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Hollywood's superhits -- dazzling and . . . empty?

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And if that isn't enough, consider the moments when both movies cheat. That's right, cheat -- openly and shamelessly, as if the whole worldwide audience didn't have a single brain in its credulous head. In "Raiders" we seem the heroine hide in a basket, and we seem it loaded on a truck, and we seem the truck go up in flames. And there's no waym in terms of the plot she could have escaped -- until she pops up a few scenes later, and the hero mutters something about "They musta switched . . . ."

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"Superman II" is just as egregious. In our presence, with a long buildup, the hero is told that he willm lose his powers (forever!) if he does certain things. He goes ahead and loses his powers and that's it -- until the plot begins to drag, and suddenly he's as powerful as ever, as if the filmmakers could cancel half the story (in retrospect, yet) anytime they felt like it. Also, the movie exaggerates some flaws in the Superman myth, through second-rate storytelling. One minute, he's strong enough to move the whole planet. The next minute, a supervillain gives him a good wallop and we're supposed to believe he's down for the count. Sorry, but it just doesn't work.

None of this matters very much, of course; these are just rip-roaring summer entertainments and what's a plothole between friends? Anyway, there's some mumbo jumbo about a crystal in "Superman II' that might explain the shell game with our hero's powers. But it's neither clear nor convincing.

As for "Raiders," it seems to think it can get away with anything (including a deliberately wishy-washy finale, if there's enough energy behind it). But when storytelling is your entire stock in trade (especiallym in a light summer yarn), the storytelling can at least be honest. When it isn't, even for a little while, we have every reason to suspect the integrity -- or, at a minimum, the high standards -- of the storytellers.

And let's not pin the whole rap on the moviemakers, who are obviously -- look at their success! -- giving the public exactly what it wants. By accepting the con games as well as the occasional glories of these films, audiences share the blame. Without millions of customers, after all, media events and superhits and must-see movies simply couldn't exist.

Do people enjoy being conned like this, by movies that suck us in with real excellence in some areas, then think nothing of choking us with a red herring? Perhaps that's the basic problem. In the July issue of Scientific American, reviewer Philip Morrison discusses a new book on two popular "mentalists," one of whom -- Uri Geller -- claims to have true psychic powers. Observed by careful outsiders, Geller's methods soon became plain, almost embarrassingly: While some of his ruses are clever, he gets some of his effects by simply peeking around his hand or past the edges of his blindfold!

How have countless people been taken in by such nonsense, bolstered by Geller's references to "the wizards on the spaceship Spectra"? The answer must involve the wish for something more exciting and more engaging than our everyday lives -- the same wish that takes us to empty- headed blockbusters and carries us thoughtlessly past lapses in logic and credibility.

Perhaps too much of our current entertainment-seeking is guided by a Roman epigraph Morrison cites in his review: "Populus vult decipi" (People want to be deceived).