Sean Cannery, Richard Gere, Julia Ormond, Ben Cross, Sir John Gielgud

There aren't many surprises in this nonmusical retelling of the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot love triangle. There is fun to be had, though, for fans of Connery and Gere—or for those whose appetite for swordplay and damsels in distress wasn't sated by this spring's Rob Roy and Braveheart.

Connery, who does nothing well if not hauteur, is a model Arthur, Scottish accent notwithstanding. Gere gets the vain, patronizing part of Lancelot just right, but never seems all that stalwart, huffing and puffing painfully during some action scenes. And when he and Connery are on-camera together, it's like a tiger fighting a house tabby. Connery, in terms of physicality, presence and, of course, diction, eats Gere up.

Fleeting distraction is provided by the bland Ormond, whose Guinevere becomes enamored of Lancelot even as she prepares to marry her royal neighbor (and her father's pal) Connery. The latter poignantly sketches the halting passions of a man who has sacrificed his personal life to war and has no idea how to behave around women. Ormond, though, never seems very involved, even when she is supposed to be swooning over Connery or Gere.

Cross, meanwhile, is a typically upstaging nouveau villain, all bulging eyes and braying voice. Gielgud, 91, as Ormond's trusted advisor, is a movable oasis of stability—and subtle acting. Still, this ageless story lends itself to romanti-cization much more than it does to the literal-minded, serious treatment it is here accorded. In the end, director Jerry Zucker and screenwriter William Nicholson mostly demonstrate how smart Lerner and Loewe were to set the whole business to music. (PG-13)

Julianne Moore

The suburban Los Angeles homemaker (Moore) at the center of this modern-day horror film, a satire that is never quite satirical enough, is leading a Stepford Wife life. Unburdened by a job or financial concerns, she fritters away her days shopping, bouncing through aerobics classes, lunching with friends and redecorating the too-perfect, oversize house she shares with her dorky husband (Xander Berkeley) and 10-year-old stepson. Her life is so empty that a new couch arriving in the wrong color is enough to ruin her week. "We wanted teal. We ordered teal," she says plaintively to the store's clerk, "but we received black."

Soon, though, Moore is sniffling, sneezing, suffering nosebleeds and feeling terminally pooped. Doctors can find nothing wrong, but eventually she comes to believe that she is afflicted with something the members of the support group she joins, all similarly ill, call 20th-century disease. This means she has become allergic to many of the 60,000 chemicals found in everyday life. Or, as she explains to a pal, "You know our couch, our beautiful new couch? Totally toxic." (The actual name for her malady is multiple chemical sensitivity, now a medically recognized condition.)

Although Moore, growing ever more wan and frail, is herself remarkably compelling, one soon starts to lose patience with her character, particularly as she retreats deeper and deeper into her malady and becomes a follower of a crackpot guru (Peter Friedman). This woman, boring to begin with, doesn't grow emotionally or spiritually through suffering; rather, she shrivels. Still, as written and directed by Todd Haynes (Poison), Safe is numbingly fascinating, partly due to its carefully composed, antiseptic visual style and its throbbingly threatening soundtrack (when Moore's husband is about to spritz on his chemical-laden deodorant, the music becomes as menacing as the shark's attack theme in Jaws). If nothing else, Safe will make you think twice before ordering the fake butter topping for that movie popcorn. (R)

>FAST FORWARD

THIS SUMMER, WHILE THE KIDS Clamor for Casper hand puppets, Batman drinking glasses and Pocahontas dolls, consider this: Merchandise geared to next year's movies is already on the drawing board. Based on the buzz at Licensing '95, a product-licensing show in New York City last month, we've put together a list of probable 1996 blockbusters:

(1) The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Disney's post-Pocahontas animated film will feature the voices of Kevin Kline and Demi Moore.

(2) Dragonheart. As if Rob Roy, Brave-heart and First Knight weren't enough, Dennis Quaid and Sean Connery star in another medieval swashbuckler.

(3) The Real Adventures of jonny Quest. An animated feature based on the lovably cheesy TV series.

(4) Space Jams. In the tradition of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Michael Jordan goes one-on-one with Bugs Bunny.

(5) Relic. A mystery set in New York City's Museum of Natural History.

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Leah Rozen.