Richard Gere, Winona Ryder

They don't make 'em like they used to, and Autumn in New York proves that maybe it's time to stop trying. A lachrymose romantic drama about a middle-aged Manhattan playboy (Gere) who falls for a fatally ill young woman (Ryder), this movie is a throwback to the melodramatic tearjerkers once regularly churned out by Hollywood. In those films, sickly heroines (played by the likes of Bette Davis in Dark Victory, Margaret Sullavan in Three Comrades or, more recently, Ali MacGraw in Love Story) grew ever more beautiful right up until they expired. But that was before disease-of-the-week TV movies (not to mention documentaries about AIDS and cancer) made it real clear that death be not proud—and it isn't very pretty either. Yet pretty is exactly what the glossy Autumn tries to make it.

Ryder's character, a perky 22-year-old named Charlotte who quotes Emily Dickinson and designs kooky hats, tells Gere's 48-year-old restaurateur early on that she's a goner thanks to a tumor encroaching on her heart. Taking the noble path, he decides—after a few missteps—to stay and becomes the better man for it. The film, though, becomes worse.

As Autumn progresses, moving from one glamorous locale to the next, hokey plot complications (a last-ditch operation could save Charlotte) pile up and the movie grows ever lamer. Director Joan Chen (Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl) shows Manhattan to its best advantage, but she cannot disguise the puniness of Autumn's story or the sad fact that Gere and Ryder, who have both been better elsewhere, lack the chemistry to save it. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Makes winter in Chicago look good

Vincent D'Onofrio, Janeane Garofalo, Jeanne Tripplehorn

Here I'd gotten used to the notion that the ugly '70s were actually-stylish. Now the '60s, once so excitingly chic, are starting to seem ratty. Bummer. Or maybe it's just the cheap production values of this movie about the era's preeminent radical, Abbie Hoffman. The tie-dyed fashions look more tacky than psychedelic. The young dudes who were busy turning on, tuning in and dropping out apparently saved time by gluing on facial hair. We also hear an unusually bad, jowl-flapping impersonation of Nixon denouncing his enemies.

Steal This Movie—the title is a riff on Hoffman's Steal This Book from 1971—follows his career as a subversive rallying against Vietnam, getting arrested at the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968, then spending 1974 to 1980 underground after fleeing cocaine charges. (He died of a barbiturate overdose in 1989 at age 52.) As Hoffman, D'Onofrio looks like a very funky Donny Osmond. Garofalo (as his long-suffering wife) and Tripplehorn (his long-suffering lover in exile) are mere hippie handmaidens. (R)

Bottom Line: Hell no, you shouldn't go

Kim Basinger, Jimmy Smits, Christina Ricci, Rufus Sewell

It's a wonder the devil has any spare time to cause evil given all the movie appearances he has made of late. Satan's most recent engagement (who's this guy's agent, anyway?) is in Bless the Child, a histrionic supernatural thriller that goes where plenty of other equally overwrought, good-vs.-Lucifer movies (including last fall's Stigmata and End of Days) have gone before.

Bless's titular child is 6-year-old Cody (Holliston Coleman), a girl whose special powers include healing an injured bird with the laying-on of her hands and causing votive candles in a church to burst spontaneously into flame. Her aunt (Basinger), who has been taking care of Cody since her birth, wonders what's up. She finds out when the child, a saint in the making, is kidnapped and threatened with death by a Satanic cult.

The movie is most effective when trafficking in such standard shock schlock as a room teeming with ravenous rats, a dark cul-de-sac beset by flying demons and the poor guy who has had both his eyes poked out with knitting needles. These images are supposed to scare you, and they do. But to what end? The movie's thrills are cheap and unearned. The basic plot is such Bible-rattling hocus-pocus that it reeks worse than Linda Blair's bedroom in The Exorcist following her pea-soup purging. Basinger plays her scenes at a fever pitch, as if she didn't trust the script, which may be a reasonable judgment on her part. Smits, after five years as Det. Bobby Simone on TV's NYPD Blue, slides easily into his role as an FBI agent who's aiding Basinger, but he hasn't enough to do. The best acting comes from Holliston, who brings real gravitas to her scenes. (R)

Bottom Line: An unholy mess

Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer, Bernie Mac

D.L. Hughley, a stand-up comic and the creator-star of TV's The Hughleys, is explaining why bungee jumping has not caught on with most African-Americans. "That's too much like lynching for us," he says, shaking his head and adding, "You're going to tie a rope around me and push me off a bridge?"

Hughley's bungee riff is among the better routines in Comedy, a documentary by director Spike Lee that captures a show in Charlotte, N.C., by Hughley, Harvey, Cedric and Mac, comics who have been performing nationwide to enthusiastic, primarily black audiences for the past three years. All four stick to observational humor, much of it revolving around racial differences. A lot of this is funny, but it never gets as wrenchingly deep or dark as Richard Pryor's routines in his classic concert films. (R)

Bottom Line: Laughter reigns

>Hollow Man Empty-headed. A scientist (Kevin Bacon) turns himself invisible and unleashes the killer within. (R)

Nutty Professor II: The Klumps So-so sequel, but Eddie Murphy, playing six different characters, just about steals the movie from himself. (PG-13)

Saving Grace A British widow's effort to save herself from financial ruin by growing marijuana yields a merry, mellow comedy. Stars Brenda Blethyn and Craig Ferguson. (R)

Space Cowboys A blast. Geezer astronauts Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner and Donald Sutherland prove that age has nothing to do with gravity. (PG-13)

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Gliatto.