Whoopi Goldberg, Mary-Louise Parker, Drew Barrymore

Sorry to say, but big roles for women do not necessarily a rewarding movie make. Boys on the Side, which follows the growing friendship between three women (Goldberg, Parker and Barrymore), is a draggy, mawkish affair. Its big goober of wisdom? Love is someone who'll stand by you when times are tough.

At least the three stars seem to be relishing their roles. Goldberg manages to be both cuttingly funny and restrained as a lesbian in love with a straight friend; Parker is all pale shakes and sudden bursts of humor as a woman growing ever sicker with AIDS; and Barrymore whoops it up amusingly as a nymphomaniacal nitwit who brains her junkie boyfriend with a baseball bat and then, pregnant and on the lam, falls for a cop.

Boys aspires to the loose-jointed rhythms of a road picture and, in its early scenes, succeeds. Soon, though, it is trying too hard to get you to laugh and cry, and toward the end, when the syrup is poured on extra thick, you will find yourself groaning and checking your watch instead. (R)

Crissy Rock, Vladimir Vega

Rock, a thick-necked, heavily built stand-up comic, plays a British working-class mother—with four children by four different men—who nearly loses custody to the state after she takes up with a physically abusive boyfriend. When she thoughtlessly leaves the children alone locked in the apartment, a fire breaks out. One son is seriously burned, and the children are taken away from her permanently. Months later she meets a kind, sad Paraguayan immigrant (Vega). But, as they repeatedly try to start their own family over the next few years, social-service officials determine that each child is at risk from such a mother, and—in the movie's most harrowing scenes—step in whenever a baby is born and literally wrest the child away. Rock responds with bewildered fury and despair, howling, sobbing, screaming, charging—a female Raging Bull.

That's too simple a comparison, though. Rock's complexity is what makes Ladybird so powerful and troubling. Why does a woman of such combative rage allow herself to be a victim, cowering at the prospect of yet another beating from her boyfriend? How to deal with a woman who makes, at best, a problematic mother yet has a maternal instinct that is unquenchable and undeniable? This emotionally crushing movie is based on a true case. (Not rated)

Christopher Lambert

This may be the third Highlander movie, but it, too, fails to answer what would seem to be the most obvious question for this action adventure series: How come Lambert, the films' Scottish hero, speaks with a French accent? Other than this petit problem, there's naught else to dwell on while watching this murky mess.

Once again, Lambert, as lugubrious as ever, is cast as the Highlander, a Scotsman with immortal powers and fancy fencing skills. Here he chases across centuries and continents while battling a bad guy (Mario Van Peebles) whose two most distinguishing characteristics are a hairdo that appears to have been inspired by Lily Munster, and the ability to morph, a special effect that the movie overuses. (PG-13)

Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston, Ewan McGregor

Single White Female was a strong, cautionary tale for anyone looking for a roommate. This mordant black comedy, which recalls the early skewed work of the Coen brothers, carries things a bit further. Fox, a doctor, Eccleston, an accountant, and McGregor, a reporter, are interviewing candidates to share their Edinburgh flat. In an effort to weed out weirdos, the grilling is thorough ("What do you do about the blood when preparing a sacrificial goat?") and unrelenting. Imagine, then, the trio's delight when they light on Keith Allen, who though claiming to be a novelist seems utterly normal.

But his signature is barely dry on the lease before Allen becomes a late lodger. A drug overdose is what Fox diagnoses when she and her cohorts discover Allen stiff on his bed. They discover something else in the room: a suitcase crammed with money. Now they have a dilemma: Do they behave like decent beings and call the police, or do they keep the money? And if they keep the money, how do they dispose of the body? A trip to the hardware store and a trip to the woods solve that knotty problem. But then come guilt, paranoia, recrimination, madness, mayhem and murder.

Shallow Grave is too stylish and too clever by half. Even so, it has some devilishly funny moments, and the actors make the most of every macabre one. (R)

Stephen Dorff

This movie is so cruddy, so in-your-face ugly, so generally substandard—and so proud of the fact—well, sir, I'd rather spend eternity condemned to watch an all-cat remake of The Guns of Navamne than sit through S.FW. again. Dorff plays an attitudinous young man who survives being held hostage for 36 days in a convenience store. This makes him a media celebrity—and something of a nihilist. Hence the film's title, which is the abbreviation for Dorff's all-encompassing slogan, "So f—king what." You said it, buddy. (R)

  • Contributors:
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Tom Gliatto,
  • Joanne Kaufman.