Movies that contain violence, sexual situations, nudity, and profanity are denoted V, S, N, and P respectively. Evaluations do not constitute a Monitor endorsement. Further guidance is supplied by full reviews on the Arts pages. EVALUATION SYMBOLS David Sterritt Staff Panel Meaning O\ O\ Don't bother u q Poor uu qq Fair uuu qqq Good uuuu qqqq Excellent 7 1 Half rating point New Releases EXOTICA uuu A man tries to assuage family-related grief through an oblique relationship with a nightclub dancer. Atom Egoyan, perhaps the most imaginative filmmaker in Canada today, wrote and directed this explicit but serious-minded study of sexual obsessiveness. (R) P S N V MEET THE FEEBLES O\ Nasty gangsters, inept entertainers, and other losers are the main characters of this gross-out comedy with an all-puppet cast. Directed by Peter Jackson, closer to the vein of his childish "Dead Alive" than his compelling "Heavenly Creatures." (NR) S V P N MURIEL'S WEDDING uuu Muriel is a misfit who's desperate to get married, but has everything from overbearing parents to nasty friends standing in her way. Australian newcomer P. J. Hogan wrote and directed this high-energy comedy, which earned several of this year's Australian Academy Awards. (NR) S N V P OUTBREAK u A virus developed for biological warfare breaks loose in a California town, and military brass debate the issue while Dustin Hoffman tries to save the day. It's sad to see such an empty-headed movie on such an attention-worthy subject. Clunkily directed by Wolfgang Petersen. Morgan Freeman and Rene Russo head the hard-working but ill-fated supporting cast. (R) P V SON OF THE SHARK uuu Rejecting society, which has given them no sense of belonging, two young French brothers struggle to survive in increasingly hostile urban surroundings. Agnes Merlet's debut film is admirably direct and unsentimental, and acted with stunning forcefulness. It's so derivative of "The 400 Blows," though, that fans of French cinema will have attacks of dj vu. (NR) S N V P Currently in Release BEFORE SUNRISE uuu Romantic comedy about a young American and a French student who meet on a European train and decide to spend a spontaneous day together. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are attractive stars, but what's most appealing about the picture is the value it puts on sharing ideas and feelings through language. Directed by Richard Linklater. (R) P qqq1 Engaging, talky, believable. BILLY MADISON Adam Sandler's creative songs and silly expressions on "Saturday Night Live" may have turned him into a celebrity, but this movie based solely on his antics doesn't work. Sandler plays Billy, whose father who owns a multimillion-dollar hotel chain. When his father decides to pass along the company to him, Billy is forced to repeat grades K-12 (in six months) so he can prove his mettle. S P q by Lisa Parney. BOYS ON THE SIDE uu Three women start on a cross-country trip, hoping for a better life: a gay singer, a businesswoman with AIDS, and a hustler who's just killed her abusive boyfriend. The movie tries to outdo "Thelma and Louise" by upping the number of heroines, but it lacks the moral seriousness to tackle its sensitive material. Herbert Ross directed. Whoopi Goldberg, Mary-Louise Parker, and Drew Barrymore star. (R) N P V S qqq Hilarious, heavy on social issues, tragic. THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE Those groovy Bradys are now living in the '90s, and they must raise $20,000 or else their house will be auctioned off. Based on the '70s TV show, the plot works well compared with most sitcom movies. The cast is a close match to the original. Avid "Bunch" fans will "dig it," while others may find it hokey. Directed by Betty Thomas. (PG-13) By Shelley Coolidge. qqq1 Nostalgic, campy; Marcia steals the show. BULLETS OVER BROADWAY uu A young playwright juggles art, romance, and gangsters while preparing his first big production. Woody Allen's comedy is rarely inspired, but provides some good laughs and an energetic depiction of the Roaring '20s. (R) V P S qqq1 Snappy, original; Dianne Wiest heads remarkable cast. DISCLOSURE uuu A man struggles to save his career after being sexually harassed by his new boss, who happens to be an old girlfriend. The movie's social attitudes are ridiculous, suggesting that powerful women pose dangers their male counterparts wouldn't dream of. The story is told with great gusto by director Barry Levinson, though, making it fun to sit through despite its many failings. (R) S N P qqq Intriguing, suspenseful, topical. HEAVYWEIGHTS A lightweight Disney romp through a summer camp for fat boys. Here, the weight reduction has taken a backseat to fun. But the woodsy resort becomes a concentration camp, run by German-accented musclemen, when a Tony Robbins-like motivational guru takes over. He has plans to make millions producing a video of his weight-loss methods. The pudgy kids rebel, producing predictable juvenile hijinks and a lesson in overcoming low self-esteem. (PG) P qqq by David Clark Scott HIDEAWAY u An ordinary man becomes clairvoyant after a near-death experience, and finds himself on the trail of a serial killer. This new ripoff of "The Silence of the Lambs" is scuttled by dopey dialogue and silly situations, although there are a couple of snappy suspense scenes. Brett Leonard directed. (R) P S V HIGHER LEARNING uuu A look at college race relations, focusing on three students: a white woman whose social awareness is raised after a date-rape incident; a black man who resents unspoken racism; and a white man who's recruited by a skinhead gang. The film treats realistic subjects in a stylized way, putting its main energy into exploring ideas rather than building emotional power. Written and directed by John Singleton. (R) V S N P qq1 Sobering, realistic, disturbing. HOOP DREAMS uuu A team of documentary filmmakers spent years tracking two young basketball players who hoped sports careers might be their ticket out of Chicago's inner city. The movie is a provocative commentary, but the material could have been shaped into a tighter, more cohesive structure. (PG-13) P qqq Insightful, sensitive, but a tad slow. THE HUNTED Christopher Lambert die-hard "Highlander" fans will find only slightly more substance here between the samurai slices. Lambert plays an American computer-chip designer pursued by hackers who try to kill him and restore the honor of their Ninja cult leader. The Japanese setting and Joan Chen are the film's only redeeming elements. (R) V S N P qq by David Clark Scott JUST CAUSE uu A white law professor defends a young black man sentenced to death for a horrible crime, and encounters jarring surprises. Although the first hour builds effective suspense, the story sags into a warmed-over combination of "The Silence of the Lambs" and both versions of "Cape Fear," and the violent climax looks like it was shot in an Everglades theme park. Sean Connery is smooth as the lawyer, but Ed Harris steals the show as a Hannibal Lecter wannabe. Arne Glimcher directed. (R) V P q Brutal, unoriginal; waste of fine cast. LEGENDS OF THE FALL u The story begins as a family saga in old Montana, but turns into a hackneyed tale of rivalry between two brothers who love a beautiful widow. The scenery is pretty, in a calendar-art sort of way, but nothing else is worth the price of admission, including Anthony Hopkins's weak acting. Directed by Edward Zwick. (R) V S N P qq1 Tear-jerker, melodramatic, beautiful scenery. LITTLE WOMEN uuu Sweetly filmed, sensitively acted retelling of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel, plunging us into an idealized American past that's as seductive as it is mythical. Directed by Gillian Armstrong. (PG) qqq1 Poignant, wholesome, charming. THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE uuu Maybe it's family problems, or the stress of losing the American colonies; but whatever the cause, the monarch's mental health has become shaky, and this is of enormous interest to friends and enemies alike. Excellent acting undergirds this historical comedy-drama, directed by Nicholas Hytner, who also supervised the well-received stage production of Alan Bennett's play. (Not Rated) P qqqq Droll, powerful; fine acting by Nigel Hawthorne. MIAMI RHAPSODY uu The adventures of a Miami family, focusing mainly on sex, romance, and marriage. Sarah Jessica Parker and Mia Farrow are ideally matched as a daughter and mother who fall for the same guy, and Paul Mazursky and Antonio Banderas stand out as two of the men in their lives. Written and directed by David Frankel, whose attempt at following in Woody Allen's footsteps would have been more productive if it weren't so slavish. (PG-13) S N P q Vapid, self-indulgent characters; zzzzzzz. MINA TANNENBAUM uu The lives and loves of two Jewish women in Paris between the late 1960s and early '90s. Romane Bohringer and Elsa Zylberstein are nicely unassuming as the heroines. The plot doesn't quite hang together, though, and the dramatic climax seems more arbitrary than affecting. Written and directed by Martine Dugowson. (Not Rated) P S V NELL uu Jodie Foster plays a young woman who's been raised in almost total isolation. Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson play scientists who try to befriend her, but can't protect her from the world. The movie wants to explore the secrets of a person who evades all categories, but the filmmakers place her in their own categories, transforming their fascinating subject into a very ordinary drama. (PG-13) V N qqq Engrossing, touching; fine work by Jodie Foster. NOBODY'S FOOL uuu Paul Newman does his best acting in years as Sully, a likable loser juggling relationships with friends and relatives who can't figure out why he's still drifting aimlessly through life after passing his 60th birthday. Melanie Griffith and Bruce Willis head the strong supporting cast. Directed by Robert Benton. (R) V S N P qqq Sad, honest, well-acted. ONCE WERE WARRIORS uuu A harrowing visit to the New Zealand household of an ethnic Maori woman whose white husband has scarred their 18-year marriage with bouts of drunken violence. The drama is not so much artful as powerful, in the way a locomotive or a sledgehammer is powerful; but its cry against domestic abuse is strong and unflinching. Lee Tamahori directed. (R) S V P PULP FICTION uuu Four interlocking stories about sex, drugs, violence, and other sensational stuff, tempered with an interest in redemption that suggests filmmaker Quentin Tarantino might be growing up a little. John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson are terrific as talkative hit men, and Bruce Willis is equally good as a boxer who refuses to throw a fight. Look out for over-the-top scenes of mayhem and brutality, though. (R) V S N P qqq Surprising, wry, gory. THE QUICK AND THE DEAD uuu A vengeful woman takes on a sadistic sheriff who keeps order by staging shootouts in the town square. Sam Raimi's western parodies the western genre with energy and affection. Contains lots of violence, but done in a cartoonish way that diminishes its impact. (R) V P N qqq Suspenseful, violent, Sharon Stone's best film. ROOMMATES uu The up-and-down friendship of a hard-working young physician and his crotchety old grandpa. The story never gets beyond stereotypes and clichs, although Peter Falk manages to build some touching moments. Peter Yates directed. (PG) P S V THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION uuu Morgan Freeman gives a superb performance and Tim Robbins isn't far behind in Frank Darabont's intelligent drama about hope, loyalty, and friendship in a top-security prison. (R) S V P N qqqq Uplifting, powerful, distinct and believable characters. STRAWBERRY AND CHOCOLATE uuu In contemporary Cuba, a Castro loyalist strikes up an acquaintance with a gay artist to gather evidence of his moral decadence, but grows to understand and respect his many good qualities. Directed by Toms Gutirrez Alea in collaboration with Juan Carlos Tabio, the movie is tame in style, but has lively performances and a tolerant spirit. Subtitles. (R) S N P qqq Sensitive, sensual, thought-provoking.