David Duchovny, Timothy Hutton

The hero (Duchovny) or, more accurately, antihero of Playing God is a handy guy to have around in medical emergencies. Three times during this dippy movie, he performs life-saving surgeries in nontraditional settings: on a bar top, in a hotel room and finally on a pool table. Some men won't settle for simply getting the eight ball in the side pocket.

Playing God, a black comedy-thriller that is never as smart or hip as it thinks it is, tells how Duchovny, a surgeon who has lost his medical license because of drug use, beats his addictions and redeems himself. Instead of community service, his path to redemption involves hooking up with a mobster (Hutton) and attending to the bloody wounds of Hutton's crew. Add to the mix a woman (Angelina Jolie) for whom both Duchovny and Hutton have the hots and an FBI agent eager to nail Hutton and you have the strained makings of God's puny plot.

Duchovny, the thinking woman's hunk on TV's The X-Files, offers a respectable if slightly goofy performance, while Hutton is amusingly over-the-top, as if he had been boning up on Dennis Hopper's and Nicolas Cage's work. (R)

Brad Renfro, Kevin Bacon, Calista Flockhart, Paul Dooley

His lips curled in a permanent sneer, his hair slicked back in an Elvis pompadour and wearing threads only Liberace would consider subdued, Bacon is the pluperfect picture of hustler cool, early '60s style. Spinning records and supervising sock hops at a Cleveland radio station while living high on payola cash, his morally malleable deejay in Telling Lies in America epitomizes everything the movie's teenage Hungarian-immigrant protagonist (Renfro) thinks he wants to be.

How the youth, after being hired as Bacon's assistant, learns different is at the heart of this surprisingly sweet coming-of-age story. Surprisingly because this modest movie is based on a semiautobiographical script, albeit one written more than a decade ago, by the swaggering Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct and Showgirls). As directed by Guy Ferland (The Babysitter), Lies is best at capturing a specific place and time (Cleveland during the pre-Beatles '60s) and in showcasing Bacon, who is truly terrific. (PG-13)

James Belushi, Tupac Shakur, James Earl Jones, Dennis Quaid

It's impolite to speak ill of the dead, so the less said about this last film by the late Shakur, the better. Suffice it to say that the rapper-actor comes off better than the movie, an implausible drama in which Belushi, blaringly loutish, and Shakur play corrupt cops who rob and murder drug dealers, one of whom turns out to have been an undercover DEA agent. Oops. As the two scramble to cover their tracks, things go from dumb to even dopier. Ditto for director-writer Jim Kouf's screenplay, which relies heavily on dubious coincidences. What Jones and Quaid are doing in this rotting compost heap is best left for them to ask their agents. (R)

Keenen Ivory Wayans, Jill Hennessy

Talk show host Wayans is in action-hero mode here—and one mighty glum guy. With good reason. In Most Wanted, he plays a Marine falsely fingered as the triggerman when the First Lady is assassinated. He must avoid capture while simultaneously exposing the real bad guys, a military bigwig (Jon Voight, spitting nails) and a billionaire (Robert Culp). All of which means lots of chases, explosions and jumps off roofs. Wanted won't be found wanting by action fans, but neither is it ever more than routine. (R)

Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino

When Pacino kicks into comic overdrive in The Devil's Advocate, this dismal mess suddenly snaps to life. Playing a devilishly powerful Manhattan attorney with strong ties to the underworld—and we're not talking the Mafia—Pacino cajoles, jive talks and even sings as he makes a last ditch pitch to win a protégé (Reeves, stilted as ever) over to the dark side. This rant is pure Pacino and darn funny. Unfortunately, Pacino's pyrotechnics come too near the movie's end, long after one's patience with Advocate, a misguided attempt to cross a supernatural horror film with a legal thriller, has worn thin.

Reeves, our hero, plays a successful, happily married Florida trial attorney whom Pacino entices into coming to the Big Apple by offering him a high-paying job and a swank apartment. But before you can say Rosemary's Baby, Reeves's wife (Charlize Theron) is having scary visions and sporting bloody scratch marks. Is there something wrong with this picture? Yes, in every sense. Advocate, directed with no appreciable style by Taylor Hack-ford (Dolores Claiborne), at least proves that one can't mix and match the styles of Stephen King and John Grisham. (R)

Martha Plimpton, Kevin Anderson

A disturbing film about a lonely woman (Plimpton) who rushes into marriage with a born-again ex-con (Anderson), Eye of God uses a fractured structure to unveil its tragic story. The film opens with cops finding a blood-covered, teenage boy walking dazedly in the woods. Moving about in time, Eye tells us what he saw and how his life became intertwined with those of Plimpton and Anderson in a small Oklahoma town. In this well-acted film, first-time director-writer Tim Blake Nelson raises questions of faith, God's existence and human behavior, some of which he answers but many of which he purposefully leaves open. (R)

>Filmmaker Errol Morris

CONTROL FREAK

FOURTH FLOOR PRODUCTIONS, ON THE fifth floor of an office building in Cambridge, Mass., is home to a freeze-dried rat perched on a Macintosh, a spider monkey skeleton posed among sepia portraits of its owner's relatives, and an infrared photo of a giant elephant topiary from Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, the new documentary from filmmaker Errol Morris, 49. The decor in the director's office, which has never been on the fourth floor, reflects his work philosophy: "If you just keep your eyes open, you can find the most extraordinary stories in the most ordinary places."

In Fast, Cheap, Morris gives voice to four men obsessed with their work: a lion tamer, a topiary gardener, a mole rat expert and an MIT robotics scientist. But the film is not your typical news-style documentary—Morris describes his style as "an excursion into a dreamscape, a private world."

The director, who lives with wife Julia Sheehan, 47, an art historian turned film producer, and son Hamilton, 10, may be more obsessive than his subjects. In 20 years he has eked out only five of his trademark truth-is-stranger-than-fiction films, including A Brief History of Time (1992), about physicist Stephen Hawking, and The Thin Blue Line (1988), which helped free a man wrongly convicted of murder. His output seems slow by Hollywood standards, but he raises the $1.5 to $2 million budgets from his own funds and from investors. His next subject is a Maiden, Mass., man who repairs electric chairs. Expect the unexpected: "I don't make movies according to anyone else's idea of what a movie should be," Morris says.

  • Contributors:
  • Mark Dagostino.