Sharon Stone, Isabelle Adjani, Chazz Palminteri, Kathy Bates

Ah, what Alfred Hitchcock might have been able to do with Sharon Stone. Surely her sleek, glacial, blonde beauty would have inspired the frightmaster to perverse heights. But Hitchcock is long gone, and instead Stone is left to flounder without much help from director Jeremiah Chechik (Benny & Joon) in this dolorous attempt at updating Henri-Georges Clouzot's classic 1955 French thriller.

Diabolique is about a wife (Adjani) and mistress (Stone) who conspire to murder the sadistic louse (Palminteri) who is husband to one and lover to the other. The women poison him, drown him in the bathtub, dump the body in the pool of the private school where all three work—and wait for the corpse to be discovered upon surfacing. Days pass. No body. They grow antsy. The plot thickens, but the film stumbles as Adjani and Stone, their nerves fraying, begin holding covert colloquies on the meaning of life.

This new version makes more explicit the lesbian subtext between the women. It also changes, without improving upon, the ending of the original. Bates, who shows up halfway through as a sardonic detective investigating the husband's disappearance, steals her every scene. (R)

Theresa Randle, Isaiah Washington

Spike Lee is doodling in this exuberant but sketchy mishmash about an aspiring actress (Randle) who gets emotionally caught up in her job as a phone-sex worker. It feels like a work in progress, with neither the scope nor ambition of such earlier Lee efforts as 1992's Malcolm X and last year's Clockers.

As Randle rummages about in her life, we see her struggling to make ends meet, attempting to cut ties to her ex-husband (Washington) and, as Girl 6, spinning elaborate sexual scenarios on the job with men she'll never see. The comedy works best in the overheard sicko dialogue with the phone Johns ("I love it when you put me in the stirrups and examine me with your speculum," a coworker purrs—one of the few printable examples) and when Randle, looking for black actress role models where she can find them, fantasizes that she's Pam Grier as Foxy Brown or the flibbertigibbet teenage Thelma from the '70s sitcom Good Times.

Randle, after being asked to provide mere decorative posturing in Beverly Hills Cop III and Bad Boys, bites into this role as if it were filet mignon. It's not, but she sure signals that she is up to meatier parts. Madonna, John Turturro, Richard Belzer, Ron Silver, Quentin Tarantino (who's his usual awful), Chicago Hope's Peter Berg, Halle Berry and Naomi Campbell all pop up in cameos, suggesting that whoever blew by the set was hustled into makeup and pushed in front of a camera. (R)

Antonio Banderas, Melanie Griffith, Daryl Hannah

In this sluggish, silly romantic comedy, Banderas plays a Miami con man-art dealer improbably named Art Dodge (which in Banderas's thick, Ricky Ricardoesque accent sounds more like Arhh Dotch). He becomes so smitten with sisters Griffith and Hannah that he tries to pass himself off as twins so he can court them both.

Offscreen rapport notwithstanding, Banderas and Griffith display little chemistry. He has a comic touch so heavy it suggests a cow trying to tap-dance. Her Betty Boop act has long since worn thin. And Hannah is characteristically lifeless. So what brief appeal this movie has comes from its corps of versatile character actors. Danny Aiello is amusing as Griffith's pathetically devoted ex-husband. The charmingly ditsy Joan Cusack plays Banderas's loyal assistant. And the venerable Eli Wallach is Banderas's chronically randy father. (The scenes in which Wallach hits on Cusack and Hannah are the funniest parts of the whole film.)

The impulse to reinvent the screwball romantic comedies of the '30s and '40s is an admirable one, but you have to have the talent to do it. Two Much is not enough. (PG-13)

>Randal Kleiser

AFFAIR TO REMEMBER

PRODUCER AND DIRECTOR Randal Kleiser, 49, knows all about the confetti and tears falling throughout his just-released It's My Party. In the film a young man (Eric Roberts), dying of virulent, painful AIDS-related brain lesions, invites over friends and family, including his parents, for a two-day farewell bash. The guests know that when the party ends, the host will kill himself.

The story is painfully autobiographical. Three years ago architectural designer Harry Stein, then 39, held a similar party for himself at his Los Angeles home. Kleiser, who had once been Stein's lover, left the house right before Stein overdosed on pills. "The mood was like a wake, except the dead person was among us," recalls Kleiser, who had met Stein in 1982 and was with him for eight years. "It was part laughter and remembrance and sadness at knowing he was going to be gone."

Kleiser filmed much of Party at his home in L.A. and even used the mutt, Opala, that had once belonged to the couple. For support, he cast actors from his previous films, including Olivia Newton-John (Grease), Christopher Atkins (The Blue Lagoon) and Gregory Harrison (The Gathering, a 1977 TV movie). All worked for scale. Needless to say, the set was emotionally charged. "Half the people knew the people at the actual party," says Harrison, who plays the Kleiser role in Party. "At one point, I looked over and saw tears going down Randal's face."

Kleiser says the re-created weekend, though dramatized somewhat, was "very painful and therapeutic." But, he adds, "I'm happy now. I think it's the best film I've made."

  • Contributors:
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Todd Gold.