Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton

Midler, Hawn and Keaton play rich Manhattanites of a certain age who are seeking revenge on the husbands who dumped them for younger, dumber girlfriends. The awful thing about this movie is that its stars, three of the best comic actresses in Hollywood, are reduced to bimbos too.

Nothing happens in Wives, directed with coarse obviousness by Hugh Wilson (Police Academy), that cannot be anticipated from your memory of other women's comedies like 9 to 5. This formulaic slickness wouldn't matter if Midler, Hawn and Keaton had each been given a scrap of fresh material. But Keaton just shrieks, and Midler's eyes have a hungry, angry look. She doesn't seem to relish having to play the frump of the group. Hawn, playing an actress losing both her looks and career, comes off best. Her voice has deepened to a husky growl that makes her delivery not only funny but sexy. (PG)

Anna Paquin, Jeff Datiiels

Seventeen years ago director Carroll Ballard and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel teamed up for The Black Stallion, an uncommonly polished family film. They've collaborated again on Fly Away Home, which is about a girl and a flock of Canada geese instead of a boy and a horse. It's even better.

Paquin (The Piano), reunited with her estranged father (Daniels) in rural Ontario after the death of her mother, becomes Mama to a gaggle of goslings made orphans by a destructive construction crew. The hatchlings open their eyes and instinctively follow Paquin wherever she goes. But, wingless, she can't fulfill a mother goose's key role: leading her offspring on their first migratory journey south for the winter. Paquin and Daniels, an amateur pilot, decide to lead an aerial expedition, V-shaped bird formation in tow, to a wildlife sanctuary in North Carolina.

It occurs to me that this girl could have saved a lot of time and effort by packing the geese in ventilated crates and busing them. But then we wouldn't have the movie, with its dazzling photography, Paquin's sweet, unsentimental performance and, of course, the geese. They're adorable when they waddle in the tall grass, and beautiful when they fly. (PG)

Bruce Willis, Christopher Walken, Bruce Bern, Alexandra Powers

Think of this nonstop shootout of a film as Die Hard with a Japanese accent. Adapted by director Walter Hill from Yojimbo, the 1961 masterpiece by Japan's Akira Kurosawa, it has been transposed from a tale of 19th-century samurai to the Prohibition-era U.S. Willis is a gun for hire who drives into a Texas border town controlled by two rival gangs of bootleggers. David Patrick Kelly and Walken, an enforcer given to firing capricious bursts from his tommy gun, head one gang, while Ned Eisenberg and Michael Imperioli are the thugs in charge of the other. Dern walks through his role as the town's crooked sheriff, and Willis is never convincing as a rugged brawler who throws around much larger bad guys. The gunplay is incessant, the skirmishes artless; Hill is hardly Kurosawa. If ever a film offered lots of sound and fury signifying lots of nothing, this is it. (R)

>The Matthaus

A GRUMPY OLD MAN AND HIS KID

THE DIRECTOR WAS A VIRTUAL NEOPHYTE (anyone remember 1988's Doin' Time on Planet Earth?). His star was the famously dyspeptic veteran of 58 movies (including 1993's aptly titled Grumpy Old Men). But last year, on the Wetumpka, Ala., set of The Grass Harp (opening Oct. 11), the two were in perfect harmony. And why not? "We work well together," Charlie Matthau, 33, says of his father, Walter, 75. "He's my best friend."

Matthau père concurs: "He gives you a nice feeling of you're in control. He whispers everything," he says, adding with mock passion, "I just go crazy when someone whispers to me."

In fact the actor admits he got downright weepy reading the script for Harp, which, based on Truman Capote's poignant 1951 novel, casts Matthau as a lonely widower smitten with an eccentric spinster (Piper Laurie). Charlie was eager to hire his dad. The role, he says, exposes "Dad's more romantic and poetic side."

The only child of Walter and his second wife, Carol, and a bit player in his father's films, Charlie says he has wanted to work behind the camera since age 7, when he visited his dad on the set of 1973's Charley Varrick and thought its director "had the best job in the world." Directing Harp turned out to be no picnic. Though hampered by a relatively small budget of $9 million, Charlie managed to guide the ensemble cast—including old family friend Jack Lemmon—with aplomb. That his son succeeded is no surprise to Dad. "He knows much more about things than I do," Walter says. "We play Jeopardy!, and he just slaughters me."

  • Contributors:
  • Tom Gliatto,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • E.X. Feeney.