Sigourney Weaver, Charles Dance, Charles Dutton

That rarest of creatures, a movie sequel that shows as much originality as its progenitor, this horror bloodfeast is grimly atmospheric, energetic and emotionally involving.

The third film in the series picks up Weaver, still a contract soldier working for an intergalactic chemical company, as she is floating through space in an escape pod following her battle with the mother of all monsters in Aliens. The most inspired part of Vincent Ward's story has Weaver's pod crash-land on a planet that houses a ramshackle penal colony.

It's soon clear that Weaver was carrying some fiendish stowaways, who indicate they have the same vicious pastimes as the deadly ETs she faced in the first two films, as well as the same taste for human tartare.

Director David Fincher shows an obsession with close-ups of mangled heads, and he lets the creature be seen too much. It is most effectively terrifying when it is skulking around the air ducts, emerging only for the periodic snack. When it is clearly visible, it looks like a giant drooling cross between a lobster and a praying mantis.

First-time director Fincher keeps the light turned down annoyingly low, adding to the eerie mood but also making it tough to see what's going on and disarming the actors who, unable to use facial expression, have only their voices with which to communicate. Weaver is nonetheless strikingly strong, not only demonstrating her commanding presence but also managing to look gorgeous even caked with dirt and turned nearly bald (to frustrate the prison's head-louse population). The supporting cast is on the unexceptional side, though, except for Dance (White Mischief), a mysterious prison doctor. Dutton, TV's Roc, does add a vivid, robust performance as a rapist-murderer who becomes Weaver's ally. (R)

Sean Astin, Brendan Fraser, Pauly Shore

Those between the ages of 6 and 17 will probably think this empty-brained, summertime goofball comedy is a hoot, while older viewers may find themselves feeling really old and out of it and happy to be that way.

This fish-out-of-water story features a frozen Cro-Magnon teen, Fraser, dug up in an Encino, Calif., pool excavation and brought back to life by two nerdy high school seniors, Astin (Memphis Belle) and Shore, MTV's dweeb-in-residence. They christen him Linkovitch (as in "missing link") Chomofsky and tell everybody he's an exchange student from Estonia. Kids will cackle away at such sure-to-please sights as Link munching on a formaldehyded frog in biology class.

Shore transfers his MTV vocabulary ("fundage" for money, "fresh nugs" for babes) and spaced-elf appeal from TV to the big screen intact. Astin, the son of Patty Duke and John Astin, registers less strongly, while Eraser, as the caveteen, grunts and lurches acceptably. Les Mayfield, in his feature film debut, directs with no discernible flair. (PG)

Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman

Never has the journey from Ireland to Oklahoma seemed so long as it does in this poor-plucky-boy-meets-rich-spitfire-girl adventure saga. Cruise, Gaelic accent more or less securely in place, is an Irish tenant farmer bent on owning his own land and exacting revenge from the absentee landlord responsible for destroying his home and, indirectly, killing his father. As it turns out, the bibulous landlord (played to the hilarious hilt by Robert Prosky) is, after a fashion, as oppressed as any of his tenants. So is the landlord's beautiful daughter (Kidman), who saves Cruise from death in a duel and persuades him to run off with her to America, where land out West is free for the taking. Docking in Boston, the pair learn there are pitfalls in the promised land. When Kidman's silver spoons are stolen, she and Cruise are forced to board in a Bean-town brothel. She finds work plucking chickens while Cruise finds some fame as a bare-knuckle boxer, all the while dreaming of the day he can lay claim to his own acreage.

Far and Away is full of unintentionally humorous moments—including sudden snowstorms, grandiose speeches and preternaturally coincidental meetings. Director Ron (Back-draft) Howard has concocted a tale without edge or irony, one that is further burdened by poor pacing and an exasperating ending. Howard has better luck with the glorious west-of-Ireland scenery and with his leading performers, who give far better than they get. Cruise and Kidman (his real-life wife) are a terrifically winsome pair, and the chemistry between them is palpable. But even their durable charms can't keep Far and Away from being a disappointment of epic proportions. (PG-13)

Documentary

As 60 Minutes and 20/20 prove every week, reality generates far more involving stories than fiction. That is certainly the case with this provocative documentary about the fatal shootings of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 1975 and the subsequent, controversial conviction of Indian-rights activist Leonard Peltier for their murders. Incident has it all over Thunderheart, the logy and muddled recent thriller that was inspired by many of the same events and characters. Englishman Michael (35-Up) Apted directed both films; Robert Redford, in his Goody Two-cameras mode, executive-produced this documentary and does the voice-over.

Although Incident makes a convincing case that Peltier did not fire the gun that killed the G-men, the movie leaves viewers dangling about who did. But then, this film isn't fiction, and in real life an awful lot of endings aren't tidy. (PG)

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Joanne Kaufman.