Gene Hackman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Hugh Grant, David Morse

Clever, creepily involving and shrewdly paced, this movie is one director (Hitchcock) and one actor (anyone but the fatuous Hugh Grant) away from being a classic medical mystery chiller. Grant is as frothy as ever, even though he's playing a Manhattan emergency room physician who becomes intrigued when a homeless patient exhibits wildly extravagant meningitis-like symptoms before dying. Parker, a nurse, helps him uncover what is basically a Frankenstein plot, with Hackman as the world's most understated mad scientist.

Director Michael Apted exploits the claustrophobia and menace of New York City's subways to good effect, and screenwriter Tony Gilroy (adapting Michael Palmer's novel) serves up some nice twists, so the film never runs out of energy. Sensitive stomachs may rumble at the graphic emergency room scenes, and you'll wish it were Cary Grant, not Hugh, in the lead role, but your attention won't wander. (R)

Jean-Claude Van Damme, Natasha Henstridge

Hard-core martial arts fans can rejoice. They're sure to get their kicks from this latest vehicle for Van Damme, who—as agile and sturdy as a good pro running back—remains ' the most convincing of modern action heroes. But what makes this a superlative film of its type is an array of unexpected pleasures. One of them isn't wit, since screenwriter Larry Ferguson isn't strong on humor.

The film's assets, however, do include Henstridge, the feline beauty from Species. She engagingly plays a Brooklyn club hostess who becomes involved with Van Damme, a retired soldier who moves to the U.S. from France. Henstridge not only is a first-class femme fatale, but she can act enough to generate suspense and a bit of romantic chemistry with Jean-Claude when he isn't busy busting bad guys' chops. (R)

Edward James Olmos, Maria Conchita Alonso, Arie Verveen, Steven Schub

Years ago young actors were routinely referred to as Brando-esque if they exuded sweaty sex appeal and mumbled inarticulately while still managing to seem desperately sensitive. It's an adjective that has long since fallen by the wayside. But it deserves resurrection to describe Arie Verveen, the Irish actor who makes a spine-straightening impression in Caught, a searing little melodrama about love and lust among fish-store workers.

He plays a homeless man who, after stumbling into a New Jersey fish shop run by a longtime married couple (Olmos and Alonso), takes a job there and moves into a spare bedroom. Soon, Olmos is happily pronouncing Verveen a "born fish man" and treating him like a son, while Alonso is casting lustful looks at the boarder. When the couple's real son (Schub) shows up, it doesn't take him long to figure out that the interloper in his old bedroom is also canoodling his mother. Schub, an unstable sort, seeks revenge. Caught plays better than its lurid plot sounds, mostly because the actors all so fervently believe in their common-folk roles, because its forthright sex scenes really steam and because director Robert M. Young (Dominick and Eugene) uses a no-frills approach that underplays the essential soapiness of the story. (R)

Halle Berry, Christopher McDonald

Sometimes the audience watching a movie is itself more entertaining than what's onscreen. That was certainly the case with this spindly woman-in-distress thriller. The movie, lousy though it is, sure got the audience hollering.

Berry, playing the titular spouse, finds herself implicated in the murder of her husband (McDonald) after he is gunned down by a hopped-up psychopath (Peter Greene). "She's so skinny!" grumbled a woman as Berry sashayed about in a skimpy dress. "What's with the toe ring?" One suspects that Berry, decent in past supporting roles, wanted a shot at carrying a big picture. Bad call. Rich Man isn't worth shouldering. (R)

>Tuesday Weld

CALENDAR GIRL

"I NEVER THINK ABOUT ANYBODY WHEN I'm writing, but I thought about her when I was writing this," says writer-director Steven Baigelman of actress Tuesday Weld. "For me, there is a certain sadness in her performances." All of which helps explain how Weld, now 53, ended up in the modest role of Keanu Reeves's world-weary mother in Feeling Minnesota, Baigelman's black family comedy, which opened Sept. 13.

World-weariness is something Weld should know about. The New York City-born actress (née Susan Ker Weld) first turned heads as a 3-year-old child model, had a nervous breakdown at 9 and attempted suicide at 12. She was 16 when she played Thalia Menninger, the sexiest of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, a TV role that might have helped typecast her in B-movies like Sex Kittens Go to College (1960). Eventually, Weld hit her stride in Pretty Poison, a 1968 cult classic in which she played a psychotic teen opposite Anthony Perkins.

What followed, however, were often noteworthy performances in offbeat films, punctuated by long hiatuses from the screen. During one, in 1985, she wed her third husband, violinist Pinchas Zukerman, with whom she lives in Santa Fe and Manhattan. But though she hasn't been seen since 1993's Falling Down, in which she played Robert Duvall's frumpy wife, Weld still bedazzled cast and crew on Minnesota's Twin Cities set. "We were all tripping over ourselves," admits Baigelman, 36, who didn't even mind when the actress played hard to get for a costume fitting. "It was so cool," he says. "She was like an old-time movie star."

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Michael Haederle.