The what's-a-nice-actor-like-you-doing-in-a-film-like-this? award to: George Carlin, a great comedian reduced to a feeble prop in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey; Beverly D'Angelo, dealing gracefully with The Miracle's, incestuous impulses; Howard Morris, the venerable veteran of TV's Your Show of Shows, in a hopeless role as a homeless man in Life Stinks; Joe Morton, looking bewildered amid the mayhem of Terminator 2; Anthony Quinn, acting like a man while the boys play dress-up in Mobsters. Nobody-Emerges-Unscathed-Annex: Hudson Hawk and Problem Child 2.

Charlie Sheen, Valeria Golino

You have to go back to The Naked Gun 2 l/2 to find a satirical movie comedy this funny. True, Naked Gun 2½ only showed up a few weeks ago, but why quibble?

Loosely structured as a parody of Top Gun, the plot has Sheen as an ace fighter pilot, Golino (Rain Man) as a shrink, Cary Elwes as the squadron straight arrow and Lloyd Bridges as officer in command of a mission vaguely related to war in the Middle East.

Plot isn't an issue though. This is stream-of-consciousness humor—the only good sequitur is a non sequitur:

•Sheen is first discovered living on an Indian reservation, and the local medicine man makes him a present of a leather jacket, noting, "Dances with Bikers got this for you."

•Jon Cryer is a pilot who can't understand how he got the nickname Wash Out, even though being walleyed tends to affect his flying ability.

•Out of nowhere, Golino asks Sheen, "What do you do with an elephant with three balls?" When he doesn't know, she tells him, "Walk him and pitch to the rhino."

•In a fantasy reverie where Golino and Sheen do romantic bits from famous movies, Sheen shows up in a Supermanlike outfit, complete with standard-issue Christopher Reeve spit curl. There's also a marvelous parody of the sadomasochistic eating scene from 9½ Weeks, with Sheen stuffing a whole pizza into Golino's mouth.

•As the closing credits roll, various jokes are interspersed, including a list of things to do after the movie, such as "start a story hour at the local library."

Sheen looks a little like Tom Cruise, is amusingly earnest and is the only actor who has a personal makeup man listed in the credits, though Golino still comes off prettier. She's a charming comedian too, and her deadpan style mixes effectively with Sheen and Bridges's broad, slapstick approach.

Now for the tough part, explaining the movie's pedigree.

It was directed by Jim Abrahams, sometime directing partner of David Zucker, who did The Naked Gun 2½. It was cowritten by Pat Proft, who also cowrote Naked Gun 2½. Abrahams, Proft and David Zucker used to work with Jerry Zucker, who not only had nothing to do with Naked Gun 2½ but also has nothing to do with Hot Shots!

Next: how Rocky Bridges is related to Lloyd, Jeff and Beau. (PG-13)

William Hurt, Christine Lahti

Cleanly presented, with a minimum of ornamentation, this is a message drama that gets its message across. Of course, it helps that there's nearly a universal belief in that message: The American medical system is too mechanistic, too insensitive to the emotional needs of its patients.

Director Randa (Children of a Lesser God) Haines sets up the premise in an unobtrusive yet pointed opening sequence. While Hurt, a San Francisco heart surgeon, is performing a delicate operation, he and his surgical team are singing old Top 40 tunes and telling lawyer-trashing jokes. He might as well be replacing a broken-down transmission as repairing a human heart.

The possibility that doctors must remain distanced to face death doesn't escape Haines or writer Robert Caswell, adapting a memoir by Portland, Oreg., physician Edward Rosenbaum. If he were dying and needed a surgeon, Hurt tells a colleague, "I'd rather you cut straighter and care less."

But when Hurt learns he has a tumor on his larynx, he goes through a dehumanizing series of encounters with the health care system: hours in waiting rooms, repetitive forms, unnecessary delays in processing routine tests that have life or death importance to him, doctors who display the compassion of vending machines.

The resultant wholesale enlightenment he experiences smacks of Epiphanies-R-Us simplemindedness. There's also a lot of palming off of blame. "The system stinks," Hurt says in explaining one tragic mistake. "The insurance companies tell us what tests we can and can't give."

But Hurt is such a masterly subtle actor that he makes most of his transformation convincing, and he is aided by a difficult, quietly moving performance by Lahti as his alienated wife, whom Hurt has treated with little more emotion than he has his patients. Elizabeth Perkins is affecting too, even though it's not always easy to take her deus ex machina role as the brain tumor patient who converts Hurt from an automaton to a medical Care Bear.

For those of us who have ever had a grievance against the medical establishment—you other two can just go see Terminator 2 again—there's some revenge catharsis in this film's see-how-you-like-it attitude. But in another way the movie is about the less vindictive, more trying matter of confronting death, and it approaches that subject with unusual dignity and intelligence. (PG-13)


ROBERT DE NIRO IS a man who has been comatose for 30 years. Robin Williams is the doctor who revives him. Penny Marshall directs the adaptation of a real New York City case, which is tasteful except for hokey romantic subplots—Julie Kavner with Williams, Penelope Ann Miller with De Niro. The story is irresistibly moving; Williams, obsessive and edgy, and De Niro, marvelously expressing the joy of simply being aware of the world, are state of the acting art. (RCA/Columbia)