Madeleine Stowe, Mary Stuart Masterson, Andie MacDowell, Drew Barrymore, James LeGros

I do believe," a woman sitting behind me at Bad Girls announced as the credits rolled, "that they talked too much in this film. The beauty of westerns is that they don't talk all the time." Precisely. Bad Girls, an oater about four prostitutes running from the law, simply has too much yappin' and too much plot.

Despite this, and actually almost because of its excesses, the movie has a certain loopy, lurid appeal. Stowe, Masterson, MacDowell and Barrymore, as the ladies on the lam, stomp around in breeches as if auditioning for the I Love Lucy grape-mashing scene. They also say "yew" when they mean "you," and dream of heading for the Oregon territories to start a sawmill. As one of them says in one of the movie's hoot-worthier lines, "We sold our bodies. Why can't we sell wood?"

Director Jonathan Kaplan, who took over three weeks into shooting after another director was let go, seems to not have had time to get a complete handle on the material and, consequently, the movie feels choppy. With the exception of Stowe, who is doing a variation here on her hard-boiled persona seen earlier this year in Blink, the hooker heroines are underwritten and the actresses have little to do besides stay astride their horses. Barrymore, especially, seems at a loss, resorting to pouting and curling her lip à la Elvis. As for the men, only LeGros, playing a tenderhearted rancher, makes you sit up and pay attention. (R)

Tom Berenger, William McNamara, Erika Eleniak

In this forlorn comedy, Berenger plays a no-nonsense Navy shore patrol chief petty officer who speaks in monosyllables and mistrusts everyone, especially his new, smooth-talking partner, played by McNamara. The fun is supposed to start when the prisoner they are transferring to a Charleston naval base turns out to be a beautiful blonde (Eleniak) hell-bent on escaping an unfair jail sentence for going AWOL.

If director Dennis Hopper meant to inspire concern over post-Cold War military readiness, he has succeeded. Much of the clunky humor centers on the crusty Berenger having to purchase tampons or stand guard in the ladies' room. He is not helped much with his dialogue; at one point he enters a tense conversation with this brilliant opening line: "Who farted?"

The creative energy in this film seems to have gone into ensuring an R rating. In one scene, where all three main characters are trapped in a deserted mine shaft (don't ask how), they concoct an escape plan that involves taking off their clothes to make a garment rope. Back to basic training for everyone. (R)

Joe Pesci, Brendan Fraser, Moira Kelly, Patrick Dempsey, Josh Hamilton

If Pesci hadn't worn out his welcome before, he beats it into the ground in this bathetic comedy. Like garlic, Pesci can be tangy and provocative in small doses. But as a lead actor he is unpleasantly overwhelming, like bad garlic soup. He trots out all his scampy-sly acting moves in this role, darting his eyes like crazy and tilting his head in rascally puppy fashion.

In a plot that plays like a mix of ideas Frank Capra and Preston Sturges might have quickly rejected, Pesci is a surly, sadistic homeless man who forages around Harvard University and sleeps in its library basement. When he finds the lost senior thesis of Fraser, who needs the paper to graduate, Pesci uses it to extort food, money and shelter from the boy. Long before the punchless, melodramatic conclusion, screenwriter William Mastrosimone proves he is a better dramatic playwright than a comedy film writer.

Much of his script is gratuitous cheap shots—at Dan Quayle (twice), Yale and even Clarence Thomas. Mastrosimone and Beirut-born director Alek Keshishian also trivialize illness (specifically asbestosis), honor, work and parenthood.

Fraser, with his Joel McCrea-like ability to mix wit and drama, somehow survives Pesci's inability to touch real emotion. Not much help is forthcoming from Dempsey, as one of Fraser's housemates, or Hamilton, who is merely a stereotypical yuppie as Fraser's stuffy roomie. And Kelly, doing a blank-faced, road company-Meg Tilly, never seems convincing as a loose man-eater type who's supposed to inject some sex into the house.

The best reason to see the movie is to see how it makes the strident, sneery novelist Gore Vidal, who plays a professor maligned by Pesci, seem almost warm and likable by comparison. (PG-13)

Larenz Tale, Joe Morton, Suzzanne Douglas, Glynn Turman

This movie means well, and that's its problem. A black Summer of '42 crossed with The Jeffersons and Good Times, it keeps hitting all the wrong notes while striving earnestly to hit the right ones.

Set in 1976 (that time of billowing Afros and flaming-orange double-knit pantsuits), The Inkwell tells how an introverted 16-year-old (Tate) blossoms socially and learns some hard truths about life over the course of a two-week summer vacation with well-to-do relatives on Martha's Vineyard. Although the movie is determinedly heartwarming and its message about finding one's self and respecting differing points of view is commendable, 22-year-old Matty Rich has directed this way too broadly, like a TV situation comedy on overdrive. This should be a sensitive coming-of-age story; instead, you keep expecting Jimmie Walker to jump on screen and bray, "DY-NO-MITE!" The cast, which includes such talented actors as Morton, Turman and Mary Alice, does its best but can't overcome the basic tonal incongruities. (R)

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