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JUNE 8, 1998: 


In Brian Gilbert's brocaded bio-pic, Stephen Fry is all heavy-lidded insouciance and bulky lust as the film climbs the apex of Oscar Wilde's enormous popularity. Although married, the 19th-century dramatist and purveyor of bon mots outs himself and falls in tempestuous love with a beautiful but spoiled boy toy, Lord Alfred of Queensberry, a/k/a "Bosie" (Jude Law). Infuriated by the affair, Bosie's brutal father (The Full Monty's Tom Wilkerson) accuses Wilde of sodomy, and the playwright rear-ends his accuser with a famously ill-fated libel suit.

Fry's Wilde is equal parts flamboyance and fragility, a tortured soul who melts at the sight of downy youth but grieves for his jilted family. Law's Bosie, however, is such a bratty narcissist, it's hard to see as to why Wilde risked all for him. No surprise that the pair's pillow talk spills with eloquence, or that their arty sex scenes break up the film's educational tone. Still, this tale about the genius of paradox presents its own curious puzzle: how a life of such epic passion and tragedy can elicit so little emotional pull.

-- Alicia Potter

Marius and Jeannette

If your idea of a good time is leaving a theater unable to get Pavarotti's rendition of "O Sole Mio" out of your head, you're welcome to Robert Guédiguian's Marius and Jeannette. That's one of the musical banalities (Strauss's Blue Danube Waltz and Vivaldi's The Four Seasons are two others) cranked up on the soundtrack to augment its varying moods of bathos, sappiness, and precious whimsy. Set in ƒstaque, a working-class suburb of Marseilles, this is the story of Jeannette (the director's wife, Ariane Ascaride), a loudmouthed 40ish single mom fired from her job as a check-out clerk. She meets Marius (Gérard Meylan) while attempting to steal cans of paint from the site of a cement factory under demolition where he works as a guard.

Perhaps because the plant was where her father died in an explosion when she was just a child (just one of three tragic accidents in the movie), the two hit it off, engaging in the kind of quixotic relationship in which the laughs are hearty and fake and the heartaches lachrymose and contrived. Backing the pair up are Jeannette's salt-of-the-earth multicultural neighbors and an agenda that reeks of kneejerk socially conscious pieties. Dedicated to the region's anonymous workers, the film does itself no favors by bringing to mind Marius, Maurice Pagnol's seven-decades-old paean to Marseilles's poor, a masterpiece that celebrates its subject rather than exploiting it anew.

-- Peter Keough

I Got the Hook-Up

One of the funniest urban comedies to come out since Ice Cube's Friday, I Got the Hook-Up is a series of hilarious characters and situations piled on top of one another so fast, you barely have time to breathe between laughs. Two hustlers from the hood, Black (rapper and entrepreneur Master P) and Blue (AJ Johnson), get their hands on a vanload of cell phones and sell the loot to their homies, thereby pissing off the phone company, their local drug dealer, and the Justice Department. Then the fun begins. Master P (who also wrote and produced) has been heavily influenced by Friday: Hook-Up has the same local bully, S&M dwarf, lecture on pot-smoking etiquette (puff, puff, pass), and Ice Cube (in a cameo). But he takes his film to another level by adding a crew of mentally handicapped gangbangers, lascivious senior citizens, a transvestite hooker, women with few clothes but lots of tattoos, and Snoop Doggy Dogg.

-- Nicholas Patterson

A Perfect Murder

In this sort-of remake of Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder, Michael Douglas rekindles his Wall Street salad days as a controlling financier with Gwyneth Paltrow hanging on his arm as his adored trophy wife. All's not well in their cosmopolitan paradise, of course: Paltrow is carrying on a steamy affair with a buff young artist (Viggo Mortensen). So Douglas confronts Mortensen with details of his sordid past and together the two money grubbers hatch the "perfect" plan to off Paltrow. Needless to say the murder gets botched and Paltrow wanders through the rest of the film a doe-eyed victim uncovering the web of deceit as she searches for the truth.

Director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive, Under Siege) puts in a yeomanlike effort to keep the tension high, but the script, which does have a few admirable twists, runs out of steam before limping to its mundane resolution. And Paltrow -- looking sexy/cute in a Bridget Fonda sort of way -- struggles to engage her formal thespian skills in a film that requires nothing more than posture and attitude. Beyond her flawlessly applied lipstick, there's little that's perfect in this cat-and-mouse manipulator.

-- Tom Meek

Almost Heroes

I can almost see why director Christopher Guest would want to go for mass appeal with a dumb Chris Farley movie after tackling better but less commercial comedy in Waiting for Guffman. I can almost wonder why the This Is Spinal Tap vet doesn't apprehend the difference between "clever" and "stupid" in this completely stupid tale of two explorers (played by Farley and Friends' Matthew Perry) in a race with Lewis and Clark to reach the Pacific Ocean. I can almost understand why people miss Farley, even though he's never been in anything funnier than a five-minute skit. I can almost find sad irony in watching Farley playing a fat, goofball explorer chug a bottle of whiskey and pass out. I can almost buy Perry as a stiff, aristocratic, but ultimately just as bumbling explorer. I can almost understand why they keep putting members of the Friends cast in movies that are always sure disasters. And when I see these movies, I can almost wish I were at home watching Friends. I can almost believe that Perry and Farley have a smidgen of chemistry together. I can almost laugh when Farley falls down (because, you see, he's fat). I can almost pretend I don't see every "joke" a-comin' round the mountain. I can almost stay awake.

-- Mark Bazer

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