Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Natascha McElhone, Ed Harris

Featured attraction

Just this once, believe the hype. Or at least 78 percent of it. The Truman Show is a provocative, daring drama, and Carrey, heretofore the Silly Putty-limbed star of such lowbrow joy buzzers as Dumb and Dumber and Liar Liar, pulls off the movie's tricky leading role with aplomb—and without resorting once to his old standby, breaking wind.

The Truman Show's basic premise is that Carrey's character, insurance salesman Truman Burbank, is the star of a live TV show that airs globally 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The whole world is watching, only Carrey doesn't know it. This poor schmo thinks he is just living his life, completely unaware that the scenic Florida island he calls home is really a giant set or that his hopelessly chipper wife (Linney) is really an actor playing a part, as are all his friends, neighbors and coworkers.

Like Madeline's Miss Clavel, Carrey senses that something is not right. Why does he see the exact same people at the exact same time every morning? Why does his wife always extol kitchen products as if they deserved Nobel prizes and hold them up so that the labels show? And why is it raining buckets only on him and nowhere else? As the truth dawns on him, he begins to object to leading an examined life.

The most fascinating aspect of Truman are the mechanics of the TV show itself—how many hidden cameras are needed to record all of Carrey's movements, how troublesome actors are written out, how the weather is manipulated. What all of this means is murkier. Obviously director Peter Weir (Fearless) and writer Andrew Niccol (Gattaca) are sick of everything being co-opted, homogenized and regurgitated by the media. But Truman's point also seems to be that one should live one's own life, not watch other people's on TV. Doesn't this apply to movies as well? (PG)

Bottom Line: Carrey ably carries a fascinating film

Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, Viggo Mortensen

If your subscriptions to Architectural Digest and Vogue have lapsed, A Perfect Murder offers a perfect quick fix. It is a glossy but disappointingly mediocre thriller in which the chic furnishings and glamorous outfits glimpsed onscreen are of far greater interest than the tiresome characters using them.

Douglas, with his hair slicked back and full of sleazeball rich-guy bluster, plays a Wall Street power broker who discovers that his young heiress wife (Paltrow, excessively wan here) is cheating on him with an indigent artist (Mortensen). He offers the guy a cool $500,000 to slay Paltrow, an offer the artist finds tempting. As the plot plays itself out, with predictable motives and secrets revealed, the big questions you'll find yourself pondering have nothing to do with the possible murder but rather with just where one might buy that handsome copper saucepan with which the killer almost brains Paltrow, the name of that subtle shade of gray in her cashmere sweater and just how fabulous is that sleek bathtub faucet, a metal pan from which water cascades like a tiny Niagara Falls.

You'll also find yourself wondering why Paltrow ever wed Douglas in the first place, since he is at least two decades older than she and not a nice guy. (In real life she is 25 and he is 53.) Not that the movie ever bothers to explain. It couldn't have been for his money, since she's due to inherit something like $100 million herself. And, given that she's hitting the sheets regularly with Mortensen, it's doubtful it was for the sex.

A Perfect Murder is based on the 1952 Frederick Knott stage play Dial M for Murder, as was director Alfred Hitchcock's 3-D movie of the same name with Ray Milland and Grace Kelly. That 1954 film is considered only mid-level Hitchcock, a level to which A Perfect Murder, as directed by Andrew Davis (The Fugitive), can only aspire. (R)

Bottom Line: Okay thriller, but great if you're looking for home-decorating ideas

Chris Farley, Matthew Perry

Farley, in his last major role before his death last year at age 33, stays true to form, playing yet another offensive but fundamentally lovable slob. The only novelty about this comedy is that it's a period piece, set in the American wilderness of the early 19th century. Farley, as a tracker who appears never to have bathed in a stream let alone a tub, teams up with Friends star Perry, a silly fop commissioned by President Jefferson to compete against Lewis and Clark in a cross-country expedition to the Pacific Ocean.

Lewis and Clark vs. Felix and Oscar? This is a terrible idea, and it results in a terrible movie. There are a couple of amusingly weird notions, including a frontier brothel in which the women are straw dolls, an anachronistic Spanish conquistador (Kevin Dunn) obsessed with his hair, and a band of Indian warriors so old they have to be carted into battle. But the jokes are all undeveloped, and the performances all uninspired. Go West, young man, but steer clear of Almost Heroes. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Not worth the ride

>BULWORTH Warren Beatty is mad as hell about the American political system, and he's not gonna take it anymore. The result? An incendiary comedy. That may not sound like high praise, but this is the funniest film ever made about campaign-finance reform.

HOPE FLOATS "When a former prom queen (Sandra Bullock, working her tiara off) finds out that her hubby is cheating on her, she heads back home to Mom (Gena Rowlands, wonderful as always) in rural Texas. A cute romantic comedy with heart, humor and lots of eccentric characters.

SLIDING DOORS If you're still wondering what all the fuss is about with Gwyneth Paltrow (and A Perfect Murder—see review—will leave you clueless), check out this bright British romantic comedy. Paltrow will knock your Wellingtons off playing the same character in parallel lives.

THE SPANISH PRISONER Director-writer David Mamet's clever, sassy thriller about a corporate naif (Campbell Scott) caught up in a major con scheme will keep you guessing until the final scene.

>Oliver Piatt

As the son of a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, the Philippines and Zambia, Oliver Piatt learned politics firsthand. But observing his father, Nicholas, a career diplomat who moved his wife and three sons around the world, couldn't prepare Piatt, 38, for his turn as the opportunistic campaign manager in Bulworth. "Diplomats live by the creed 'There's no end to what you can accomplish as long as you don't take the credit,' " says Piatt. "Now it's much more about getting the credit. There's more of an intersection with showbiz."

Make that a head-on collision in Bulworth. When Platt's boss, a senator played by Warren Beatty, has a breakdown and starts speaking the truth, Piatt also transforms himself—from earnest handler to coke-snorting media star. The actor, who also played memorable sidekicks in Indecent Proposal and A Time to Kill, will return June 26 as Eddie Murphy's partner in Dr. Dolittle. A graduate of Tufts, Piatt lives in Manhattan with his wife of six years, homemaker Camilla, and children Lili, 4, and George, 1. Did Piatt ever consider a political career? "No, no, no, no," he says—and if that's not clear, he gives a lounge act leer and adds, "I'm just an entertainer, honey."

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Gliatto,
  • Julie Jordan.