SEPTEMBER 22, 1995 Movies containing violence (V), sexual situations (S), nudity (N), and profanity (P) are noted. Ratings and comments by the panel (blue stars) reflect the views of at least three Monitor staffers. Look for more guidance in our full reviews on the Arts pages. EVALUATION SYMBOLS David Sterritt Staff Panel Meaning O\ O\ Forget it u u Only if it's free uu uu Maybe a matinee uuu uuu Wait in line uuuu uuuu See it twice New Releases CANADIAN BACON (PG) uu Deciding the US needs a fresh enemy to rally against now that the cold war is over, the president declares a crusade against Canada, prompting a gung-ho Niagara Falls sheriff to launch a guerrilla raid on the new evil empire. Written and directed by Michael Moore, this over-the-top comedy blends sardonic political satire with dumb-and-dumber jokes aimed at fans of the late John Candy, who heads the cast. P V A MONTH BY THE LAKE (PG) uu Vanessa Redgrave and Edward Fox give amiable performances in this lightweight comedy about four characters who almost pair off with the wrong partners during a sun-struck vacation in an Italian resort. Directed by John Irvin with a self-consciously playful touch. MUTE WITNESS (R) uu Working after hours in a Moscow movie studio, a mute woman witnesses a brutal murder, discovers it's part of a sinister conspiracy, and runs from killers who're determined to eliminate her before she can blow the whistle. Anthony Waller's violent drama has little depth but lots of twists, turns, and surprises. V P S N SEVEN (R) uuu Two cops, a fresh newcomer, and a jaded veteran track down a serial killer whose grisly crimes echo the seven deadly sins. Although the story's basic setup is anything but original, it's powerfully directed by David Fincher, and Morgan Freeman gives another of his superbly understated performances. Be warned that the picture contains enough horrific details to make it a worthy successor to ''The Silence of the Lambs,'' which obviously inspired it. Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey round out the principle cast. S V P N Currently in Release u The Amazing Panda Adventure (G) A 10-year-old American boy, a product of divorce and shopping malls, visits his father in China and finds him too distracted to give him any attention. Despite beautiful scenery and sets, the adventure of finding a wounded panda and cub, and fighting off the poachers, is predictable and marred by bad dialogue. By Carol Hartman u Disappointing, stilted; wooden acting. APOLLO 13 (PG) uu A near-catastrophic NASA mission of 1970 is the subject of this fact-based drama about three astronauts who head for the moon, lose control of their expedition when an oxygen tank explodes, and refocus their attention on getting back to Earth in one piece. There's not much suspense, since audiences know the real-life incident ended safely, but director Ron Howard spins the story with enough gusto and gumption to make it reasonably entertaining. Tom Hanks heads a solid cast that includes Gary Sinise, Kevin Bacon, Ed Harris, and Bill Paxton in lead roles. P uuuu Intriguing, instructive, glorious. BABE (G) uuu He's a pig who longs to be a sheepdog, to the consternation of his barnyard friends and the confusion of the humans who own him. The movie is at times raucous, but its spirits couldn't be higher, and the tale teaches a good-natured lesson about why cooperation is better than coercion. Best of all is the very funny climax, which should have grownups brushing away happy tears along with their kids. Directed by Chris Noonan. uuu Hilarious, delightful, and appealing to adults. BRAVEHEART (Re-Release, rated R) uu Aye, here's a wee bit of three-hour epic about a handsome 13th-century hero freeing Scotland from its English overlords. Directed by and starring Mel Gibson, who puts more brawn than brain into both jobs. V S N P uuu Engrossing history lesson, violent battle scenes. THE BROTHERS MCMULLEN (R) uu The personal, family, and romantic adventures of three Irish-American brothers in the New York City suburbs. The movie tries earnestly to blend wry humor with a no-nonsense charm deemed appropriate for its working-class characters, but the acting and scripting are too uneven for either the drama or the comedy to gather much steam. Written and directed by Edward Burns, who also plays one of the main characters. S P uuu Unpretentious, funny, frank. UN BRUIT QUI REND FOU (THE BLUE VILLA) (Not Rated) uuu In a remote European town, pulses quicken when a legendary criminal returns to collect a debt, raising questions about what really happened in a long-ago murder case. This labyrinthine drama was written and co-directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet, a key figure in modern French literature but less distinguished as a filmmaker, partly because of his proclivity for sensationalistic material. He succeeds unusually well here, partly because a sense of self-parodying humor runs through his maze-like screenplay. Co-directed by Dimitri de Clercq. S V CLOCKERS (R) uuu Spike Lee plunges into the world of underclass crime, focusing on a small-time cocaine dealer who agonizes over his brother's arrest for murder. All the while he must steer a course between a psychopathic drug supplier and a hard-nosed homicide detective. Lee tells this harsh-toned story through a bold cinematic style that calls as much attention to itself as to the real-world problems he wants to explore. While the result is visually brilliant, it's oddly disjointed and packs less emotional force than Richard Price's novel. Delroy Lindo and Harvey Keitel give the best performances. V P CLUELESS (PG-13) uu Valley-girl types cope with life, love, and clothes in a Los Angeles high school. For a while, it's like really cool, with lots of energy and stuff, but then it gets like major repetitious, and you wish it was like over, y'know? As if! Directed by comedy specialist Amy Heckerling. P uu So totally entertaining, playful, clued in. DANGEROUS MINDS (R) u Michelle Pfeiffer plays a new teacher confronting a class of inner-city students with various chips on their shoulders. Movie stars have tamed sassy kids in movies from ''The Blackboard Jungle'' to ''Stand and Deliver,'' but it's hard to remember an example more patronizing or sentimentalized than this one. Directed by John N. Smith, whose earlier ''The Boys of St. Vincent'' is incomparably superior in every department. V P uu Predictable, patronizing, shallow. DESPERADO (R) uu Vengeance and violence follow a man stalking an elusive enemy with a guitar case full of guns. There are enough clever cinematic setups to make this an improvement over Robert Rodriguez's previous picture, the hyperactive ''El Mariachi,'' and Steve Buscemi gives a winning performance that's over all too soon. But for the most part, this is just another exercise in snappy editing and over-the-top mayhem that will leave most grown-up moviegoers cold. Antonio Banderas stars. V S N P uu El Pulpo Fictiono, ludicrous, satirical, shallow. DOUBLE HAPPINESS (PG-13) uuu Even single happiness is hard to grasp when you're a young Chinese-Canadian woman with an acting career that's stalled at the starting line, a white boyfriend who's a little too pushy, and old-fashioned parents who think they always know what's best. Mina Shum's debut film is consistently warm and amusing, although its energy flags a bit as the story unfolds. P THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD (PG) uu A nine-year-old New Yorker becomes the owner of a magical cupboard that brings his toys to life. This gives him two new friends - a miniature Indian and cowboy - and also the difficult job of keeping them a secret from uncomprehending adults. The story is sensitively told, reminding young moviegoers that history is made of real people, not the caricatures who inhabit Hollywood myths. The film contains caricatures of its own, though, and the rap artist called Litefoot makes a lead-footed acting debut in the title role. Directed by Frank Oz. V P uuu Delightful, caring, imaginative. Jeffrey (R) uuu The film version of Paul Rudnick's hit Off Broadway comedy about a young gay man (Steven Weber of TV's ''Wings'') who decides against sex in the era of AIDS. The play's impressionistic tableaux of homosexual life doesn't translate with complete success to the screen, but there are many hilarious lines. Blatant sexuality shows up in some scenes. Patrick Stewart (of ''Star Trek'' fame) is a riot. S N P By Frank Scheck uu Provocative, amusing, poignant. A KID IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT (PG) O\ Where he defeats a bad knight and befriends a princess before zooming back to the modern USA in time to win a ballgame. Rarely do the well-financed wizards at Walt Disney Pictures cook up a movie this badly written, acted, and directed. Released with ''Runaway Brain,'' a mildly amusing Mickey Mouse cartoon with a G rating, which is often featured just before the movie. The directors were Michael Gottlieb for the feature, Chris Bailey for the cartoon. V LAST OF THE DOGMEN (PG) uu Wistful tale of a solitary mountain man and a college professor who discover the last remaining group of native Americans living in the wild. These Indians are hidden in the mountains of Big Sky country. The plot is too schmaltzy to be believed and even has a chase scene reminiscent of the ''Electric Cowboy.'' Entertaining even if it is fantastic. By Joyce McMillin u Flat, ho-hum, naive. LIVING IN OBLIVION (R) uuu This is a low-budget independent film about the making of a low-budget independent film; fortunately, the picture we're watching is a zillion times more entertaining than the movie-within-the-movie appears to be. Written and directed by Tom DiCillo, the comedy reaches out most strongly to movie buffs who enjoy peering behind the scenes. But even casual spectators should enjoy its frequently hilarious satire on cinematic pretensions. Steve Buscemi leads the smartly chosen cast. S N P LORD OF ILLUSIONS (R) uu A private eye pursues a magician whose illusions are supernatural tricks of the most sinister kind. Clive Barker's horror yarn starts with a really original wallop, then sinks into standard chiller-diller gore. Scott Bakula stars. V N P MAGIC IN THE WATER (PG) uu Orky is a sea monster who loves chocolate cookies, and while most folks in town don't believe he exists, he helps two kids develop a closer relationship with their workaholic dad during an adventure-filled vacation. Rick Stevenson directed this mildly entertaining fantasy. P MORTAL KOMBAT (PG-13) uuu A classic martial-arts flick pitting good against evil in a battle to save Earth, bringing the popular arcade game to the big screen with a heart-pounding soundtrack and dazzling special effects. It is one continuous fight sequence from opening scene to final credits, but lacks the blood, profanity, and gore that would have merited a more adult rating. Christopher Lambert is featured, but not even his talents can save the otherwise miserable acting. If you aren't into today's alternative pop scene, you won't enjoy this film. V By Marianne Le Pelley u Mindless mayhem, moronic, awesome special effects. NADJA (R) uu She's a Transylvanian vampire on the loose in New York, and a dedicated monster-hunter is on her trail. The story has little to offer, but the movie takes on strong visual interest when director Michael Almereyda allows it to get really weird, creating some of his effects with a toy Pixelvision camera. Elina Lowensohn is convincing as the title character, but Galaxy Craze is irritatingly self-absorbed in the other key female role, and it's hard to imagine what Peter Fonda thinks he's doing as the straggly-haired hero. V S P National Lampoon's Senior Trip (R) O\ Whatever significance the National Lampoon trademark may have had is dissipated by this witless slapstick comedy about a disastrous road trip undertaken by a group of high school students. The only saving graces are Matt Frewer's well-timed comic performance as a hapless principal, and, for 1970s cultists, Tommy Chong reprising his shtick as a blissed-out druggie. S P By Frank Scheck THE NET (PG-13) u Computer hacker-hero vs. high-tech saboteurs. Sandra Bullock is her usual appealing self, but she can't transcend the predictable material she's programmed with here. Directed by Irwin Winkler, a filmmaker with more social awareness than cinematic imagination. V P uuu Fast-paced, exciting, implausible. THE POSTMAN (''IL POSTINO'') (PG) uuuu Exiled by his 1950s political foes to a fishing village off the Italian coast, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda strikes up an unexpected friendship with a meek postman who's one of the island's few literate inhabitants. Directed with exquisite care by Michael Radford, this loosely fact-based drama is both a touching story of mutual affection and a deeply intelligent essay on the relationship between nature and culture. Philippe Noiret is a fully believable Neruda, even if the screenplay doesn't reflect the rich variety of the actual poet's work, and the late Massimo Troisi is brilliant as his unlikely companion. S P uuuu Poetic, tender, quietly humorous. The Prophecy (R) uu This wacky horror film written and directed by Gregory Widen (he also wrote ''Highlander'') revolves around a group of wayward angels fighting over people's souls. The main reason to see it is Christopher Walken's wild turn as the baddest angel of all; this gifted actor pulls out the stops with his outrageous mannerisms, and is clearly having the time of his life (even if his career is threatening to turn into Bela Lugosi's). Be prepared for many gruesome scenes of charred corpses, and much profane, hard-boiled dialogue. V P N By Frank Scheck SMOKE (R) uuu Wayne Wang's film seamlessly weaves the lives of tough but gentle people around a Brooklyn tabacconist. Harvy Keitel and Stockard Channing stand out, but William Hurt as a confused writer is a piece of wood (balsa). The action is talky and philosophical but in sweet celebration of everyman going nowhere. People actually discuss this film afterwards. By Jeff Danziger SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT (R) uu A husband's infidelity sparks a crisis in a seemingly happy marriage. Fans of the overrated ''Steel Magnolias'' should find much to enjoy in Lasse Hallstrom's dramatic comedy, which combines a character-driven scrrenplay with a colorful Southern setting. Both the humor and the poignancy stay strictly on the surface, though, and the story's occasional signs of lifelike ambiguity are canceled by a tacked-on happy ending. Julia Roberts gives one of her best screen performances, but is still out-classed by Gena Rowlands and Robert Duvall. Written by Callie Khouri and photographed by Sven Nykvist. V P uu Funny, uneven, not high-reaching. THE STARS FELL ON HENRIETTA (PG) uu A rascally but lovable old coot gets the notion that dowsing for oil is his ticket out of the Depression that's causing heartache for his rural Texas neighbors. Robert Duvall gives another of his compulsively watchable performances, but the story is trite and few of the char- acters are very interesting. Directed by James Keach. V THEREMIN - AN ELECTRONIC ODYSSEY (PG) uuu The life and times of Leon Theremin, the Russian inventor who dreamed up the first electronic musical instrument in 1920, and also pioneered sur- veillance ''bugs'' for the Soviet government, which showed its appreciation by having the KGB kidnap him. This informative and entertaining documentary was directed by Steve M. Martin, no relation to the other Steve Martin. TO WONG FOO, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING, JULIE NEWMAR (PG-13) u Three female impersonators from Manhattan spend an unexpected weekend in a remote little town. Pre- sumably this comedy wants to promote tolerance and diversity - so why is its attitude toward rural people, working men, and other ''normal'' targets so insulting and condescending? Directed by Beeban Kidron from Douglas Carter Beane's aimless screenplay. In all, a pathetic echo of ''The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,'' which had real insights into its unconventional subject. Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo star, with a cameo by Robin Williams. P V uu Droll, tolerant, poorly written. UNSTRUNG HEROES (PG) uu Buffeted by family problems, a 12-year-old boy goes to live with two uncles whose eccentricities make his own troubled household seem almost tame. Diane Keaton directed this ragged but lively comedy-drama from Richard LaGravenese's imaginative screenplay. Michael Richards and Maury Chaykin play the rowdy relatives, supported by Andie MacDowell as the boy's dying mother and John Turturro as his brainy father. Nathan Watt is best of all as the young hero. V P uu Heavy, bittersweet, often slow-moving. UNZIPPED (R) uuu Wildly entertaining documentary tracing the activities of fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi as he prepares to unveil his 1994 collection at a New York show. Directed with nonstop energy by Douglas Keeve and imaginatively photographed by Ellen Kuras in black-and-white and color. Bold, boisterous, beautiful. P uuu Eclectic, good-humored, lively. VIRTUOSITY (R) uu A former convict battles a computer-generated villain. Like the more inventive ''Natural Born Killers,'' this is a movie that chides its audience for gawking at violence while wallowing in violence from beginning to end. Flashes of wit and imagination can't disguise its basic nastiness, although Denzel Washington's talent still shines through the mayhem. Directed by Brett Leonard. V N P uu Amateur, cybertrash, laughable. A WALK IN THE CLOUDS (PG-13) uuu A recently returned World War II veteran poses as the husband of an unwed mother-to-be, and finds himself in a complex relationship with her Mexican-American family, who operate a vineyard as traditional as the Old World values they espouse. The tale is far from original, but director Alfonso Arau bathes it in a golden glow that goes beyond nostalgia to sheer dreaminess, lending a touch of Latin-style magic realism that suits the picture perfectly. Keanu Reeves and Aitana Sanchez-Gijon make appealing protagonists, although Giancarlo Giannini and Anthony Quinn get the best lines. V uu Touching, unconvincing, beautifully filmed. WATERWORLD (PG-13) uu Kevin Costner plays a web-footed mutant who steers his ecologically correct sailboat through a future world inundated with water. Also on hand are two female companions and a villain who leads his wicked crew from a stronghold on the infamous Exxon Valdez tanker. Despite its record-setting budget, the movie is just a high-tech comic book that borrows from the ''Mad Max'' movies of the early '80s. At least Dennis Hopper plays the bad guy with wildness and wit. Costner's stolid hero seems a washout by comparison. Kevin Reynolds is credited with directing. V N P uuu Rambunctious, exhausting, entertaining.