Joe Pesci, Barbara Hershey

Pesci is a '40s New York City tabloid photographer with the soul of an artist and a lens firmly focused on the seamy side of the street. He's at crime scenes before the cops, snapping beautifully composed pictures—if need be, rearranging the body for a better shot. "People like to see the dead guy's hat," he says, nudging a victim's chapeau into camera range.

Cops, crime bosses, perpetrators, victims, they are all the same to Pesci, who takes photographs, not sides. Yet he puts his camera, his career and his life on the line when he falls for Hershey, the beautiful widow of a rich nightclub owner with unsavory ties.

The riddle posed in The Public Eye is, of course, the standard puzzle of all films noirs: Is it love, or is the gorgeous, supposedly vulnerable dame just setting up the poor mug? The strength of The Public Eye lies not in how it handles that eternal question, nor in the undeveloped, muddled plot, but in the movie's quick wit, its sense of atmosphere and Pesci's wondrous performance in a part modeled after New York City tabloid photographer Arthur "Weegee" Fellig. Battered hat pushed down on his head, cigar jammed in his mouth, he is at once a tough freelance loner snapping life from the sidelines and a sad sack in suspenders risking all on a none-too-sure shot. Hershey's part is far less well written, and she comes off as little more than a sleek dress form decorated by gardenias. (R)"

Craig Sheffer, Brad Pitt, Torn Skerritt

There are miles of breathtaking glades and glens—"a world with dew still on it," as one character notes—in this adaptation of Norman Maclean's autobiographical novella. There are gallons and gallons of clear, clean, rushing water. It's a feast for the Sierra Club set. But not for audiences in search of a plot and a point.

Sheffer and younger brother Pitt have grown up in Missoula, Mont., in the early years of this century, taught from childhood by their distant minister father (Skerritt) that "there is no clear line between religion and fly-fishing." Whatever else happens to the boys, fly-fishing is the constant. Straight-arrow Sheffer goes east to college, then returns home, hesitant about his future. Pitt has become a newspaper reporter who drinks too much, gambles and is clearly headed for a bad end. Still, when the brothers fish together, it's as if no time (or water) has passed.

It's hard to fathom how such a relentlessly well-meaning movie could have gotten made until one considers the intervention of Robert Bedford, River's producer, director and voice-over narrator. The nicely modulated performances of the principals and flashes of funny writing don't make up for the cinematically unsuitable material. Fishing is a solitary activity, usually best pursued without an audience (for the audience's sake, at least). And though Red-ford is dealing with material similar to his Ordinary People—an emotionally distant family trying to reconcile—no psychological underpinnings enrich the story. (PG)

Robert De Niro, Jessica Lange, Cliff Gorman, Alan King

Like its characters, this Manhattan-centric drama is all attitude and no substance. De Niro plays a scuzzy ambulance-chasing lawyer-con man who wants to become a boxing promoter. That, however, puts him in conflict with King, a hustler who already has most of the local talent in his stable.

Lange, a much too smart and beautiful woman to be a barmaid at a cheap neighborhood tavern, wants to open her own place but can't because some never explained felony in her past keeps her from getting a liquor license. The underused Gorman owns the bar and is married to Lange, though he seems to know that she is having an affair with the strikingly unappealing De Niro. Director Irwin Winkler treats the aren't-we-the-tough-and-colorful-New Yorkers-though characters created by writer Richard Price with a strange credulity. Price, recycling director Jules Dassin's 1950 film of the same title set in the wrestling subculture of London, tries to generate an aura of low-life authenticity by such devices as having De Niro refer to $2,000 as "two large." The whole movie, though, seems to have been gleaned from old novels and movies, right down to the melodramatic conclusion centered on De Niro's first big fight promotion. (R)"

Steven Seagal, Tommy Lee Jones, Erika Eleniak

An old-fashioned, all-nonsense action adventure, this is not, to damn it with faint praise, Seagal's worst movie. It is fast and colorful enough to be a James Bond film, assuming the Bond humor failed to show up.

Seagal plays a disgraced Navy SEAL commando reduced to serving as cook on the about-to-be-mothballed battleship Missouri when it is hijacked by a bunch high-tech terrorists whose motivation is never clear.

Once Seagal finds out what's happening, he starts laying booby traps and smirking triumphantly, like an adult version of Macaulay Culkin.

Villains Jones and Gary Busey swagger all over the place trying to keep Seagal from thwarting their evil plan; Jones, especially, makes a convincing psycho. As a Playboy centerfold brought on board to pop out of a cake as a birthday party surprise for the ship's captain, Eleniak mostly supplies a pretty face to be glowingly lit by miscellaneous explosions.

Director Andrew Davis occasionally asks Seagal to act, but mostly he moves from shoot-out to punch-up to stab-in. And he knows the crucial truth of such films as this, which is that it doesn't suffice for Seagal to win a fight by merely sticking his thumb through an opponent's eye socket; he has to stab the guy through the top of his skull with a butcher knife too, then slam the rascal's head into a plugged-in radar screen. (R)

  • Contributors:
  • Joanne Kaufman,
  • Ralph Novak.