Harrison Ford, Anne Archer, Willem Dafoe

The rule of thumb in Hollywood is that a sequel should rake in at least 60 percent as much money as the original movie. One wonders if the unspoken correlative is that sequels have to be only 60 percent as good.

This movie, based on yet another of Tom Clancy's best-selling political thrillers, is actually more like 70 percent as good as its predecessor, 1992's Patriot Games. But that's not saying a lot. What Clear lacks, and what Games (itself a sequel to '90's The Hunt for Red October, which starred Alec Baldwin in the CIA hotshot role) had, is a compelling human story at its center. Although both films were directed by Phillip Noyce, the characters in Clear are nothing more than archetypes (straight-arrow hero, pampered drug lord, weaselly presidential aide). All, moreover, play second fiddle to an overly complicated plot about a covert military operation in Colombia.

The cast is fine, as far as they are allowed to go. Ford, able with a single shrug or raise of an eyebrow to convey great moral rectitude, shows again why he's such a pleasing and reliable actor. Archer, repeating her role as his surgeon wife, has nothing to do but be supportive and let her lower lip tremble with worry. Dafoe plays a mercenary as if he were reading scripts for better movies in between takes. As the villain, Joaquim de Almeida registers as much for his dark good looks as for his smoothie ways; and Ann Magnuson has a particularly thankless part as a woman who loves unwisely. James Earl Jones, Donald Moffat and Harris Yulin all contribute practiced turns as old Washington hands. (PG-13)"

Whoopi Goldberg, Ray Liotta, Tina Majorino

Like a montage of bad memories, this lame mismatch comedy-cum-antismoking commercial conjures up the worst aspects of Mrs. Doubtfire, Made in America, House of Cards, Jungle Fever and the old TV series The Courtship of Eddie's Father. If it weren't for the saving grace of 9-year-old Majorino, the movie wouldn't have any grace at all.

Liotta is a jingle writer whose wife has just died, leaving him to raise their daughter (Majorino), who has gone mute in reaction to her mother's death. Writer-director Jessie Nelson plunders The Fabulous Baker Boys for its audition scene as Liotta interviews a series of inappropriate candidates for the job of Majorino's nanny. One is Joan Cu-sack, whose talents are wasted in what's little more than a walk-on.

Nelson also all but ignores the presence of comic Larry Miller, as Liotta's best friend, in his haste to cultivate the inevitable but slow-blooming interracial romance between Goldberg and Liotta.

Goldberg and Majorino, who played Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia's daughter in When a Man Loves a Woman, charm their way through a series of scenes in which Goldberg introduces the little girl to not only the joys of vacuuming but such elements of the black community as gospel choirs.

Liotta maintains his uniquely soothing, calm presence, and Goldberg is likable, yet this is a match made in Hollywood, not heaven. The sparks they strike would hardly ignite a gasoline-soaked pile of tissue paper.

Nelson also throws a pall over his film by portraying Majorino as obsessed by the fear that Liotta's and Goldberg's heavy smoking is going to kill them.

Don Ameche appears briefly as Liotta's father. This was Ameche's last film; let's not hold it against him. (PG)

David Thewlis, Sean Bean

It's a given that horse-crazy 9-year-old girls, the same ones who spend dreamy hours sketching picture after picture of the creatures gamboling through fields, will love this film version of Anna Sewell's classic 1877 novel about that most noble of stallions. How could they not when there are horses in nearly every shot? But what about the rest of us?

There will be no neigh-saying here. As animal pictures go, Black Beauty is a pip, far outclassing such recent entries as Lassie or Free Willy. As nonanimal films go, it's still pretty good. Told entirely from its equine hero's point of view, this handsome film, set in Victorian England, ably conveys the precariousness of Black Beauty's well-being, dependent as it is upon the benevolence of his owners. (Thewlis, last seen as the nasty wanderer in Naked, is particularly impressive as a kind master.) Even the most hard-hearted viewer will be moved by the reunion scene between Black Beauty and Ginger, the mare of his dreams.

Note: Very young children may have a tough time with such scenes as a stable fire, whippings and the death of one of the horses. (G)

Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Bill Hunter

With old '70s funk and disco hits blaring from the speakers, two drag queens and a transsexual set out in a bus named Priscilla. Their intention: to drive from Sydney through the red desert of the Australian Outback to Alice Springs, where they have a singing engagement.

Often funny and occasionally touching, this Australian film is a traditional road picture, but with fabulously excessive costumes and hair. The cast, under the direction of Stephan Elliott, is strong, especially Stamp as an aging transsexual trying to figure out how to spend the autumn of his life, and Weaving as a drag queen with a wife and another surprise in his past. The movie's costumes, by Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel, are spectacular. Watch for a matching dress, wig and purse ensemble made entirely of plastic beach thongs. (R)

  • Contributors:
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Ralph Novak.