinds; Village Daily 5:50, 10, Sat-Sun 1:40; York

copyright 1997 New City Communications, Inc.