His performance in The Silence of the Lambs puts Anthony Hopkins in the rogues' gallery of insidiously charming, creepy film villains we love to hate. So move over Charles Boyer in Gaslight, Robert Blake and Scott Wilson in In Cold Blood, Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, Michael Keaton in Pacific Heights, Rob Lowe in Bad Influence, James Mason in North by Northwest, Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter, Gregory Peck in The Boys from Brazil, Anthony Perkins in Psycho, Theresa Russell in Black Widow, Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train, Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death and, of course, Cruella De Vil in One Hundred and One Dalmatians.

Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster

Here's the perfect Valentine's Day date movie. First, it's scary enough to put your sweetie into cuddling, or at least cowering, mode. Second, it lets men show what Mr. Sensitives they are by pointing out that the film is as much about sexist psychological abuse of women as it is about serial killings. Women, meanwhile, can enjoy how well Foster handles all the men in the movie.

Foster plays an FBI trainee called into a case by bureau behavioral specialist Scott (The Hunt for Red October) Glenn. He thinks her lack of experience might disarm the defense mechanisms of an incarcerated murderer whose advice he needs about a series of abduction murders of young women.

The jailed criminal is Hopkins, playing Dr. Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter, a psychiatrist who is the embodiment of every psychotherapy patient's worst fears: He's brilliant, intuitive and seductive, and if he decides you're not worthy, he'll kill and eat you, not necessarily in that order. (Lecter was also a character in 1986's less impressive Manhunter, taken, like this film, from a novel by Thomas Harris.)

The confrontations between Foster and Hopkins—facing her from an ultrasecure cell—are models of chilling intensity. Foster, struggling not to be intimidated, and Hopkins, quickly focusing on her biggest insecurities, extract all the steely terror from Ted (White Palace) Tally's trim script. And director Jonathan (Married to the Mob) Demme dwells on close-ups of the two actors' faces, catching every twitch—or, in Hopkins's case, the absence of twitches.

Among the ironies swirling under the film's surface is that Hopkins treats Foster with respect. Otherwise, she's hit on or patronized by almost every man she meets, from Hopkins's prison mates to guys she passes in the airport, to cops she works with, to Glenn. (The sense of sexist persecution is all the more pointed coming in a male-dominated movie.)

The overt plot revolves around butterfly collector-tailor-murderer Ted (Love at Large) Levine, who's mad because he has been rejected for a transsexual operation.

Levine, perhaps inevitably, pales by comparison with Hopkins, and his involvement in the plot is one of the film's aspects that doesn't bear much scrutiny. (He lives, for instance, in an average suburban house, but its basement is cavernous and conveniently includes a 20-foot deep, captive-storing well.) It seems unlikely, too, that the FBI would throw an inexperienced woman like Foster into a case like this, and Lecter doesn't wash either—chewing people to death hardly seems efficient, for example.

Most damaging, Anthony (Teachers) Heald, as the head shrink at the institution where Hopkins is kept, overacts wildly, awkwardly lampooning the behavior of a doctor who wants to use his special patient as a career springboard. His every appearance shatters the film's ominous mood.

Bad dreams needn't be plausible to be disturbing, though, and minute by minute this film ranks with the most upsetting of them. It will make men think maybe some of those feminist complaints are justified. As for the women—well, you knew we were like this all along, didn't you? (R)

Julia Roberts, Patrick Bergin, Kevin Anderson

Nancy Price's novel about a brutally abused Cape Cod wife who feigns her own death to escape her husband had possibilities. And, as the wife, Roberts convincingly makes the transition from terrified victim to tentatively independent, assertive woman.

But the film never becomes the suspense classic it might have been because Ronald (Rain Man) Bass's lame adaptation of Price's story and Joseph (Dreamscape) Ruben's clunky direction serve to accentuate, not camouflage, the plot's implausibilities.

For one thing, Roberts is supposed to have been married to the psychotically violent Bergin (Mountains of the Moon) for about four years, even though they have no children and her only excuse for not relying on a lawyer or the police is that she doesn't think they would do anything. For another, her ludicrous fake-death scheme is dependent on a coincidental typhoon-level storm arriving unexpectedly while she and Bergin are out sailing. Then there's the men's clothing and mustache she wears at one point—a disguise reminiscent of I Love Lucy.

Equally deflating is the casting of Anderson (Miles from Home)—who looks like a 13-year-old in a phony beard—as the man Roberts falls for when she moves to Iowa to start a new life. He is such an inconsequential presence that choosing him makes Roberts seem less in control than she did before.

It won't surprise anyone that Bergin catches on to his wife's plot. When he finally tracks her down, it's not to discuss who should get the dust-vac and Ronettes records either. But Ruben sets up more phony frights than there are in a bottom-of-the-gutbucket slasher film, so when the confrontation does come, it seems perfunctory. When you should be sitting on the edge of your seat, you're pondering an early departure to beat the lines in the rest room. (R)

Gary Oldman, Tim Roth

To indulge Tom Stoppard or not to indulge him, that is the question.

Stoppard, the justly esteemed playwright (The Real Thing) and screenwriter (The Russia House), here directs his adaptation of his 1966 play. It extrapolates from Hamlet, following the offstage actions of the two minor characters whom Claudius enlists to spy on their sometime friend, the Prince.

There is an intriguing notion behind all this: how events can overwhelm simple people. But Stoppard buries the idea in a surrealistic film that includes slapstick pratfalls, semantic games, splashes of fantasy and continual confusion over who is Rosencrantz (Oldman, late of State of Grace) and who is Guildenstern (Roth, Vincent van Gogh in Vincent & Theo).

As the opening credits roll, the sound track plays a blues tune punctuated by a baying hound. The next scene is of Oldman and Roth riding on horseback. It's clear this isn't any guys-in-tights Shakespeare.

Then Oldman and Roth toss a coin that comes up heads 156 times in a row and start speculating about how this could happen. They run into the play-within-the-play wandering-actor troupe, led by Richard Dreyfuss, whose increasingly inchoate dialogue seems designed to make him represent either the flip side of reality, real reality or the false face of reality as seen in a mirror that hasn't been Windexed in a while.

Then they wander around Elsinore Castle, alternately appearing in their real Hamlet scenes and musing about their fate. There is some amusing but fairly gentle satire. After the duo eavesdrops on one of Hamlet's soliloquies, Oldman explains, "Half of what he said meant something else, and the rest didn't mean anything at all."

The philosophizing, though, gets precious: "What's the first thing you remember...after all the things you've forgotten?" Roth asks. "I've forgotten the question," Oldman replies.

Soon what seems intended to be along the lines of Waiting for Godot is more likely to evoke a two-hour Abbott and Costello skit—and a very bad one at that. (PG)