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FEBRUARY 23, 1998: 

THE APOSTLE. Robert Duvall has chosen parts in interesting, meandering movies so often that it's no surprise he's finally made one himself. The Apostle deals in the fuzziness of morality, the difficulty of self-knowledge, and the uses and misuses of religion so gracefully that you may not notice anything is being questioned, at first. Duvall, with gleeful unselfconsciousness, plays Sonny, a preacher who can't tell when he's being generous and when he's being self-serving. His devotion to a life of God looks an awful lot like a devotion to himself--he commits some of the really bad sins, but he's prone to kindness as well. The sheer ambiguity of this story is staggering, given the state of American movies these days. How often can two people see a film and come away with completely different ideas about its meaning? With The Apostle Duvall, who has already proven himself to be a spellbinding actor, has shown himself to be an intelligent writer and director as well. --Richter

THE WEDDING SINGER. This film calls into question the value of the very large brain and the opposable thumb possessed by our species. Really, what's the point in creating cultural artifacts, if they're as stupid as The Wedding Singer? Adam Sandler plays a crooner who specializes in weddings (though he quits near the beginning and is a wedding singer no more); Drew Barrymore plays the sugar cube he falls for. There are a few little obstacles to their love, but nothing serious, and a few little jokes thrown in, but nothing funny. The '80s clothes are the best part of the whole thing, and that's not saying much. --Richter

ZERO EFFECT. Yes, it is a little like eating rice cakes and yes, the title does describe what you're left with a few days after seeing it, but Zero Effect is still a pleasant experience while it's actually happening. Bill Pullman can't help coming across as deeply affable, even when he's playing a psycho detective with a serious mood disorder (proving he is indeed the Jimmy Stewart of the '90s). Ben Stiller is similarly likable as Arlo, Detective Zero's faithful sidekick. The two of them go about solving mysteries with a Watson-and-Holmes routine, complete with amazing deductions gleaned from mere shreds of evidence, and, for master detective Zero, a nagging drug problem. The script leans towards the goofy end of the spectrum, rather than the ironic/witty, which is a nice change for a comedy in our Sienfeld-dominated era. We award five special bonus points for the tender age of writer/director Jake Kasdan, who is just 22. --Richter

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