Harrison Ford, Anne Archer, Patrick Bergin

Westerns are out of fashion. We don't have the Russkies to kick around anymore. What's a poor action-movie hero to do? Thank badness for terrorists.

In this shoot-'em-up, punch-'em-out adaptation of Tom Clancy's novel, Ford (Witness), as Jack Ryan, the former CIA analyst turned Naval Academy professor (played by Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October), tangles nonstop with an Irish Republican splinter group of militants who become homicidally miffed when Ford, in London on vacation, thwarts an attempt to assassinate a member of the royal family. As the murderous revolutionaries, Bergin (Sleeping with the Enemy) and the especially intense Sean (Stormy Monday) Bean are convincingly fanatical and ruthless, although director Phillip (Dead Calm) Noyce and screenwriters Donald (The Hunt for Red October) Stewart and W. Peter (Point Break) Iliff transform them into remarkably inept terrorists at crucial moments.

Their failures, though, do allow Ford plenty of derring-do chances. Jaw set as firmly as ever, he satisfyingly smites the bad guys who are stalking not only him but his eye-surgeon wife (Fatal Attraction's Archer) and their preteen daughter, played by Thora (Paradise) Birch.

Noyce and his second-unit director, David R. Ellis, stage the fight scenes with great vigor. There is one scene, where Ford and his family are besieged in their Chesapeake Bay home by the terrorists, that generates particular tension.

The cast also includes James Earl (Field of Dreams) Jones as the CIA director, Richard (The Field) Harris as an Irish elder statesman, and James (The Russia House) Fox as the menaced royal cousin. The real costars, though, are automatic weapons. This is an old-fashioned, good guys-bad guys film that shoots first and never gets around to asking questions at all. (R)

Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith

Given the concept of Whoopi Goldberg in a nun's habit, you might expect a few irreverent kicks from this Disney comedy. But—aside from round-faced Kathy (The Fisher King) Najimy, whose performance as a hyper-perky Carmelite suggests Saint Teresa of Avila with a case of cabin fever—Sister Act is as innocuously pleasant and ecumenical a crowd pleaser as the old Rosalind Russell convent-school charmer, The Trouble with Angels. This is either good or bad, depending on your feelings about the Vatican, American movie comedy and Goldberg, who is so amusing as the Columbo-like detective in The Player.

Here, as a Reno lounge singer who hides in a convent as part of a protection program after witnessing a gangland murder, Goldberg gives a brisk, no-nonsense performance that earns some laughs, whether with one of the good lines provided by a committee of writers (served a suitably humble supper, Goldberg grouses, "Is this a Pritikin order?") or in her scenes conducting the awful convent chorus, which she refashions into a pop group. (The sisters' swooning rendition of "I Will Follow Him"—"Him" meaning the big Him—is a high point.)

Sister Act's one sin, really, is that the incomparable Maggie (A Room with a View) Smith, as the Mother Superior, has virtually nothing to do. Too bad, because she makes a swell-looking nun. Draped in her long dark robes, with a wimple bringing out the pinched anxiety of her sharp features, she looks something like a sea horse enduring a profound spiritual crisis. (PG)

Goldie Hawn, David Arnott

It is the summer of 1969, the time of Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon. Goldie plays a divorced mother living on the edge with her 12-year-old son (Arnott) in Key West, Fla. Mornings she waitresses in the dingy motel where she and her son share a couple of rooms; at night she dances in a topless joint up the road. When Arnott discovers his mom's second job, he hitchhikes to the monastery in West Palm Beach where his father, a former Navy flier who wanted to become an astronaut but was traumatized by his tour in Vietnam, works as a grounds keeper. Dad (Keith Carradine, in an affecting cameo) is beyond helping him, and his mother can only tell him that "sometimes you have to do bad things in order to get good things." This suspect advice leads the boy, when he accidentally discovers a bag of cocaine, to try his hand at drug dealing.

Adapted by Scott Summer from his novella within his novel, Still Lives, Crisscross has the feel of a story based on a true-life incident; it's a gritty yarn and often moving. But director Chris (A World Apart) Menges can't seem to decide whether it's about a beleaguered mother trying to piece two lives together or a cautionary tale for youngsters.

Hawn confirms that she can handle serious material (this is a much stronger performance than she gave in last year's Deceived), and young Arnott is the find of the season in his debut as the troubled youngster. (R)

Jeff Goldblum, Bob Hoskins

As cumbersome, ill-focused and ultimately unfunny as its title, this British comedy has all the impudent tone and erratic rhythms of a Monty Python sketch without the Python wit.

It also resembles (and compares unfavorably to) the 1990 film The Tall Guy, in which Goldblum appeared as an expatriate American actor. Here he is a phlegmatic cabaret piano player in Paris who encounters Hoskins, a photographer of religious scenes, just when Hoskins (Shattered) is looking for a Jesus for a series of posters he has been commissioned to do.

Goldblum, with his haunted, emaciated look, makes for a perfect Messiah, and Hoskins turns him into a star model. Meanwhile all sorts of slapsticky mayhem is breaking loose, including Hoskins' sister, Angela (Stealing Heaven) Pleasence, serving him a dinner of the title fish, which she has prepared by stuffing through a meat grinding—type device and putting the results on a plate, garnished with a lemon wedge.

A romantic triangle also develops among Goldblum, Hoskins and Natasha (The Comfort of Strangers) Richardson. The latter plays an aspiring actress who brings Hoskins and Goldblum together. The relationship unfurls rather tediously, however. Writer-director Ben (Georgia) Lewin even has Hoskins say, "Women! You can't live with them, and you can't live with out them."

The romance was more fun in The Tall Guy. The Jesus element was more clever in Denys Arcand's 1990 Jesus of Montreal. And it doesn't take 15 minutes to say either of those titles. (R)

Tony Curtis, Charlene Tilton, Robert Davi, Ted Prior

A suspense thriller 100 percent lacking in suspense or thrills, this film provides a good lesson on the damage that can be done by a movie camera that gets into the wrong hands.

Prior stars as an acting coach who's dragged into a car one day in what seems to be a CIA-led conspiracy. His brother, David (Raw Nerve) Prior, wrote and directed the film. Dallas's Tilton, one of Prior's students and an assistant D.A., gets involved in his attempts to get himself out of trouble. Curtis is a family friend of Tilton's and also seems to have connections in the intelligence underworld. Davi (Wild Orchid 2) is the conspiracy's spokesman, while Bo (Dynasty) Hopkins turns up as a local cop.

An assassination subplot goes nowhere, where it is soon joined by the rest of the movie, which ranges from preposterous to pathologically dull. (R)

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Tom Gliatto,
  • Mark Goodman.