HOLIDAY MOVIE GUIDE

Steve Martin, Diane Keaton

This charming remake of the Spencer Tracy classic has Steve Martin as George Banks, a sardonic, excitable manufacturer of athletic shoes. He's a man who believes in seat belts and curfews. He loves his house, his town, his wife, Nina (a blessedly restrained Diane Keaton), and his two kids.

In fact, he's leaving work early to welcome home his daughter, Annie, who has been studying architecture in Italy. Annie (Kimberly Williams, in a fetching performance) has a little surprise for the family: She's engaged to this wonderful boy she met abroad. "He's like you, Dad," she enthuses. "Except he's brilliant." And he'll be over in an hour.

George is unnerved. For one thing, the fiancé (George Newbern) is wearing a competitor's sneakers. For another, he resembles someone George saw on America's Most Wanted. But with an inward curse, George gives his blessing. There follows a confrontation with the young man's nouveau riche parents—as well as an unforgettable meeting with the haughty, high-priced wedding coordinator (Martin Short, in a hilarious turn). Aside from a few unnecessary pratfalls, Steve Martin is funny and touching as a man about to lose his beloved daughter and—if the wedding coordinator prevails—his shirt. (PG)

Warren Beatty, Annette Bening

Some movie failures (artistic if not box office) inspire heartfelt glee. The failure of Bugsy, however, inspires only regret; it's clear how much effort was expended for little return.

With a wife and two daughters stashed in Scarsdale, N.Y., debonair mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel heads to Los Angeles to cut his boys in on the West Coast action and to rub elbows with movie stars. His travel plans don't call for falling in love, but he does, with starlet Virginia Hill (Annette Bening), a babe who has been around the block a few times—and is proud of it.

It is on a trip through the Nevada desert with Virginia and henchman Mickey Cohen (Harvey Keitel) that Siegel hatches his notion of building the first Las Vegas hotel-casino. Bugsy treats this vision with a reverence that would be excessive in a movie about the invention of the wheel. Ben Kingsley as Meyer Lansky, and the late rock impresario Bill Graham as Charles "Lucky" Luciano, are quietly excellent as Siegel's partners in crime.

Unfortunately, there is about as much chemistry between Beatty and Bening (his offscreen love and soon-to-be mother of his child) as there was between Beatty and Madonna (his former offscreen love) in Dick Tracy. Which is to say, not much. More unfortunately, Bening is all pouts and twitching hips, and Beatty plays Bugsy now as a nutty sitcom dad, now as a poor man's Jack Nicholson. While Bugsy expertly captures the glamor of '40s Hollywood, it fails as the drama of a man whose dreams of glory lure him to an ignominious end. (R)

Nick Nolte, Barbra Streisand

It's big, it's lush, it's even good—if you don't count the pastoral love scenes late in the movie between the Nolte and Streisand characters, a disingenuous montage that plays like a soft-focus coffee ad. That aside, Tides is a savvy romantic drama directed with an impressively sure hand by Streisand. She has skillfully captured the sweep and emotional punch of Pat Conroy's 1986 best-seller while deftly condensing its Southern gothic sprawl.

Tides is what in days gone by would have been called a woman's picture, except it is very much a man's story and should appeal to men—sensitive ones at least—as much as to female filmgoers. Its titular prince is Tom Wingo (Nolte), an unemployed high school English teacher and football coach in Charleston, S.C., a fellow who has temporarily lost his bearings. When his sister, a famous poet, attempts suicide, he is called to Manhattan to consult with her psychiatrist, Dr. Susan Lowenstein (Streisand). Thanks to the shrink (and a series of harrowing flashbacks), Wingo is able to confront his family's Big Secret—and it's a doozy. He also falls for the good doctor.

Nolte, looking seriously handsome, is called upon to do some pretty tough scenes, and he delivers big-time. Streisand seems perfectly at ease in her part. Others who contribute meaningfully are Blythe Danner, Kate Nelligan, George Carlin and Jason Gould. The last is Streisand's and Elliott Gould's real-life son, sympathetic as the shrink's surly adolescent offspring. (R)

Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman

Our children deserve better parents. That's the gospel according to Steven Spielberg in his extravagant new Hook (see cover story, page 92). In this, the most stylized and idiosyncratic twist to date on J.M. Bairie's Peter Pan, Williams plays Peter Banning, a high-rolling mergers-and-acquisitions attorney who just doesn't have enough time for his two adorable children or even for his dear old granny, the fabled Wendy Darling (Maggie Smith), who years before adopted and raised him back in England. Still, he has promised his English wife and his kids a Dickensian Christmas, so it's off to London they go with holly in their hearts and a beeper on Dad's hip.

Dear Granny mourns what Peter has become, because she knows who he once was. So does the dread Captain Hook, who returns from Neverland, hies off with Peter's children and leaves a challenge: Come and get 'em if you can. But Peter can't return by himself; he's still mired in the '80s, and this is a very '90s movie. So Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) has to whisk Peter back to the Island of Lost Boys, where he's put through a retro puberty rite to make him worthy of Hook's steel and his children's affection.

What it all is, really, is a glorious Spielbergian essay on the value, in gold doubloons, of rampant sentimentality. Every small triumph is accompanied by a musical crescendo so resounding you'd think the Lost Boys had just whipped the Luftwaffe. But Spielberg knows, as well as any child, how to indulge himself and get away with it. He's got Williams, America's premier comic, as the properly puckish Pan, and Hoffman, America's premier actor, having as much fun in Restoration drag as he did in modern drag in Tootsie. Plus, Spielberg has fashioned the most fabulous, full-rigged set since The Wizard of Oz. In sum, he's pushed all the right buttons. And so, when the bells ring at the box office, be assured no fairy will die in the counting houses of Beverly Hills. (PG)

Jessica Tandy, Kathy Bates

Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates) is a frumpy Alabama woman whose husband treats her like a piece of furniture. She attempts—fruitlessly—to improve her lot with consciousness-raising classes and weight-lowering exercises. The solace and strength she seeks she finds only in a burgeoning friendship with spunky octogenarian Ninny Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy). Ninny is a nursing-home patient who assumes the role of Southern-fried Scheherazade, spinning tales of her old Depression-era friends Idgie Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson)—a scapegrace who defied convention by drinking, gambling, befriending blacks and defying the Klan—and decorous, noble, battered wife Ruth Jamison (Mary-Louise Parker).

Idgie and Ruth, seen in extensive flashbacks, start a café that is a place of peace and hominy, to say nothing of fried green tomatoes. Their friendship is meant to mirror the growing bond between feisty Ninny and decorous Evelyn, who is sufficiently inspired by the stories to become A New Woman.

But it's utterly incomprehensible that Evelyn would find Ninny's elaborate tales compelling, let alone inspirational. The script plods. Tandy looks as though she'd rather be elsewhere. The desire is understandable. (PG-13)

Bruce Willis, Damon Wayans

The best that can be said for The Last Boy Scout is that it is better than Willis's phenomenally self-indulgent Hudson Hawk. On the other hand, it's no Die Hard.

The plot features Willis as a down-on-his-luck private eye who reluctantly teams up with Wayans (of In Living Color), an ex-pro-football player, to crack wise and find out who killed Wayans's girlfriend.

Wayans is sharp and shows much promise. Willis is all smirk, bravado and cynical cool. If you like your screen filled with gratuitous shots of scantily clad women, nonstop use of the F word, exploding cars engulfed in flames, bullets zipping through heads, knives digging into groins, and various other forms of mayhem, this is the Christmas present you have been waiting for. (R)

>RUSH

PRODUCER LILI ZANUCK'S SURE-footed directorial debut includes painfully credible performances by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jason Patric as underground cops turned heroin addicts. Unfortunately, the movie is unremittingly grim and rather depressing.

  • Contributors:
  • Joanne Kaufman,
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Mark Goodman.