Jackie Chan

After more than a decade of being Asia's top box office draw, Chan, a blindingly fast martial-arts star with an ingratiatingly demure manner, makes a stab at reaching the great American masses with this silly, breathless action comedy.

Playing a tourist from Hong Kong, Chan runs afoul of Bronx motorcycle gangsters who misbehave in his uncle's grocery store. He retaliates—although in his gentle heart he hopes to reform them. "Don't you know," he pleads, having demolished their headquarters with such improvised weapons as billiard cues, soda cans and a refrigerator door, "that you are the scum of society?" Then it's on to a bigger battle with a nasty crime king named White Tiger and a showdown involving a hovercraft and an antique bronze sword.

Sure, many of the actors are obviously dubbed into English. And Chan's New York City comes surrounded by mountains—most of the film was shot in Vancouver. But it all only makes the affair that much more likably goofy. (R)

Adam Sandler

Sandler's second starring vehicle is better than his first (last year's pin-brained Billy Madison), but we're talking about increments barely visible to the human eye. This time out, the ex-SNLer plays a hockey enthusiast who discovers that his real talent is for swinging a golf club. He quickly makes a name for himself on the pro circuit, as much for his ice-rinkish behavior (screaming obscenities and throwing punches) as his phenomenal swing, which can propel the ball from the tee onto the green in one stroke.

The comedy here is very physical, very broad—and very noisy. Balls whiz through the air like bullets, more often than not crowning some unlucky innocent in the noggin. The deafening punches are worthy of Raging Bull. It's all pretty loutish. And Sandler's appeal remains a mystery. Sometimes whimsical, sometimes intensely fierce, he suggests an unlikely, unpleasant cross between Jerry Seinfeld and Tom Cruise.

The best acting in Gilmore can be found on the fringes: Joe Flaherty as a manic heckler and Carl Weathers as a onetime up-and-comer who lost his right hand to a crocodile. (PG-13)

The Muppets, Kevin Bishop

The Muppets tackle Robert Louis Stevenson's pirate classic with enthusiasm, if not complete success. The movie starts off wonderfully, as Rizzo the Rat and the Great Gonzo—no one knows what Gonzo is, but "great" is the right adjective—set out in search of treasure with young Jim Hawkins (Bishop).

The movie is crammed with all sorts of Muppets (from singing potatoes to a groady mob of pirates) and the jokes whiz by. (Sorting through the trunk of dead Billy Bones, the previous holder of the map, Rizzo discovers a copy of Henry Kissinger's Diplomacy.) But once Rizzo, Gonzo and boy have set sail with Captain Smollett (Kermit the Frog), the action is becalmed for long stretches. Things get back on track when Miss Piggy finally makes a typically flamboyant entrance, but a whole crew of zany puppets wagging their woolly heads and hopping about a ship's deck can wear you down. (G)

Matt Dillon, Timothy Hutton, Uma Thurman, Mira Sorvino, Lauren Holly

Self-Pitying Louts would be a more accurate title for this lame comedy built around a feckless group of old high school buddies in a little Massachusetts town. It's like a dim-witted Diner, with guys who drink incessantly, refer to having sex as "banging," call women's breasts "racks," yet babble philosophically about romance.

The plot is triggered by the homecoming of Hutton, who is making a fitful living as a lounge pianist in New York City. Unfortunately, at 35, Hutton looks much older than his classmates—not to mention being saddled with a role that gives him a crush on a 13-year-old, the precocious Natalie Portman. Meanwhile snowplow driver Dillon is having an affair with high school girlfriend Holly, even though she is married and he's dating a loving Sorvino. Then there's Michael Rapaport, who pines for waitress Martha Plimpton while lusting after Thurman, the visiting cousin of a local barkeep named Stinky. (Rapaport is at least amusing as a guy only a half step up from Seinfeld's Kramer on the self-awareness ladder.)

Through all this Peyton Placey melodrama, director Ted Demme gives the film no sense of place beyond Hutton's Celtics jacket. Nor does he control Rosie O'Donnell, who galumphs around as a self-important beautician. (R)

Hugh O'Conor

Graham Young was a chemistry-loving young lunatic who, in suburban England in the '60s and '70s, poisoned family, friends and coworkers with thallium, a metallic element that is highly toxic. Director and coscreenwriter Benjamin Ross has taken this crime story and turned it into a vicious black comedy in which middle-class life is depicted as the most sickening poison of all. The killer's home is full of ugly furniture and homely malcontents and lighted a gluey blue.

Handbook is at its most unpleasant in the first part, in which the poisoner experiments on his loved ones. To the bafflement of doctors—and thanks to thallium—his stepmother (Ruth Sheen) is reduced to a hairless, paralyzed, brain-damaged invalid who has figured out the truth but can't communicate it. In these scenes, Ross strikes a chillingly effective balance between the disgusting and the absurd.

No mean feat. He's helped immensely by O'Conor (young Christy Brown in My Left Foot). Spindly, pointy-nosed and beady-eyed, O'Conor looks like someone who might have been summer-camp bunkmates with the teenage Kafka. (Not rated)

>The Majestic

LASTING PICTURE SHOW

ON SULTRY SPRING NIGHTS, KARL Lybrand III listens for the whistle of approaching trains. The tracks along Wills Point, Texas, a farming community (pop. 2,986) some 40 miles east of Dallas, are just yards from the Majestic Theater, a musty 300-seat movie house and local institution. When the whistle blows, Lybrand, 52, like his dad and granddad before him, leaves his tiny office just off the lobby and rushes to close the front doors. The theater's walls shudder until the caboose passes. Then Lybrand swings the doors open again to let the evening breeze drift back in.

The Majestic stands as a relic—one of 113 single-screen houses left in this nation of 27,843 theaters. It's also one of the few to be run by the same family since silent-movie days.

The Majestic traces its origins back to 1907, when Karl Sr., a tailor, projected one-reelers on bedsheets in the back of his shop. With the profits, he built the Majestic around the corner in 1926. Ten years later, he passed the theater on to his 17-year-old son, Karl Jr. The second Karl ran it for 48 years, replacing the original seats with red cushioned ones in 1975. Karl III installed the Majestic's wide screen in 1987. A more significant change occurred when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 took effect, and black patrons, who had once been welcome only in the balcony seats, began sitting downstairs.

On their first date, Karl III took Keeta Sockwell, now 49, to the Majestic in 1960—and married her six years later. Then, in 1984, Karl Jr. retired, and Karl III left insurance for the family business. By showing first-run movies like Grumpier Old Men for just $3 (the nearest multiplex is 45 minutes away), he keeps the house full most Saturday nights, with the neighbors helping at the concession stand to defray costs for the slower week-nights. "It's important to a lot of folks," Lybrand says, "that we not get boarded up like so many small-town theaters. I won't let that happen."

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Gliatto,
  • Ralph Novak.