Playing talent scout is part of the fun of movies, hard as it is to do. (Who out there predicted rampant stardom for Julia Roberts after seeing Satisfaction or caught Grandview U.S.A. and said, "That Swayze kid's got it"?) It doesn't take much foresight, though, to see that Wesley Snipes—after impressive performances in Major League and Mo' Better Blues—should really sail after New Jack City. As a longer shot, keep director Mark Herrier of Popcorn in mind if you have a few spare million and want to back a movie. A cautionary note: Remember how sweet a career Mickey Rourke seemed to face after Diner and how clear it was after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that director Tobe Hooper would become a major force.

Stian Smestad, Trond Peter Stamsö Munch, Gabriel Byrne

Those credits—and the fact that this seafaring saga for kids is based on the book Haakon Haakonsen by Oluf Vilhelm Falck-Ytter—might discourage U.S. audiences. They suggest that this film is strictly from Norway and that its producers were so desperate for a familiar face that they hauled in Byrne, whose acting is usually so dim he might as well be speaking Norwegian.

Well, shiver our timbers if this Disney-financed movie isn't a hearty, rip-growling tale with neo-Treasure Island qualities as well as a hint of Home Alone—with pirates.

Smestad, 14, plays a Norwegian youngster who signs on as a ship's boy on a 19th-century sailing vessel to pay off the family farm's mortgage (interest rates must have been low in those days). Munch, also a Norwegian, is a friendly young seaman.

Once at sea, their ship is taken over by Byrne, a pirate impersonating a British officer. He's about to force the crew into some pirately behavior when a storm scuttles the ship in the South Seas. Smestad winds up on an island, alone except for a gorilla.

Eventually Smestad rejoins Munch and Louisa Haigh, a girl who had stowed away on the ship before the storm. An incipient puppy love is marred by the fact that Smestad, who looks like Yvette Mimieux, is prettier than Haigh. And, of course, the heroic trio battles Byrne, who comes to the island to reclaim buried booty, not knowing Smestad has the place full of nifty booby traps.

Norwegian director Nils Gaup, working with two American writers, keeps the dialogue in idiomatic English (Smestad and Munch speak without accent). The script includes only one even vaguely offensive line—in front of a London prostitute. Munch warns Smestad. "Keep a close watch on your, uh, valuables."

Otherwise this is a typical Disney adventure, with picturesque ocean shots, limited violence and a happy ending. The locations—including Fiji—are well employed. Even Byrne is a hateworthy pirate.

It's all most smoothly done except for the unanswered question of how a gorilla got to the South Pacific. What the heck. King Kong was no docudrama cither. (PG)

Wesley Snipes, Ice-T

Two factors put this film a few cuts above most drug war shoot-'em-ups.

One is Snipes, icily ruthless as leader of a New York City gang out to control the crack cocaine market. His performance ranks with Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar, Paul Muni in Scarface or Marlon Brando in The Godfather, among film mob bosses.

The other intriguing aspect of the movie is its strident ideological stand, voiced not only in what seems like an archaic final defeat of the bad guys, but also in the language of its epilogue: "If we in America don't confront the problem of crack cocaine and other drugs realistically—without empty slogans and promises but by examining what motors the human soul on the course of spiritual self-destruction—then the New Jack City shall continue to thrive, and we shall forever be doomed to despair in the shadows of its demonic skyline."

First-time feature director Mario Van Peebles made some bad casting decisions, such as using rapper Ice-T as the cop who's after Snipes; when he is trying to shake with rage, Ice-T is so artificial you can almost hear him saying to himself "Tremble-tremble-tremble." Judd (Relentless) Nelson is equally unconvincing as Ice-T's partner, a supposed tough guy whose dark glasses and goatee only make him look like one of the Chipmunks doing a beatnik bit.

There's stronger support from Saturday Night Live's Chris Rock, an edgy junkie, and from Allen (Rooftops) Money as Snipes's at times morally troubled top assistant.

The script, by Village Voice writer Barry Michael Cooper and Thomas Lee (The Last of the Finest) Wright, is in Stiltese. Nelson has this speech: "This whole drug thing: It's not a black thing. It's not a white thing. It's a death thing."

Just as things start to slip away, Van Peebles gets back to Snipes, pursuing money and pleasure with the unconcerned determination of a stalking crocodile. And if the film's ending is foolish, it also reflects real courage—an ending that says sometimes the hippest thing around is moral outrage. (R)

Tom Villard, Jill Schoelen

While it's not campy or spoofy enough to be worth its salt, this campy, spoofy horror movie shows some ingenuity and generates an occasional controllable chuckle.

It's set around a college film class that holds a horrorthon to raise money. Real fiendishness inevitably develops along with the planned jokey mayhem.

Director Mark Herrier, a newcomer, and writer Alan Ormsby threw in a bit of violence and swore off sex totally. Their best touch is the films within the film. Mosquito, Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man and The Stench are enough like real '50s movies to evoke memories of such phenomena as 3-D, The Tingler and Aromarama.

While the cast includes Dee Wallace Stone, as the mother of one student (the vapid Schoelen), and Tony Roberts, most of the actors are relatively unknown. Villard makes the most of his opportunity as the liveliest of Roberts's budding filmmakers.

Like most modern horror spoofs (Arach-nophobia, say), this film ends up indulging in too much of the same gore and lazy plotting it's supposed to be sending up. So what's a skeptical horror fan to do?

It's too much to hope for to find the 1932 James Whale film The Old Dark House, in which Charles Laughton and Boris Karloff, among others, expertly haunted and spoofed at the same time. Maybe, though, the old SCTV shows will become available on videotape and we can all see "Monster Chiller Horror Theater" again. (R)


Clint Eastwood directed and stars in this thinly fictionalized account of director John Huston on an elephant hunt in Africa as he prepares to shoot The African Queen. It's a film rarity—pure character study-but Eastwood's portrayal is intriguing, treating the director's awful self-indulgence with a kind of compassion. This is a man who has himself wrapped around his little finger. Jeff Fahey plays a too-virtuous role based on the writer Peter Viertel, a Huston collaborator whose novel inspired this film. (Warner)