Spring's crop of films is mostly adult fare Of age: In the next few weeks movies with grown-up stars like John Malkovich, Robert Redford, Liam Neeson and Steve Martin dominate. Only one features a young friend from 'Friends.'

February 18, 1996|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

It's been said before (by me) and it will be said again (probably by me): In the cycle of the American film industry, two months plus a few days belong to the kids, the two months being December (from Thanksgiving, say, till Christmas) and June (from, say, May 15 through July 4). But those two months pay for the other 10 months, so perhaps we grown-ups should not begrudge them their fun.

That also means that down-seasons, like early fall and late spring, belong to us, more or less, which is why in the next few weeks movies with John Malkovich, Robert Redford, Liam Neeson and Steve Martin dominate the film fare, rather than the 18-to-25-year-old mod squadders so beloved by our unruly children. There's only one film starring someone from "Friends." Rejoice.

Here's a look at the schedule as it now stands, offered with the proviso that such documents must be considered fluid as if written in Jell-O, not stable as if written in stone.

Feb. 23

Next Friday, the world's most popular movie star, Jackie Chan, ++ gets a shot at conquering the American audience. His "Rumble in the Bronx" opens, programmed to showcase the tough Asian's extraordinary stunt and martial arts skills, his raw courage and invulnerability to pain, as well as his charming and extremely likable persona. Will Chan become as big in America as he is in Asia? If he makes it only halfway, he's succeeded.

Then there's the troubled "Mary Reilly," which has been in editing a suspiciously long time. John Malkovich plays the noble Dr. Jekyll and that means he also plays the nasty Mr. Hyde, but the point-of-view character is his maid, Mary, played by Julia Roberts. Such a strange household! The great Stephen Frears ** ("Dangerous Liaisons," "The Grifters") directed.

A big, grown-up drama is "Before and After," with Liam Neeson and Meryl Streep as the prosperous artistic parents who look on in horror when their son (Edward Furlong) is accused of murder in their rural town.

Director John Dahl, who teamed so memorably with Linda Fiorentino in "The Last Seduction," joins with her in another noir thriller, "Unforgettable." The hero -- or is he the chump? -- is Ray Liotta, who attempts to re-create a murder through the DNA of the victim, thereby solving it.

March 1

The big one this week, "Up Close and Personal," teams Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer in a Jessica Savitch-inspired melodrama about a TV reporter and her Svengali-like adviser. Jon Avnet of "Fried Green Tomatoes" directed, from a script by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne.

That same day sees the first service comedy, a lost genre, in many a moon: It's Kelsey Grammer as a diesel sub captain in "Down Periscope," taking on the whole dang U.S. nuclear navy. "Major League's" David Ward directed.

On the foreign film front, the highly regarded British movie "Angels and Insects," from the novel by A. S. Byatt, reaches the Charles, while "French Twist" opens, probably at the Rotunda.

March 8

Another busy day. The big news, commercially, is the Mike Nichols-Elaine May collaboration (together again, after all those years!) "The Birdcage," which is the American movie version of "La Cage aux Folles." Robin Williams and Broadway's Nathan Lane are the flamboyant gay couple who try to pass as straight to impress the conservative parents (played by Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest) of Williams' son's fiancee.

For more arcane tastes, the always provocative Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, return to the milieu of gritty crime as in their first "Blood Simple" with a frost-bound piece, "Fargo." In this one, Frances McDormand stars as a pregnant police chief solving a murder on the Minnesota prairie.

Then there's "If Lucy Fell," a romantic comedy about Brooklyn dreamers who give themselves a month to find perfect mates, at the end of which, if they don't, they'll jump off the bridge. The stars are Eric Schaeffer and Sarah Jessica Parker, and they end up with Elle McPherson and Ben Stiller.

"Homeward Bound II" continues the animal odyssey, this time in San Francisco. Michael J. Fox reiterates as the voice of Chance the dog.

"Hellraiser III" also opens: Enough said?

March 15

Today brings Matt LeBlanc, that "Friends" guy, to the bigs in "Ed." It's one of those monkey movies. In this one, the monkey (a chimp named Ed) is on a minor league baseball team, playing third. Matt has to teach him how to field a bunt.

Meanwhile, in "Two Much," hunk of the year Antonio Banderas is a gallery owner on the lam after a scam goes sour. He ends up being pursued by amorous, possessive Melanie Griffith, while he's really interested in her sister, Daryl Hannah. It's a romantic comedy and also a case of art imitating life.

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