NEW FILMS FRIDAY

THE BEST MAN - Italian drama from writer/director Pupi Avati ("The Story of Boys and Girls") about a reluctant bride who causes a scandal when she falls in love with her fiance's business partner on her wedding day. In Italian, with English subtitles. Reviewed in this section on Page W13. PG (vulgarity, violence, nude statues). (Exclusive, Broadway.)

THE HITMAN - In this thriller, Hong Kong action star Jet Li ("Lethal Weapon 4") plays an impoverished soldier who enters a high-stakes contest to find and kill the title character. Reviewed in this section on Page W11. In Cantonese, with English subtitles. Not rated, probable R (violence, gore, vulgarity, profanity). (Exclusive, Tower.)

LAWN DOGS - Unusual comedy-drama about the friendship between a lonely 10-year-old girl and the ostracized, twentysomething groundskeeper (Sam Rockwell) who works in her glitzy subdivision. A selection of the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. Reviewed in this section on Page W12. R (violence, profanity, vulgarity, nudity, sex, racial epithets). (Exclusive, Tower.)

OUT OF THE PAST - Winner of the Best Documentary Award from the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, this feature-length documentary looks at 300 years of gay-rights issues, including interviews with Salt Laker Kelli Peterson, who co-founded the controversial Gay Straight Alliance at East High School in 1996. Reviewed in this section on Page W13. Not rated, probable PG-13 (vulgarity, profanity). (Exclusive, Tower.)

RONIN - Robert De Niro unwittingly leads a team of assassins and weapons specialists (including Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone and Stellan Skarsgard) on a suicide mission in this thriller from veteran director John Frankenheimer ("The Island of Dr. Moreau"). Jeff Vice interviews the filmmaker on Page W1; reviewed on Page W8. R (violence, gore, profanity, torture, vulgarity). (Carmike 12, Cottonwood, Gateway, Midvalley, Reel, Sandy 9, Trolley Square.)

SECOND CHANCES - Based on a true story, this independent family drama stars child actor Kelsey Mulrooney ("She's So Lovely") as a young girl who copes with family tragedies through horseback riding. Not screened for critics. G. (Carmike 12, Cottonwood, Plaza 5400.)

URBAN LEGEND - Yet another "Scream"-inspired horror film. This one's about a serial killer who uses folklore for inspiration. Alicia Witt, Jared Leto and Joshua Jackson (TV's "Dawson's Creek") star. Reviewed in this section on Page W10. R (violence, gore, profanity, vulgarity, sex, nude drawings). (Carmike 12; Crossroads; Holladay; Midvalley; Redwood, with "Knock Off"; Reel; Sandy 9; Trolley North.)

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

THE 19TH ANNUAL UTAH SHORT FILM AND VIDEO FESTIVAL - A compilation of more than 150 short film and video works - all under 30 minutes in length and in a variety of formats - the festival wraps up its monthlong run with one of its regular programs and a special screening of some of the best entries. The programs are not rated, but may contain some R-rated material. (Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m., Salt Lake Art Center.)

CONTINUING FILMS

AIR BUD: GOLDEN RECEIVER - * 1/2 - Lame sequel to last year's surprise hit about a sports-talented pooch, who this time applies his skills to the gridiron, and also has to contend with two animal "collectors" trying to kidnap him. Uninspired performances and scripting make this one almost unbearable. PG (slapstick violence, vulgarity). (Cinemas 5, Olympus.) (Aug. 14, 1998)

ARMAGEDDON - * * - More chaotic, headache-inducing eye candy from producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay ("The Rock"). The premise is intriguing: A roughneck crew of oil drillers (including Bruce Willis) is sent into space to destroy an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. But the characters are reduced to spouting one-liners and the action is too hectic and confusing. PG-13 (violence, profanity, vulgarity, partial nudity, gore). (Carmike 12; Creekside; Gateway; Plaza 5400; Redwood, with "Lethal Weapon 4"; Sandy 9; Trolley Square.) (July 2, 1998)

THE AVENGERS - * - A stultifyingly dull redo of the '60s TV series, thoroughly inert, with a frosty, charmless performance from Ralph Fiennes and a frazzled, charmless performance from Uma Thurman. Not even Sean Connery as the villain can wake things up. The only thing this dismal, depressing exhumation of the witty old TV show has going for it is the production design. PG-13 (violence, vulgarity, profanity). (Sugar House.) (Aug. 16, 1998) - Steven Rea (Knight Ridder)

BLADE - * * * - Based on the comic book series, this intense action-thriller stays true to its roots with one-dimensional characters, cartoon violence and heroic poses - you can almost see the thought balloons. It doesn't try to be more and succeeds as a cathartic experience. Wesley Snipes is the vampire hunter, who is half-human and half-vampire himself. Knockout special effects, powerful fight scenes and buckets of blood. R (violence, gore, profanity, vulgarity). (Gateway; Midvalley; Redwood, with "Halloween: H2O"; South Towne; Trolley Corners.) (Aug. 21, 1998) - Rick Mortensen

BUFFALO 66 - * * - Although its limitations are inescapably apparent, this black comedy is nevertheless an impressive showcase for character-actor-turned-filmmaker Vincent Gallo. But the film would have looked better if he had made Christina Ricci's character do more talking while saying a lot less himself. Not rated, probable R (violence, profanity, nudity, sex). (Brewvies.) (Aug. 21, 1998) - Jay Carr (Boston Globe)

DANCE WITH ME - * * 1/2 - Enchanting music and sometimes-great choreography can't dance around the fact that the storytelling in this romantic drama is all left feet. About the only things that make this overlong movie worth sitting through is the dance numbers. PG (sex, profanity, vulgarity). (Cinemas 5, Olympus, South Towne.) (Aug. 21, 1998) - Bob Strauss (Los Angeles Daily News)

DEAD MAN ON CAMPUS - * * - Angling to be a hybrid of "Heathers" and "National Lampoon's Animal House" for the '90s, this comedy lacks the genuine satiric darkness of the former and the exuberant yuks of the latter. What it does have is attractive packaging, some energetic performances and a sharp eye for contemporary college types. R (drug use, profanity, vulgarity, violence). (Carmike 12; Cinemas 5.) (Aug. 21, 1998) - Steve Murray (Cox News Service)

DEEP IMPACT - * * - Possibly the dullest disaster film ever made, this all-talk-and-no-action flick wastes an all-star cast - including Robert Duvall, Tea Leoni, Morgan Freeman and Elijah Wood, who try to survive when scientists discover that a huge comet is on a collision course with the Earth. Not worth sticking around for the 10 minutes' worth of destruction, frankly. PG-13 (profanity, violence). (Valley Fair.) (May 8, 1998)

DR. DOLITTLE - * 1/2 - An uninspired Eddie Murphy plays second fiddle to crass anthropomorphic animals (voiced by Norm Macdonald, Chris Rock and others) in this incredibly crude comedy, "inspired by" the 1967 musical comedy and the children's stories. It's hard to say which is worse here, all the potty humor or the insincere attempts to put across a message. PG-13 (vulgarity, profanity, violence, partial nudity, hospital gore). (Cinemas 5; Redwood, with "There's Something About Mary"; Sandy Starships; Sugar House; Valley Fair.) (June 26, 1998)

EVER AFTER - * * 1/2 - Drew Barrymore tries to charm her way through this feministic, revisionist retelling of the "Cinderella" fairy tale, but only the star and Anjelica Huston, who nearly steals the picture out from under her as her wicked stepmother, fare all that well. Handsome production values, though. PG-13 (violence, vulgarity, profanity). (Carmike 12, Holladay, Plaza 5400, Reel, Sandy 9, Trolley North, Trolley Square.) (July 31, 1998)

GODZILLA - * * - Despite the awesome computer graphics-created title character, which rampages through Manhattan rather than Tokyo this time, this sci-fi/thriller from the "Independence Day" filmmaking team is a too-transparent ripoff of the "Jurassic Park" movies. Kids will probably love it, but adults may find themselves wanting better-developed characters and situations. A few thrills and a couple of chuckles, but on whole pretty disappointing. PG-13 (violence, profanity, vulgarity, gore, brief partial nudity). (Sugar House, Valley Fair.) (May 20, 1998)

THE GOVERNESS - * * - Minnie Driver is oddly self-conscious as the title character of this pointless period drama, a young Jewish woman who has an affair with the head of the household she is working for. Writer/director Sandra Goldbacher's not sure what she wants to say and the contrived romance beween Driver and Tom Wilkinson ("The Full Monty") is nauseating. R (nudity, vulgarity, sex, ethnic slurs, violence, profanity). (Exclusive, Trolley Square.) (Sept. 18, 1998)

HALLOWEEN: H20 (20 YEARS LATER) - * * 1/2 - Jamie Lee Curtis is great reprising her role as Laurie Strode, who forced to again do battle with killer Michael Myers in this "official" sequel to the infamous 1978 slasher film. There are also some very tense, thrilling moments, but the ludicrous five-minute finale almost ruins the whole thing. R (violence, gore, profanity, vulgarity). (Carmike 12; Redwood, with "Blade.") (Aug. 5, 1998)

HOPE FLOATS - * * - Not the change of pace Sandra Bullock might have anticipated, this disappointingly downbeat drama stars Bullock as a single mother who discovers love and acceptance when she is forced to move back to her small Texas hometown. Frankly, she tries too hard to charm her way through this uneven mess. PG-13 (violence, vulgarity, profanity). (Kaysville, Sugar House.) (May 29, 1998)

THE HORSE WHISPERER - * * * * - A case of the movie actually being better than the book, Robert Redford's long-anticipated adaptation of the Nicholas Evans best seller stars Redford as a horse trainer who helps heal a wounded animal, as well as its young rider and her mother (Kristin Scott Thomas, from "The English Patient"). Wonderfully low-key, with superb photography that makes great use of the beautiful Montana scenery. PG-13 (profanity, violence, gore). (Avalon, Kaysville, Sugar House, Valley Fair.) (May 15, 1998)

HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK - * * - Good performances from Angela Bassett and Whoopi Goldberg nearly salvage this disappointing adaptation of the best-selling novel, about a successful 40-year-old who discovers love with a much-younger man (newcomer Taye Diggs) while vacationing in Jamaica. Unfortunately, it's way too long, with silly soap-opera-like developments that really stretch credibility. R (nudity, profanity, sex, vulgarity, violence). (Carmike 12.) (Aug. 14, 1998)

KNOCK OFF - turkey - Possibly the worst Jean-Claude Van Damme movie to date, an unthrilling thriller about a kung-fu fighting clothing counterfeiter who has to foil a plan by the Russian mob to implant remote-controlled explosives in designer jeans. The cast (which includes Rob Schneider and Paul Sorvino) looks embarrassed, and definitely should be by this mess. R (violence, profanity). (Carmike 12; Cinemas 5; Redwood, with "Urban Legend.") (Sept. 6, 1998)

LETHAL WEAPON 4 - * 1/2 - More like a series of poorly conceived skits rather than a coherent narrative film, the fourth installment in the action series reunites Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci and Rene Russo and brings in newcomers Chris Rock and Jet Li to pump up the action and comedy. Unfortunately, much of the humor is surprisingly racist and sexist in nature and the stunts look like stunts. R (violence, profanity, gore, vulgarity, racial epithets). (Kaysville; Redwood, with "Armageddon"; Sandy Starships; Sugar House; Valley Fair.) (July 10, 1998)

MADELINE - * * * - Charming newcomer Hatty Jones shines as the title character, a tiny but mischievous schoolgirl in this sweetly low-key family comedy, drawn from Ludwig Bemelmans' beloved novels. Also helping are Oscar-winner Frances McDormand as schoolteacher Miss Clavel and Nigel Hawthorne as the villainous Lord Covington. PG (violence, vulgarity, mild profanity). (Kaysville, Valley Fair.) (July 10, 1998)

MAFIA! - * * - Despite some funny gags at the start (particularly the on-target Las Vegas sendups), this parody of the "Godfather" trilogy and "Casino" runs out of steam quickly and features a very vulgar, mean-spirited streak. And pity the late Lloyd Bridges, who is reduced to stumbling around for laughs. PG-13 (vulgarity, violence, profanity, drug use, ethnic slurs, sex, nude artwork, brief gore). (Sugar House, Valley Fair.) (July 24, 1998)

THE MASK OF ZORRO - * * 1/2 - Star power (including Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins) really brings to life this swashbuckling adventure, based on the pulp fiction stories and various movies. A bit too long and too much concentration on explosions at the end, but exciting nonetheless. PG-13 (violence, gore, nudity, vulgarity). (Carmike 12, Crossroads, Holladay, Midvalley, Sandy 9, Trolley North.) (July 17, 1998)

MR. NICE GUY - * * - Action star Jackie Chan's newest, a martial-arts comedy about a TV chef accidentally dragged into a turf war between a motorcycle gang and a drug lord, almost lives up to its advertised promise of having "more action than the last three Jackie Chan films combined." But its plot is too thin, the acting is abominable and the ending is pretty dull, frankly. PG-13 (violence, vulgarity, profanity, nude artwork). (Redwood, with "Rush Hour.") (March 20, 1998)

MULAN - * * * - Almost too brisk for its own good, the latest Disney animated offering is an exciting musical adventure about a young Chinese woman who disguises herself as a warrior to save her ailing father's life, and earn his respect. Superb animation, and the vocal cast (which includes Ming Na-Wen, Eddie Murphy, Donny Osmond, Harvey Fierstein and George Takei) gives charming performances. G (animated violence). (Kaysville; Redwood, with "The Parent Trap"; Sandy Starships; Sugar House; Valley Fair.) (June 22, 1998)

THE NEGOTIATOR - * * - Despite a powerhouse performance by Samuel L. Jackson, playing a hostage negotiator framed for murder, this overwritten suspense/thriller suffers from awful plotting and scripting. And despite some tense moments, no other cast member (not even Kevin Spacey) can match Jackson's intensity. R (violence, profanity, gore, vulgarity). (Brewvies.) (July 29, 1998)

NEXT STOP WONDERLAND - * * * - A wonderful lead performance from acclaimed independent film actress Hope Davis ("The Daytrippers") enlivens this breezy romantic comedy about a nurse who keeps missing out on seemingly "fated" meetings with her true love. Some off-kilter humor and strong writing from newcomer Brad Anderson also help. R (profanity, violence, vulgarity). (Exclusive, Broadway.) (Aug. 28, 1998)

ONE TRUE THING - * * * - This adaptation of Pulitzer-Prize winning author Anna Quindlen's best-selling novel is pretty thin, and reduces the plot to "disease of the week" territory, but Meryl Streep makes it all worthwhile with a terrific performance as a housewife dying of cancer. And Renee Zellweger is fine as an ambitious journalist who moves home to help her out. R (profanity, vulgarity, brief partial nudity). (Crossroads, Holladay, Midvalley, Reel, Sandy 9.) (Sept. 18, 1998)

THE PARENT TRAP - * * * - The real surprise of the summer, this remake of the 1961 Disney comedy is too long by at least 20 minutes, but it benefits from terrific performances. Best of all is charming newcomer Lindsay Lohan, who stars as identical twin sisters who have never met but who conspire to get their single parents (Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson) back together. PG (violence, profanity, vulgarity). (Cottonwood; Gateway; Plaza 5400; Redwood, with "Mulan"; South Towne.) (July 29, 1998)

ROUNDERS - * * * - Matt Damon and Edward Norton are great playing two gambling buddies in this drama/thriller from filmmaker John Dahl ("The Last Seduction," "Red Rock West"). However, they're hampered by some too-slow pacing and some uneven supporting performances (particularly, Gretchen Mol as Damon's love interest). Still, the finale's pretty tense, and it's an intriguing premise. R (profanity, violence, vulgarity, nudity, ethnic slurs, sex, gore). (Carmike 12, Gateway, Holladay, Plaza 5400, Sandy 9, Trolley Corners.) (Sept. 11, 1998)

RUSH HOUR - * * - Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan is great as a Hong Kong detective who goes to the states to rescue his prize student in this action comedy. Unfortunately, writer/director Brett Ratner ("Money Talks") pairs him with the ultra-annoying Chris Tucker, who spoils the movie with his fast-talking shtick and some nasty racist humor. PG-13 (violence, profanity, racial epithets, vulgarity, drug use, gore). (Creekside; Gateway; Midvalley; Redwood, with "Mr. Nice Guy"; South Towne; Trolley Corners.) (Sept. 18, 1998)

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN - * * * * - Director Steven Spielberg's "war movie to end all war movies" is startlingly graphic and violent, but it's also the most enthralling and compelling story of the year. Tom Hanks stands out among a great ensemble cast as the leader of a U.S. Army Rangers squadron sent on a seeming suicide mission - to bring back a paratrooper (Matt Damon) lost amid the famous 1944 D-Day invasion. R (violence, gore, profanity, vulgarity). (Broadway, Gateway, Holladay, Midvalley, South Towne.) (July 24, 1998)

SIMON BIRCH - * * - John Irving fans will blanche at this comedy-drama, which was "suggested by" his novel "A Prayer for Owen Meany." And while the revamped plot, about the friendship between a youngster ("Star Kid's" Joseph Mazello) and the title character, his unusually small best friend (newcomer Ian Michael Smith), is promising, director Mark Steven Johnson doesn't have the subtlety or filmmaking skills to pull it off. PG (profanity, vulgarity, violence). (Broadway, South Towne, Villa.) (Sept. 11, 1998)

SIX DAYS, SEVEN NIGHTS - * * - You can't blame either of the stars (Harrison Ford and Anne Heche) for this disappointing romantic adventure, which pairs them as a gruff cargo pilot and an acerbic New York who find danger and romance when they're stranded on a deserted island. Both of them try, but they're undone by awful scripting and plotting. PG-13 (profanity, violence, vulgarity, partial nudity, brief gore). (Sandy Starships, Sugar House, Valley Fair.) (June 12, 1998)

SMALL SOLDIERS - * * - More mean-spirited than you might expect and not nearly as funny as it thinks it is, this action-comedy features two armies of action figures who come to life and battle it out, dragging their unwitting human "owners" into the fray. Some good special effects, but the script is grossly underdone. PG-13 (violence, profanity, vulgarity). (Cinemas 5.) (July 10, 1998)

SNAKE EYES - * * - The action is tense during the first hour of this suspense-thriller, starring Nicolas Cage as a corrupt cop who winds up having to investigate a shooting in the midst of a prize fight. But after the conspiracy plot is revealed, the whole thing falls apart. Besides, director Brian De Palma spends most of his time aping Alfred Hitchcock's best camera tricks. R (violence, profanity, gore, torture, vulgarity). (Carmike 12, Creekside, Olympus, Plaza 5400, Sandy 9.) (Aug. 7, 1998)

THE SPANISH PRISONER - * * - Proof that playwrights don't necessarily make good filmmakers, this low-key thriller from David Mamet ("Oleanna") features clever plotting and decent pacing, but irritatingly robotic acting that robs it of life. Campbell Scott is at his most wooden, playing a young businessman unsure of whom to trust after he invents a revolutionary business strategy. PG (violence, profanity, gore, racial epithets). (Brewvies.) (May 8, 1998)

THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY - * * - Nearly as funny as it is disgusting, the newest comedy from the makers of "Dumb & Dumber" and "Kingpin" follows the misadventures of a lovable loser (Ben Stiller) who hires a sleazy P.I. (Matt Dillon) to find the woman he's been in love with since high school (Cameron Diaz). Screamingly funny at times, but the movie runs out of steam in the second half with an irritating stalking subplot. R (vulgarity, profanity, violence, nudity, ethnic slurs). (Broadway; Cottonwood; Gateway; Midvalley; Redwood, with "Dr. Dolittle"; Reel; South Towne.) (July 15, 1998)

THE TRUMAN SHOW - * * * * - One of those rare instances of the hype being justified, this thoughtful and subtle black comedy/suspense-thriller stars comic actor Jim Carrey (in his "breakthrough" role) as a man unaware that his "life" is being staged as part of a 24-hour-a-day documentary television show. Kudos also to Peter Weir ("Dead Poets Society"), whose skillful direction forces Carrey to act. PG (profanity, violence). (Kaysville, Sandy Starships, Sugar House, Valley Fair.) (June 5, 1998)

WRONGFULLY ACCUSED - * - Yet another unfunny Leslie Nielsen comedy, this one a dumb parody of "The Fugitive," as he stars as a violinist framed for the murder of his lover's husband. Most of the "humor" here is people hitting their heads on objects, while nearly all of the sight gags fall flat. PG-13 (vulgarity, profanity, violence, sex). (Carmike 12.) (Aug. 23, 1998)

THE X-FILES - * * * - The truth may be out there, but not all of it is revealed in this science-fiction/thriller based on the hit television series, which picks up the story from the season-ending cliffhanger episode. Still, it's a thrilling ride, and stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson get to show more personality than they're usually allowed. PG-13 (violence, gore, profanity, vulgarity, brief nudity, racial epithets). (Sugar House.) (June 22, 1998)

YOUR FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS - * * * 1/2 - Sure to be as reviled as it is adored, this savage black comedy from controversial filmmaker Neil LaBute ("In the Company of Men") revolves around the sex lives of a bunch of thirtysomethings (including Amy Brenneman, Ben Stiller, Aaron Eckhart and Jason Patric). Unbelievably offensive at times, but always truthful, with great performances from Brenneman and Patric, playing an unrepentant lothario. R (profanity, vulgarity, sex, nudity). (Exclusive, Broadway.) (Sept. 4, 1998)

*****

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