Denzel Washington, Jennifer Beats, Tom Sizemore, Don Cheadle

Nothing brings you up faster from a slouch to the edge of your seat than realizing that the movie you've just begun watching could turn out to be really special. So it is with Devil in a Blue Dress, a flashy whodunit directed with confident vigor by Carl Franklin (One False Move), who adapted his screenplay from Walter Mosley's bestselling novel. The movie aims to be a black Chinatown, and, for a while, it nearly succeeds.

Washington is sure, sharp and sexy in what may turn out to be his signature role, that of Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins, a World War II vet in Los Angeles. It's 1948, and Easy has just been fired from his job as an aircraft machinist. So he listens when a shady operator (Sizemore) promises him big bucks for information on the whereabouts of a black mayoral candidate's white ex-girlfriend (Beals), who has been hanging out in black bars. Washington's search for her leads him into a netherworld of political extortion, in which he becomes the fall guy for a murder.

The film is nearly stolen by Cheadle (TV's Picket Fences) as Washington's amoral, quick-trigger pal Mouse. But Blue Dress never quite fulfills its early promise. As the body count mounts, the plot grows murky. By the final scene, the only thing certain is Washington's star power. If he does a sequel (there are three more Rawlins novels), he'll be on easy street. (R)

Robert Duvall, Aidan Quinn, Frances Fisher, Brian Dennehy

An artfully cut little gem of a movie, this Dust Bowl fable (produced by Clint Eastwood) is set in Depression-era West Texas. Duvall plays a bedraggled old oil wildcatter who is still hunting for his first strike. When he wanders onto an about-to-be-repossessed farm run by Fisher and her second husband, Quinn, he "smells" oil and tries to persuade them to let him drill a well on their property. The skeptical couple refuse, sending Duvall off to explore other partner possibilities, including Dennehy, as a blustery wheeler-dealer. Quinn eventually reconsiders, setting up an ending that's predictable yet satisfying. Finally, a film about hope and determination—for adults. (PG)

Fisher Stevens, Lorraine Bracco, Jonny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie

Truman Capote once dismissed Jack Kerouac's beat novel On the Road as "mere typing." The same might be said of Hackers, in which a group of teenagers, self-described computer keyboard cowboys, let their fingers fly in scene after scene, programming a sprinkler to go off at school and an ATM to spew bills. The plot has a computer-security expert (Stevens) seeking to frame the kids to hide his own crimes. There's also a romance between the cute nerd (Miller) and the lone female hacker (Jolie, who is Jon Voight's daughter). While the teens Rollerblade, the villain skateboards. Who knew there were moral shadings between these modes of transport? (PG-13)

  • Contributors:
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Ralph Novak.