FREEZE FRAMES

A weekly update of film releases

BENNY & JOON - He's an ordinary working man, and she's his not-so-ordinary sister, a bright and likable young woman with a mental condition that makes her grasp on reality quite tenuous at times. Into their lives comes Sam, another apparent misfit with a sweet personality and a gift for making people smile.

Benny stops smiling when Sam and Joon become lovers, though, since he doesn't think she is capable of an independent adult life. This dramatic comedy takes on ambitious themes, such as family responsibility and the right of those labeled mentally ill to determine their own lives. But the movie is more interested in gossamer moods than intelligent thoughts, and there's nothing of value to be learned from it.

The comic and romantic elements are equally lackluster, adding up to a generally dull package. On the bright side, Johnny Depp has a few promising moments when Sam starts clowning around, and Mary Stuart Masterson has a certain low-key charm as the heroine. Directed by Jeremiah Chechik, whose main experience has been in commercials and music videos. Barry Berman wrote the screenplay. (Rated PG) COP AND A HALF - For reasons too contrived to explain here, a hard-boiled cop gets an 8-year-old boy as a partner, and eventually they solve every problem in sight. The picture's message appears to be that television and movies are making today's children into a generation of smart alecks; combined with an idiotic plot and witless dialogue, this is hardly substantial enough to sustain a feature film. Norman D. Golden II is Hollywood-perfect as the kid, but Burt Reynolds seems more than ever to be sleepwalki ng through his role. And who can blame him? At least Ruby Dee and Ray Sharkey lend a touch of class to the supporting cast. Directed by Henry Winkler from Arne Olsen's screenplay. (Rated PG)

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