Michael J. Fox, Nathan Lane, Christina Vidal, Cyndi Lauper

Fox is to be commended for his bravery: appearing in what will be the wink-wink, nudge-nudge movie of the summer. The former smart-Alex star of the sitcom Family Ties and the Back to the Future movies, who has not exactly shed his lightweight image, plays a feckless former child star whose brief vogue was as the smart-aleck star of the sitcom Life with Mikey. Reduced afterward to guest shots on Hollywood Squares and The Love Boat—"Don't forget I did a Charlie's Angel," he says, defending his résumé—Fox now runs a kiddie talent agency with his put-upon brother (Lane) and dithering secretary (Lauper). With their slender fortunes slaked to a pubescent client with an economy-size ego and libido (David Krumholtz), the brothers are desperate for a new commission source.

Fox finds it when he loses his wallet—later, of course, his heart—to a streetwise 10-year-old pickpocket (Vidal) with a larger supply of tall tales than the Brothers Grimm. This is John Hughes country—in this case, politically correct country—because the filmmakers have cast a Hispanic in the key cute role. But it doesn't make for a bigger payoff, and it certainly doesn't change the basic tired formula: emotionally wounded adult and child teach each other life lessons.

In Life with Mikey, there are also lessons in nutrition and hygiene because Vidal is a bran-muffin-eating vegetarian who's as tidy as a Trappist, whereas Fox is a chain-smoking slob who coats his Froot Loops with curdled milk. The script has a few wonderfully sharp edges, notably Fox's comment that the girl who played his sister in the Life with Mikey series "is up for parole in a couple of months." But the movie's chief pleasures are parenthetical ones, such as the hilarious opening-credit, quick-cut auditions of spectacularly untalented moppets singing show tunes, performing magic tricks and reciting from Strindberg; and the inside-joke cameo appearances of playwrights Christopher Durang and Wendy Wasserstein and New York cable-TV strip-show hostess Robin Byrd. Vidal is perfectly competent but hardly mesmerizing enough to make credible her instant success, while Fox works hard in a role that fits as snugly as a wet suit. (PG)

Sylvester Stallone, Janine Turner, John Lithgow

The mountain-peak rescue mission that kicks off this, the latest wide-screen epic from Stallone, is about the most stomach-churningly intense 10 minutes I've ever sat through in a movie. You have a barren peak that rises up and up to nothing more than a skinny wedge, you have a helicopter floating nearby, a cable connecting peak to chopper, Stallone dangling from the cable, and holding onto his hand—with nothing but vertiginous rocky depths below—a young woman. And her glove is slipping.

One's palms grow damp.

Nothing in Cliffhanger could possibly surpass that terrific opening jolt, but it's a smart, enjoyable summer action thriller nonetheless, directed by Renny Harlin with the focused energy of a Boy Scout earning badges. You'll be glad to see a sidewalk when it's over. The script, which is so much planking from one high point to another, has Stallone and Turner as park rangers in Colorado (the beautiful exterior footage is actually the Italian Dolomites) racing after $100 million in loot that has been stolen from the federal treasury and...oh, really, it's scarcely worth it to explain, except to note that the money falls into the mountains after a spectacular airborne heist (masterminded by Lithgow) goes wrong.

Cliffhanger has exploding planes, avalanches, hungry wolves, panicked bats, frigid waters and lots of bodies falling, falling, falling. Everything but the abominable snowman dancing the watusi during a blizzard.

Even with all this, you may find yourself missing the self-mocking playfulness that gives an Indiana Jones or an 007 epic added zing. Lithgow, who normally makes a sensationally over-the-top baddie, underplays here. It's like having to make do with Ethel Merman humming. Stallone;, too, is unusually subdued. He does have one vintage moment, though, when he impales a villain on a stalactite. Yes, that's the one that hangs down; impaling someone on a stalagmite wouldn't be half as cool. (R)

Whoopi Goldberg, Ted Danson, Will Smith, Nia Long

It's mild comfort to know that Danson and Goldberg apparently fell in love while making this flaccid comedy about a mix-up at a sperm bank. At least they got something out of it, which is more than most viewers will.

The movie's stumblebum premise has Goldberg's 17-year old daughter (Long) discovering that Mom, a shop owner who sells African-American books and merchandise, has lied to her all these years about her father having been Goldberg's beloved long-dead husband. The daughter tracks down the records on her real dad at the sperm bank and—is this a knee-slapper or what?—he turns out to be Danson. Not only is he white, but he's a twice-divorced vulgarian of a car-lot owner who appears, dressed in western wear and cavorting with wild animals, in cheesy TV commercials. Predictably the trio regard each other warily before coming to understand their mutual need for one another.

Although director Richard Benjamin and screenwriter Holly Goldberg Sloan try for some of the larky, off-center feel of, say, early Jonathan Demme movies such as Handle with Care or Melvin and Howard, America more often plays like a fatuous, elbow-in-the-ribs TV movie. Drop the racial angle and it could just as easily star Suzanne Somers and Alan Thicke.

Danson has his moments, particularly in his boisterous "Hi, guy!" salesman mode, but a lot of what lies required to do here is shticky and embarrassing. Goldberg, in her first full-fledged romantic lead, seems self-satisfied and prone to yelling. The most appealing work in the movie comes from younger cast members Long (a Cm ding Light regular), who delicately calibrates her character's confused emotional responses, and Smith (TV's Fresh Prince of Bel Air), who's both fresh and funny as Long's hapless best friend and would-be boyfriend. (PG-13)

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