Picks and Pans Main: Screen
The characters in this week's movies want things done their way; damn the consequences. In the action thriller Red Heat, Soviet cop Arnold Schwarzenegger takes the same approach to litterbugs as to killers: "Shoot them." In the drama A World Apart, South African journalist Barbara Hershey lets her battle against apartheid blind her to the needs of her three children. In the sports comedy Bull Durham, Southern belle Susan Sarandon demands that baseball and sex be played by a strict set of rules: hers.
In this mindless but potently entertaining buddy picture, the battle of wills between Jim Belushi, as a slob of a Chicago detective, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as a brick wall, begins early. Arnold is a mulish Soviet police captain from Moscow, on assignment in the Windy City to extradite an escaped Soviet drug dealer, who drops his sculpted jaw when Belushi asserts the superiority of his U.S. weapon, a .44 Magnum: "Why else do you think Dirty Harry uses it?" Arnold muses on that one for a long moment. "Who," he finally asks, "is Dirty Harry?" And so it goes. You know the drill—a murder, a buddy gag, a double murder, another buddy gag, a triple murder...Director Walter Hill fashioned a sizable hit out of this same simplistic pattern in 1982's 48 Hrs., with Nick Nolte as the weary, taciturn cop and Eddie Murphy as his fast-talking foil. Belushi fills in for Murphy, making racist cracks, rolling his eyes and running around frantically to give the impression that his stolid partner is in motion. Schwarzenegger has never been so mountainously immovable or uttered fewer intelligible syllables. But good sport Arnold goes along with the rest. At first Belushi resents tagging along with a jumbo Commie he refers to as "Gumby." But the two soon find a common bond: a penchant for ignoring police procedure. They roust baddies, blow away a murderous male transvestite and finish big with a bus crash spectacularly staged by stunt coordinator Bennie Dobbins, who died suddenly before shooting was completed. Before Arnold boards the jet for home, he and Belushi have achieved their own form of glasnost. "It's okay to say we like each other," says Arnold in what may be the longest burst of speech in his film career to date. It's also okay—assuming you have a tolerance for screen violence—to like this movie. This is hard action delivered with humor and flair. Schwarzenegger and Belushi prove they can crack heads and jokes with the best of them. (R)
A WORLD APART
Her unshakable campaign against apartheid consumes a South African activist-reporter played by Barbara (Hannah and Her Sisters) Hershey. Screenwriter Shawn Slovo, now 38, based the character on her own mother, Ruth First, a journalist who was picked up by Johannesburg police in 1963 for her criticism of South Africa's racist regime. (First was later held under house arrest, imprisoned, and in 1982, in exile in Mozambique, was assassinated in a parcel-bomb attack.) Slovo's Communist father, Joseph, had earlier fled to London, where his family joined him in 1964. Shawn Slovo tells her story with the invaluable help of first-time director Chris Menges (the cinematographer of The Killing Fields and The Mission). They give the tragic events of this tumultuous period a vivid, shocking immediacy. Slovo is played in the film by Jodhi May, a remarkable 13-year-old newcomer. The scenes are entirely filtered through this young girl's limited perspective. The wrenching story that emerges is one of a child, resentful that her mother has neglected her for a cause that the daughter can barely comprehend. May only begins to understand the consequences of her parents' actions when they are made public and she is derided at school. The family's black maid, beautifully acted by Linda Mvusi, offers support to May and her two younger sisters. But the child, unable to dissuade her mother from her fierce commitment, can only watch helplessly as her family life is shattered. Like Cry Freedom, the Richard Attenborough film that told the story of black activist Steve Biko through the eyes of a white journalist, A World Apart can be faulted for reversing its priorities. But Slovo insists she took on the film after First's assassination "to come to terms with the issues between my mother and myself." This is high-powered human drama, stunningly acted by Hershey, May and Mvusi, who last month split the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival three ways. You're in for a heartbreaker. (PG)
Susan Sarandon, playing an English teacher who sports knockout legs and a Southern drawl, insists on educating her men. She reads them Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. If the men are pigheaded about paying attention, she handcuffs them to her bed. "A guy will listen to anything if he thinks it's fore-play," she says. Surprise. This is a baseball movie. In fact, the sexiest, sassiest, savviest baseball movie ever. Why savvy? Because you don't have to like baseball to like the movie. Sarandon, erotic and comically endearing, has never been better. Each spring she picks one—and only one—new player for the Durham Bulls, a North Carolina minor-league team, to sleep with for the season. This year she's eyeing a brash young pitcher, played by flamboyantly funny Tim (Five Corners) Robbins. The pitcher, a teammate says, has "a million-dollar arm and a five-cent head"; he refers to Sarandon's favorite chanteuse, Edith Piaf, as "that crazy Mexican singer." Mr. Wham-bam clearly needs Sarandon's remedial program in literature and lovemaking. But there's another contender, Kevin Costner, playing a veteran catcher who's lost his shot at the majors. Costner smolders with sex appeal and smarts. But Robbins has what he doesn't: a future in baseball. Costner, trying to convince Sarandon he's her man, is as stubborn about what he wants as she is. "I believe in the small of a woman's back, the hangin' curveball, high fiber, good Scotch," he says, "and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last for three days." A stick as Eliot Ness in The Untouchables, Costner is a wow here, plumbing the unexpected depths of a player who knows he's through. Sarandon is impressed. You will be too. Screenwriter Ron (Under Fire) Shelton, in his debut as a director, rarely balks. His script's authentic ring reflects his five years as a second baseman in the Baltimore Orioles' farm system. Take yourself out to this ball game. Bull Durham loads its bases with laughter, romance and tears and hits the ball right out of the park. (R)