Meg Ryan, Andy Garcia

Ryan is a school guidance counselor, the mother of two young girls, and an alcoholic; Garcia is her second husband, an airline pilot and an enabler in this pallid, mawkish drama of a family in crisis.

At first glance, everything seems fine; Ryan and Garcia appear to be a dizzyingly happy couple. But look closer and all is amok. As Garcia explains to his stepdaughter (Tina Majorino), Mommy is often sick. She disappears for extended periods and returns with weak excuses. Or she slips outside at night to gulp furtively from newspaper-wrapped vodka bottles. After almost drowning in a drinking-related accident while on a weekend getaway with Garcia, Ryan vows to cut down, quickly falls off the wagon and ends up in a treatment center. Yet when she comes out sober, edgy and accusatory, Garcia, who had been, if anything, too supportive, doesn't know how to handle this new wife.

It's a compelling situation. Unfortunately, the filmmakers seem more interested in pressing easy emotional buttons—there is many a tender, teary scene with Garcia and the two kids—than in telling a story. And it's unclear just which story they want to tell. This movie is a little bit the saga of an alcoholic, a little bit about a man trying to cope with an alcoholic wife, and a little bit the story of an alcoholic wife trying to cope with a husband who's trying to cope. But it's never enough of any one thing. (R)

Gérard Depardieu, Miou-Miou, Renaud

If you have endless curiosity about the techniques and conditions of 19th-century coal mining in France, then at long last, here's a movie for you. Based on Emile Zola's novel of the same name and reportedly the most expensive French movie ever made (at a cost of $30 million), Germinal is moviemaking on an epic scale. Which is not to praise it. Like so many epics (Gandhi, The Ten Commandments, Heaven's Gate), somewhere amid the sweeping vistas, thousands of extras and general sense of elevated purpose, the actual characters are lost.

Too many scenes in this movie, which tells the story of a miners' strike gone tragically awry, feature coal-dusted characters crouching underground. As director Claude Berri ploddingly moves the action along, you find yourself spending more time wondering how the actors scrubbed clean every night than in caring about workers' rights, mine safety, the indifference of the upper classes and all the other big stuff the movie is supposedly about. Only late in the film, when a senile old miner dispassionately strangles a wealthy young woman delivering a care package, does the movie engage the emotions.

Depardieu, bulkier than ever (and showing the extra beefcake in two nude scenes), plays a stalwart mining leader stalwartly. The lovely Miou-Miou, in the Mother Courage role, has her moments, while Renaud, a French singer making his screen debut as a sensitive stranger in town, is just wimpy. Warning for the squeamish: Hide your eyes during the scene where an enraged woman Bobbitizes the corpse of a money-gouging shopkeeper and then holds her bloody trophy aloft. (R)

Ray Liotta, Michael Lerner

Prison movies usually have a simple plot: brilliant, unbreakable inmate is pitted against evil warden. But this futuristic flick, while exceedingly simpleminded at times, could be the head scratcher of the season.

The year is 2022. Liotta, a former Marine unjustly convicted of murdering his commanding officer, is the rebellious prisoner whom the ruthless warden (Lerner) plans to destroy. Rather than sending him to some kind of high-tech hot box, though, Lerner boots the bad egg to a top-secret jungle island where no one leaves alive.

Liotta discovers two civilizations there. The first, the Outsiders, is composed of evil Road Warrior wannabes with bad makeup and worse manners. Liotta manages to escape these savages and find safe haven with the Insiders, peaceful yet simple folk living in a community seemingly built by the set designer for Gilligan's Island. Although he remains intent on escaping, Liotta becomes involved in the Insiders' struggle to defend themselves from the aggressive Outsiders.

The narrative from here heads into a welter of ludicrous and confusing subplots. The leader of the Outsiders (Stuart Wilson) elicits a few laughs with his psychotic calmness, and Kevin J. O'Connor is amusing as the island entrepreneur who is intent on buying Liotta's boots before he dies. But virtually every other character is sketchily drawn.

The violence, however, is vivid. One guy gets his head cut off so cleanly it stays on his neck. Another takes a flaming arrow in the mouth, a fate that might seem enviable by the end of the movie. At nearly two hours, No Escape is cruel and unusual punishment. (R)

Gary Busey, Charles Dutton, Rutger Hauer, Ice-T, John C. McGinley, William McNamara, F. Murray Abraham

In publicizing this film, Ice-T, who never met a microphone he didn't like, has been cheerfully trashing Sylvester Stallone, implying specifically that his action sequences are more dangerous than Sly's in Cliffhanger.

In his dreams.

In fact, Ice-T is the frailest of a chain of weak links that make this movie not only brutal and dumb but brutally dumb. Ice-T's gummy diction makes Stallone seem like a master of elocution; Ice-T is also the twerpiest of action heroes. A scene where he goes hand-to-hand with the burly Busey looks like a laughable mismatch.

T plays a homeless man in an unidentified city. He is duped into being the quarry for a group of outdoorsmen who like to hunt people. Director Ernest Dickerson has the thankless task of filling the rest of the movie with woodland chases and scuffles, most of them silly and listless. Writer Eric Bernt gave Dickerson a script filled mostly with obscenities. When he's really inspired, Bernt has someone say, "That's bleeping bleep!"

The only clever part of the plot has Abraham and McNamara, as father-and-son outdoorsmen, squabbling most of the time. Overall this movie is too reminiscent of Jean-Claude Van Damme's recent Hard Target, which made better use of the "Most Dangerous Game"-inspired story. (R)

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