Richard Attenborough, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, Samuel Jackson

It would appear that much more effort and imagination have been expended on the marketing of this film than on its creation. But it still has a few moments where its heavy-glitz, high-tech approach renders it a thriller extravagant and imposing enough to make. Jaws seem like a saga about misunderstood tropical fish.

Attenborough, in a standard mad-scientist role, is a Scottish theme-park owner who uses DNA information extracted from dinosaur blood fossilized in amber to create living dinosaurs by means of genetic engineering. Goldblum is a mathematician who's an adviser to Attenborough (he keeps muttering such comments as "The lack of humility before nature here is staggering"). Dern and Neill are flora and fauna experts called in to check out the park and, Attenborough hopes, validate its scientific worth. Jackson is a computer technician who oversees the park's intricate security system, designed to keep visitors from becoming dino-snacks.

Despite the presence of all this acting talent, it is the film's special effects, especially the work of "dinosaur supervisor" Phil Tippett, that carry the day. It's not saying too much to call these limber, fluid-motion monsters the most impressive dinosaurs in movie history; remember, we're talking epics like One Million B.C. and Valley of Gwangi here.

The problem is the dinosaurs don't sustain two hours of admiration. Nor do screenwriters Michael Crichton (on whose 1990 book the film is based) and David Koepp and director Steven Spielberg derive much in the way of terror from them. The dinosaurs" inevitable rampage unreels without much flair or wit, though Goldblum refutes the comment that even Disneyland had its glitches by noting, "Yeah, but when Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don't eat the tourists." (PG-13)

Rebecca De Mornay, Don Johnson

Talk about stretching yourself as a director: Sidney Lumet's last movie, A Stranger Among Us, starred Melanie Griffith as a cop who goes undercover as a Hasidic Jew. Mow Lumet has Griffith's husband. Johnson, hamming it up as a murderous gigolo. Johnson brandishes a knife, snarls like Jimmy Cagney and preens like a cat. But his performance is hardly the only thing that's not kosher.

De Mornay is a dazzlingly successful criminal-defense attorney. Her high-profile cases have attracted the attention of Johnson, a manipulative, immaculately dressed philanderer accused of killing his wealthy wife. "God put too damned many beautiful women on this earth," he says, explaining his compulsion to De Mornay. Has he sought therapy? "A woman psychiatrist," he responds. "You can imagine how that turned out. At least she didn't charge me for the sessions." For reasons best known to the screenwriter, De Mornay buys Johnson's jive and agrees to take his case.

Guilty as Sin bears a passing resemblance to Jagged Edge, Fatal Attraction and Shadow of a Doubt, but it does not have even inadvertently credible moments. How can it be that the razor-sharp De Mornay doesn't take a deposition from her client until trial's eve, then walks into an obvious trap involving attorney-client confidentiality? How can this tough and stylish woman go through so much of the film in tears—and often wearing the same clothes? Her ninnyish portrayal is an insult to women barristers everywhere. (R)

Tilda Swinton, Billy Zane, Quentin Crisp

In clumsier hands this could have been Myra Breckinridge for the Masterpiece Theatre set. Instead, British director and screenwriter Sally Potter has made a beautiful, if decidedly wobbly, movie out of Virginia Woolfs novel about a 16th-century nobleman who evolves, across some 400 years, into a modern woman in her mid-30s. Swinton plays both male and female Orlando with cool humor.

We first meet Orlando as a ravishing young man who captures the fancy of England's lading Queen Elizabeth I (Quentin Crisp in Tudor drag—very arch, very forlorn, very touching). Orlando then falls in love with a Muscovite princess, who breaks his heart. To recuperate, he serves as a diplomat in Morocco, where the miraculous transformation takes place. ("Same person," says the now womanly Orlando, surveying her body without a trace of surprise, "different sex.") He, now she, returns to Restoration England an exquisite beauty moving gingerly beneath a tall pile of hair, then goes on to spend intensely romantic moments with an American adventurer (Zane) in the age of Victoria. Orlando finally finds success, in the here and the now, as a writer and single mother. When we leave her, she is crying with happiness.

Potters adaptation is a lightly floating fantasy about a feminine spirit who finally gets the body and the life she wants. This Orlando is part sexual karma, part sexual politics and part historical pageant. But that's only a scintilla of what Woolf is after in her novel, which manages to be about the life of a soul, the birth of an artist and the broad, majestic realm of English literature. The fact is, Orlando him-or herself isn't all that interesting.

Perhaps this is why, after a glorious beginning, the movie goes flat for long stretches. Orlando doesn't come fully to life again until a stunning shot of the 19th-century Lady Orlando running through a fog-bound field, her voluminous gown dragging behind in the wet grass. Woolf herself would have been thrilled: You can just imagine her in a darkened theater, so roiled by emotion she spills her popcorn. (R)

Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Samantha Mathis, Dennis Hopper, Fiona Shaw, Fisher Stevens

If this were a video game spun off from a movie rather than vice versa, one would say it has decent graphics but isn't playable, fast and flashy, the film has none of the game's peppy charm, just its pointlessness.

Hoskins and Leguizamo are the title characters, Brooklyn plumbers who foray into another dimension to rescue Princess Daisy (Mathis) after Hopper, playing the dinosaur King Koopa, kidnaps her. There's lots of murky scrambling around, threatening and underground crowd scenes, but little in the way of witty or clever writing.

There are none of the game's hidden pleasures, such as booby traps or treasure caches, and the casting is peculiar. Hoskins, whose normal acting style is cartoonish overstatement, seems to be playing it straight. Leguizamo is almost somber. Mathis, in an ideal role for a ravishing young starlet, is almost purposely nonvivacious.

Some colorful villains might have saved the day to some extent. What we have, though, are Hopper, in routine weirdo mode, the negligible Stevens as Hopper's cousin/thug-in-residence and Shaw, upstaging everyone as Hopper's steely henchwoman.(PG)

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Joanne Kaufman,
  • Tom Gliatto.