updated 07/13/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/13/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

You are staring down the barrel of a Viet Cong sniper's AK-47, its sight trained on an American Marine. You can almost feel, as well as hear, the satisfying click of the trigger and the gentle explosion as the round is fired. You see the bullet hit, the blood spurt. It's only later you realize that against loyalty and intellect, against all your senses, you have been seduced into empathy with the sniper—not with the politics of the person behind the weapon, or with the character, but empathy with the act of killing. The allure killing has for a lot of people—most of us, maybe, in varying ways—has been powerfully evoked in a stunning, upsetting, indelible film. Director Stanley Kubrick has long been a master of probing the dark corners of the human mind. Think of A Clockwork Orange, Dr. Strangelove, Paths of Glory. The setting for most of this film is Vietnam, 1968, but this is certainly not a "Vietnam movie" in the way Platoon was. This film uses the war; it doesn't attempt to explain it. As a Marine patrol moves through the wreckage of Hue during the 1968 Tet offensive, fires rage everywhere—somebody obviously remembered the Vietnam vet saying, "When I die, I know I'm going to heaven, because I've served my time in hell." An officer asks a sergeant, Matthew (Birdy) Modine, why he has both a peace symbol pinned to his flak jacket and the words "Born to kill" scrawled on his helmet. "I think," Modine says after reflecting, "I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man." It is through Modine, indeed, that Kubrick seems to explore that duality. The first third of the movie, set in Marine boot camp at Parris Island, seems to be about the therapeutic value of violence. (Lee Ermey, who was a real-life DI, gives a drill-instructor performance to rival Lou Gossett's in An Officer and a Gentleman or Jack Webb's in 1957's The DI.) Modine remains above the skirmishing most of the time, a literate, humane young man whose attitude toward the Marines seems dilettantish. Yet when he gets to Vietnam, he becomes swept up in the rush of war; he seems to hate the dying, yet love the killing. Don't expect to be lectured: Kubrick engages the intellect much more subtly. There is succinct, economical writing—by Kubrick, Michael Herr (a Vietnam correspondent and author of the acclaimed Dispatches) and Marine vet Gustav Hasford. There is an almost unbroken succession of arresting images. And there is an impeccable cast, headed by Modine, who makes his blood lust seem all the more hateful because he obviously knows better. Adam (Ordinary People) Baldwin, as a grunt who has forgotten everything but how to fight, and newcomer Vincent D'Onofrio, as a struggling recruit who is both borderline retarded and overweight, are both powerful too. Behind it all is Kubrick, whose genius, and perhaps burden, is to see the insanity in us all and to make it seem so terrifyingly normal. (R)

Mel Brooks is a gutbuster. As actor, writer, director, producer, he's not interested in making an audience grin or titter. Brooks wants hoots, hollers, horselaughs. His method is basic: If one gag strikes you as loud, vulgar and juvenile, he'll quickly bash out another—this one even louder, more vulgar, more juvenile. He is not for every taste. But those who sneer at anything less than Woody Allen sophistication may be missing the biting satirist beneath Brooks's clownish facade. This low-comic whack at the high-tech Star Wars trilogy is a nonstop assault on Hollywood as a huckster's paradise. Brooks co-wrote the film with Thomas Meehan and Ronny Graham. They borrow most of their characters from the George Lucas films, the commercialization of which has been one of the biggest triumphs in exploitation since P.T Barnum stopped giving the suckers an even break. Bill (Ruthless People) Pullman plays Lone Starr, a space cowboy who travels with a half-dog, half-man companion called Barf (John Candy). Before Lone Starr can win the love of his "Druish" princess (Daphne Zuniga), he must bypass her chaperon, Dot Matrix (a robot with the voice of Joan Rivers), a pepperoni-and-mozzarella-dripping monster called Pizza the Hut (Dom De Luise) and the evil but nerdy Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis). Luckily, Lone is not alone. A wiseass midget named Yogurt, played by Brooks himself, tells him the secret of the universe or "where the real money is made." Yogurt puts the name Spaceballs on everything from toilet paper to a rocket video and stops the picture continually to hawk his wares. True, Star Wars consumerism has been satirized before, but rarely better. Even the spaceships are constructed out of giant hair dryers and vacuum cleaners. Spaceballs doesn't bubble along continuously with the invention and wit of Brooks's best films (The Producers, Young Frankenstein). The love story is limp beyond the point of lampoon, and Brooks has a tendency to repeat himself when he runs out of inspiration. Yogurt's oft-heard cry of "May the Schwartz Be With You" isn't really that funny the first time. But there are moments in Spaceballs that are vintage Brooks: rude, raunchy and yes, Mel, laugh-out-loud funny. (PG)

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