Macaulay Culkin is a fine little actor. But what does it say about us—the movie-going audience—that in return for agreeing to do a sequel to Home Alone, he received a reported guarantee from producer John Hughes and Twentieth Century Fox of $4.5 million plus 5 percent of the film's gross income? Are we all perceived as so mindlessly devoted to a 10-year-old performer whose role could have been played as well by dozens of children that we'd avoid the sequel if it starred another kid? Good for little Mac—he now has most of his Harvard tuition covered—but there's something troubling about this business. Think of whoever is administering the law of supply and demand, explaining why a sum equal to the salaries of 150 or so teachers should be paid to a child for a few weeks' work: "These audiences have no more critical faculties than your average mollusk, so we have to count on Pavlovian reactions. Show them similar title. Show them same kid. Bonanza, here we come again."

John Candy, Maureen O'Hara, Ally Sheedy

Add a few laughs to the 1955 classic Marty, about two plain, shy people finding romance, and you have this sweet, quietly appealing film.

Candy, much more subdued than usual, is a bachelor cop in Chicago who lives with his subtly henpecking mother, O'Hara. He hasn't had a date in nine months when he meets the pathologically introverted Sheedy, who is a cosmetician in her father's funeral parlor, making up the faces of the deceased to resemble old movie stars.

The romance is complicated by O'Hara's possessiveness, Candy's guilt and the fact that Sheedy is Italian and Polish, two among the many ethnic groups O'Hara is prejudiced against.

Writer-director Chris (Home Alone) Columbus's script often resembles a lame sitcom: "My eyes are perfect." "Then why are you pouring orange juice in your coffee?" Moreover, the plot's will-they-or-won't-they aspect goes back and forth too many times.

But Candy and Sheedy effectively bat wide eyes at each other, and O'Hara, in her first film in two decades, is spectacularly enjoyable. Her part—a waspish, bitter woman—is not always an attractive one, yet she and Columbus make the mother into an ultimately sympathetic character. (A priest tells her, "I know you realize it's the '90s. I just don't know if you realize it's the 1990s.") And in addition to spicing up this film, O'Hara's performance arouses most pleasant memories of the dignity, strength and beauty she brought to such movies as How Green Was My Valley, Miracle on 34th Street, The Quiet Man and Rio Grande.

The film also contains edifying little parts for Anthony Quinn, as a rascally Greek neighbor with a crush on O'Hara, James Belushi, as Candy's partner, and the Chicago skyline, as picturesque decoration.

While the ending isn't romantically eloquent enough to satisfy real softies, it has a cute twist. And, in giving a—shall we say—full-figured actor a chance to get the girl, Columbus has overcome Hollywood's weightist taboo. Now if someone would make a film where Kevin Costner ends up with a 280-lb. woman, we'll know we are in a truly enlightened age. (PG-13)

Documentary

The concert footage from Madonna's 1990 Blond Ambition tour is vigorous, colorful, playfully sexy and a perfect vehicle for showing what a marvelous entertainer she is.

Most of this two-hour movie, however, is devoted to tedious, often silly offstage scenes heavy on pretension and very light on honesty and spontaneity.

The foolish banter among Madonna, her backup performers and her crew goes on at such length that the singer (who executive-produced) and director Alek Keshishian all but invite their audience to muse on such phenomena as Madonna's obsession with delusions of meaningful grandeur.

She says solemnly, for instance, that she strives to be a "mother" to the members of her show. (The phrase "Heaven help them" comes to mind.) She boasts of how "political" she is. (Right, and Donatello, Leonardo, Michaelangelo and Raphael are the spokesturtles for a generation.) She is frequently shown leading her cast in pre-performance prayers. (You think of God: "Let's see. We've got war, disease and famine taken care of for today. Gary Collins has a good lineup of guests. And, oh yes, let's make sure Madonna's show is cool.")

Other than ego brandishing, nothing too scandalous goes on, though two male dancers French kiss and Madonna doffs her bra. Keshishian, 26, in his directorial debut, apparently couldn't muster the clout or gumption to do anything other than an idolizing portrait. The only real criticism is from an anonymous voice off-camera, who calls her "a bitch"—with no explanation. The best insight comes from Warren Beatty, Madonna's item when the film was made.

Beatty is mostly shown on the periphery of backstage scenes, Keshishian never daring to ask him a question. But at one point a doctor asks Madonna if she wants to confer off-camera. Beatty, who seems not too thrilled at finding himself in this film, interjects with exasperated sarcasm from a corner: "Why say anything off-camera! What existence does anything have if it happens off-camera?"

In fact, if this film reveals anything about Madonna it is—surprise!—that she is relentlessly engaged in trying to sell herself. She comes across as a kind of shallow, superglitzed Amway saleswoman, always trying to be ingratiating toward her audience so she can pitch them her product. In this case, the answer has to be: no soap. (R)

>HAVANA

ROBERT REDFORD DOESN'T TELL LENA OLIN THEY'LL ALWAYS have Paris. But he does play a cynical American courting an idealistic woman in a tropical country during turbulent times—Cuba in 1958. Raul Julia has the Paul Henreid role as a Castro-ite rebel and Alan Arkin is Redford's Claude Rains, a partner in world weariness. Sydney Pollack directed this entertaining neo-Casablanca with an eye for bittersweet romance, not historical drama. (MCA)