Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Heather Graham

Bigger doesn't always mean better. Even in a movie about a porn star. Yes, it is the good fortune of the hero of Boogie Nights, an audacious film about the rise and fall of a young porno movie hunk (Wahlberg, formerly rapper Marky Mark), to be particularly well-endowed. ("Everyone's blessed with one special thing," he says modestly.) But less noteworthy is the film's self-indulgent running time of 155 minutes.

Although admirably ambitious and visually dazzling, Boogie Nights winds up undercutting its own dramatic impact with scenes that go on long after making their point, a noticeably weaker second half and an extended cocaine heist sequence late in the movie that is merely an annoying exercise in flashy, hey-look-at-me filmmaking.

That said, Boogie Nights is still of far greater interest than most of the formulaic swill turned out by the big Hollywood studios today. Set between 1977 and 1984, the movie follows the adventures of its skin-trade Candide, a 17-year-old busboy in a Los Angeles nightclub who is discovered there by a porno filmmaker (Reynolds, slyly effective). Soon, Wahlberg joins Reynolds's extended family of actors and hangers-on, adopts the name Dirk Diggler and begins making pots of money and buying fancy duds and grooving on the dance floor like Saturday Night Fever's Tony Manero. With success, he becomes—excuse the expression—too big for his britches, and trouble follows, including drugs and a career-threatening inability to get, uh, excited.

There are eloquent, energetic performances here by a talented ensemble cast, with the standouts being an earnest if dim-witted Wahlberg and a maternal Moore, who portrays a self-destructive porn star. Director-writer Paul Thomas Anderson's storytelling abilities have yet to catch up with his virtuoso camera work, but Boogie Nights clearly vaults the now 27-year-old wunderkind, whose only previous feature is the gritty Hard Eight, into the ranks of hotshot directors. (R)

Kate Capshaw, Jeremy Davies, Vince Vaughn, Ashley Judd, Paul Rudd

English-lit teachers are going to love The Locusts. It stinks with symbolism, providing grist for a week's worth of lectures. Take the movie's attractive, 40ish widow (Capshaw), who owns a dusty cattle feedlot in rural Kansas. Named Delilah, she's as fond of shears as her biblical namesake, only she uses them to castrate the bulls on her ranch and, metaphorically, her now dead husband (a suicide) and emotionally fragile son (Davies). Into her spider's web (yep, we see that image onscreen too) trots a handsome stranger (Vaughn), a sweaty stud muffin given to wearing grungy undershirts. She gives him a job and invites him into her bed, an offer he declines. Revenge will be hers.

As overwritten and overdirected by first-time filmmaker John Patrick Kelley, this feverish melodrama plays like bad Tennessee Williams crossed with bad William Inge, and not just because the movie is set during the early '60s. All the actors, a good group, are in there pitching, but only Judd, playing a refreshingly uncoy sexpot, comes off with her dignity fully intact. (R)

Parker Posey, Tori Spelling

Posey has a cool, unusual allure: She may be only 28, but her pale, brittle beauty, flinty jawline and dazzling yet joyless smile are worthy of the most world-weary courtesan. Here she plays an insane young woman who, ever since her father vanished on the night of JFK's assassination, fancies herself the President's widow. I enjoyed seeing Posey in Jackie's pink wool suit and pillbox hat.

Otherwise, The House of Yes is one of the year's worst movies, a tacky, witless black comedy that conflates the houses of Camelot and Usher. One stormy Thanksgiving evening, Posey's brother (Josh Hamilton) unexpectedly brings home his fiancée (Spelling, as tremulously awkward as Bambi on the ice). Given the siblings' history of incest, this unwelcome addition to the family causes Posey to lose her mind altogether. The question is whether, as in Dallas, someone will lose his life as well. Total yuck. (R)

>Bart the Bear

STATE OF BRUIN

YOU COULD CALL HIM THE 800-pound gorilla of American movies, but you'd be 680 pounds short. Now playing one ornery ursine alongside Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin in the thriller The Edge, Bart the Bear is an actor who doesn't have to call his lawyers to get his way. "In close quarters he can be pretty frightening," says Hopkins. "You know that he is capable of killing you. No one except the trainer had close contact with Bart—otherwise, you're dead." At 20, Bart is a grizzled veteran, having worked since he was a cub on the '70s TV show The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams and in such films as The Clan of the Cave Bear, The Bear and, also with Hopkins, in Legends of the Fall. Bart's earnings—reportedly $10,000 a day—help support the Vital Ground Foundation, which protects grizzlies.

For attack scenes, says Bart's trainer Doug Seus, 56, "I teach Bart to open his mouth wider and wider, and we give him pears to cause salivation." Roaring is bad form (it would mean the animal is really angry), so bloodcurdling sounds are dubbed in later. Bart, who has died seven times onscreen, will likely live another decade or so. "It's going to be tough when he's gone," says Seus, who lives with his wife, Lynne, in Heber City, Utah. "He's a member of the family."

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Gliatto,
  • Cathy Free.