No cheery ho-ho-ho from Hollywood this holiday season

December 05, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

Call me Grinch.

Ho-ho-ho! Guess what we've got for you under the tree for holiday movies, boys and girls? Oh-ho-ho! Open your eyes and your ears, and cuddle closer, while I tell you what's coming: Genocide! Race war! The murders of Supreme Court justices! Atrocities in the 'Nam! Gunfights in the dust of Arizona! An architect who can't choose between his beautiful wife and his beautiful mistress!

And, even worse than that: Grumpy old men!

In the next three weeks, Hollywood unspools its big Christmas moneymakers and is offering very little in the human kindness department. It's a curiously violent batch of films, given the season, featuring but four comedies and almost no "family" pictures; the rest is mayhem of one sort or another. (Please note that some big films, such as Jonathan Demme's "Philadelphia," will get their big national premieres in December but won't show up on your screen until January.)

Friday

The shooting starts with the ultra-macho "Geronimo: An American Legend." Perhaps conceived as an antidote to the Indians-as-eco-hippies motif of "Dances With Wolves," this film, created by two of Hollywood's most testosterone-soaked hombres, John ("The Wind and the Lion") Milius and Walter ("48 Hrs.") Hill, appears to celebrate the warrior spirit of the Apache bad boy who drove the entire Southwest crackers in the 1880s. Neither Milius (who wrote) nor Hill (who directed) has had a hit in years. Maybe their day is past, or maybe this is it, at last. The great Native-American actor Wes Studi, who played the cunning and evil Magua in "Last of the Mohicans," plays the Indian guerrilla, and Jason Patric and Robert Duvall are among his pursuers.

The other two openers Friday at least give some respite from the bloodshed and whizzing lead. They are both comedy sequels, "Sister Act II: Back in the Habit" and "Wayne's World 2." Whoopi Goldberg, of course, is back, and from the previews this one looks like "To Sister, With Love," a rip-off of the Sidney Poitier classic of 1967, "To Sir, With Love." Goldberg's "Sister" Deloris is this time assigned to turn a class of delinquents around. Kathy Najimy and Maggie Smith also reappear.

"Wayne's World 2" was put together hurriedly after Hurricane Ego swept through the pre-production process and briefly separated key players Dana Carvey and Mike Myers, but now they've hurled and made up. It also lacks the original director, Penelope Spheeris, who was off bubbling up crude with Jim Varney's Jed Clampett. This edition was directed by unknown Stephen Surjik.

Dec. 15

Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List" will open in the big towns with one of those "special" mid-week treatments on Dec. 15, but its Baltimore date hasn't been set yet; Universal says it will get here before the first of the year. This one isn't exactly a dance of sugarplums. Three hours of angst photographed in remorseless black and white, it is derived from the Thomas Keneally novel about a German businessman who attempts to save Jews from Hitler. Liam Neeson stars, along with Ben Kingsley. Early reports are that it is brilliant but very, very difficult, particularly with shattering scenes of a Nazi execution team at work.

Dec. 17

"Beethoven's 2nd" makes a stab at goading a little laughter from dazed and confused Christmas audiences. Charles Grodin repeats as the repressed ninny of a suburban dad whose life is in a continual state of upheaval because of a gigantic, slobbering St. Bernard, named after the composer. This time, Beethoven is also a dad. Puppies everywhere! The chewed-slipper budget was reportedly enormous.

The violence is taken care of, however, by "The Pelican Brief," based on John Grisham's best seller about a law student (Julia Roberts) who stumbles onto the answer to a plot that has killed two Supreme Court justices. In fear for her life, she runs to an investigative reporter for the Washington Post (Denzel Washington). Alan J. Pakula, who also adapted and directed "Sophie's Choice" and "Presumed Innocent" for the screen, is the big name behind this one, and in my book that's bad news: Both those films were somehow subtly derailed as they made the delicate transition from words to images.

Dec. 22

Also mid-week, the Charles opens Chen Kaige's "Farewell My Concubine," an epic "history" of China in the 20th century as reflected in the relationship between two men and a woman who are performers in the Peking Opera.

The film stars Zhang Fengyi, Leslie Cheung and Gong Li and won the Best Film accolade at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

Dec. 25

On Christmas Day, which falls on a Saturday this year, things really heat up, but in a most curious way. Warner Bros., for example, has chosen this day to go with "Heaven and Earth," Oliver Stone's vivid but punishing story of one Vietnamese woman's journey through two wars -- the French try in 1954 and our sequel in the '60s -- to an uneasy peace in Southern California, married to an abusive ex-Marine.

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