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** A likable scientist, a feisty soldier, a goofy crop-dusting pilot, and the president of the United States are among the heroes who save Earth from an evil intergalactic empire. The action is fast, furious, and loaded with explosive effects, but the theme is a regrettable return to the us-against-them paranoia that dominated much science fiction in the cold-war era. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and Will Smith star. Contains a great deal of violence. V PSkip to next paragraph
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*** Explosive, disjointed, spirited.
*** Caught up in major family problems, a 12-year-old boy meets a 3,000-year-old genie who dispenses good advice - and a wish or two - that helps both of them weather the storm. The plot is hamstrung by trite formulas, and there's too much violence and family tension for very young viewers. Shaquille O'Neal is likable as the title character, though, and the screenplay has somewhat less vulgarity and innuendo than many Hollywood comedies. Directed by Paul M. Glaser. V P
LONE STAR (R)
** A skeleton is discovered near a small Texas community, rekindling old debates about whatever happened to a sheriff who once ruled the county with a violent and racially bigoted hand. John Sayles's offbeat western shows how public controversies often overlap with private grudges and conflicting memories. It contains violence and a surprise ending with strong sexual overtones that many will find objectionable. Chris Cooper, Kris Kristofferson, and Matthew McConaughey star. S V P N
** Humane, intelligent; message of tolerance takes unhealthy twist at end.
THE LOW LIFE (R)
* An aspiring writer holds down tedious jobs, hangs out with boring friends, and mopes about the awfulness of it all. The story offers a bit of pathos and ironic humor, but most of the time it's just another slacker movie. Directed by George Hickenlooper. P V
MOLL FLANDERS (PG-13)
** The adventures of an 18th-century woman who falls into prostitution but finds a better life with an idealistic painter who falls in love with her. Daniel Defoe's great novel combines frequent ribaldry with explicitly feminist views of his society's ills. Pen Densham's movie has strong female characters but stresses sensuality over the story's other themes. Robin Wright, Stockard Channing, and Morgan Freeman star. S V N
** Idealistic, victim-filled, too long.
** Caught in a job that allows him too little time with his family, a busy man allows a scientist to clone him - which seems like a great idea until more clones start arriving, each of lower quality than the last. Michael Keaton gives a game performance, but the comedy isn't very inventive and the second half is taken over by a string of smarmy bedroom jokes. Andie MacDowell co-stars. Directed by Harold Ramis. S V P
*** Zany, light; versatile acting by Michael Keaton.
THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (PG-13)
** An overweight science teacher slims down with a laboratory potion that turns him into a loud and obnoxious woman-chaser, but he realizes in the end that cultivating your own good qualities is the only honest way to win affection from others. Eddie Murphy has impressive energy, but he needs mountains of makeup and special effects to accomplish what Jerry Lewis did with sheer talent in the original 1963 version of the comedy. Parents should be strongly warned that the movie contains an extremely large amount of bathroom humor and other gratuitous vulgarities. P V
*** Sophomoric, amusing, predictable.
*** John Travolta gives a gentle and touching performance as an ordinary man whose brainpower miraculously zooms after a mysterious light-flash from the sky zaps him one night. John Turteltaub directed the drama, which lapses into medical jargon and new-age clichs near the end, but it scores telling points with its respect for intelligence and optimistic view of human potential. V P S