When a character in this slop-motion animated fantasy film moans, "This is worse than I thought, much worse," one is tempted to yell, "Tell it, sister!" But that would be Scroogish, and not in keeping with the Christmas spirit that Nightmare cherishes in its own twisted way.

Based on a story and characters conceived by Tim Burton, the dark visionary director behind Batman and Edward Scissorhands, the film is a simple 73-minute fable about what goes wrong when Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, decides he would rather be Santa Claus. Jack orders the real Santa kidnapped by a trio of bratty kid goonlets, then dresses up in a Santa suit himself and rides off to deliver Christmas gifts—bullet-ridden toy ducks and severed, blood-seeping doll heads—made by his fellow Halloweentown ghoulies. (With their chopped-off limbs and deformities, these seem to be the spawn of Beetlejuice, an earlier Burton creation.) The obvious moral is don't try to be somebody you're not.

This is not really as scary as it sounds, since it's all very cartoonists and played for humor. Younger viewers, the ones who gel a charge out of spilling ketchup on themselves and pretending they have just had an accident with a power tool, will actually enjoy the movie. Adults, despite being wowed by the dazzling, geez-how'd-they-do-that animation, will find their attention wandering to Christmases past. Chris Sarandon, Catherine O'Hara and William Hickey supply voices for the major characters. Danny Elfman provides music and lyrics for 10 songs, none of which you will come out humming. (PG)

Matt Dillon, Annabella Sciorra, Mary-Louise Parker, William Hurt

This movie, which takes its name from a 1956 Broadway vehicle for Sammy Davis Jr., also has a musical-comedy plot. One can't watch without periodically thinking, "Yeah, this is where a song should go." Dillon is a New York City municipal electrician who would like to move up in the world. But he's hobbled by alimony payments to his ex-wife (Sciorra). Then one of Dillon's cronies has a brainstorm: Find a husband for your ex and say bye-bye to that obligation. Sounds good to Dillon. Sounds good to Dillon's girlfriend (Parker). Bui it takes some effort lo convince Sciorra, who's having an affair with her married college professor (Hurl). When she finally agrees, Dillon begins wondering if he really is so eager to hand her off. Slight it may be, but Mr. Wonderful has an unforced charm and sweetness fortified by fine performances. (PG-13)

Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock

This is the most entertaining futuristic action film since the original Terminator. It begins in 1996 in Los Angeles, where rogue cop Stallone, so destructive he is nicknamed the Demolition Man, is chasing crime boss Snipes. Stallone arrests him, but in the process a busload of hostages dies, and Stallone takes the blame. Both Snipes and Stallone (who is convicted of manslaughter) end up frozen in a new cryogenic prison. They are both thawed out in 2032, when L.A., now part of a megalopolis called San Angeles, is ruled by a do-goodocracy headed by Nigel Hawthorne. Hawthorne, who has banned sex, salt, alcohol and tobacco, extra-legally hires Snipes to kill a rebel leader, Denis Leary; Stallone is revived to hunt his old adversary and is partnered with Bullock, part of the newly sensitized, pacifist-polite police force.

The movie has some fun with Bullock's malapropish use of late 20th-century slang ("Take this job and shovel it"). And the fight and chase scenes are staged with maximum energy and minimum gore.

Stallone actually gets to act a little. Bullock is a lively, attractive presence. Snipes is in delightfully malevolent mode, flashing his expressive eyes and using all his athleticism in the fight scenes. (R)

Richard Gere, Lena Olin

Gere's character has a problem: He thinks he can fly. Audiences have a bigger problem: This murky story of a manic depressive (Gere) and his therapist (Olin) never takes off. When Gere is depressed, he's suicidal. During the manic phase of his illness he's a bundle of supposedly charming eccentricity: He pays his lunch lab at a hot dog stand with a $100 bill and tells the vendor to keep the change; he jumps onstage during a performance of Beethoven's Ninth to Lake over the conducting. Hospitalized after trying to make like a maestro, he reluctantly agrees to a program of medication and sessions with Olin. Hollywood has rarely done well by therapists—and does no better here. Olin breaks two cardinal rules of the profession: She breaches the patient-doctor confidentiality pact, and she sleeps with a patient. But their romance seems a contrivance. The usual therapy session lasts 50 minutes; this movie is twice as long and three times as painful. (R)

  • Contributors:
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Joanne Kaufman,
  • Ralph Novak.