April, a certain famous poet maintains, is the cruelest month. What did he know? Clearly he was never a movie critic and he never had to sit through a January or a February at the multiplex. In fact, from here, April is looking pretty darned good!

The films of spring usually sound an optimistic note; they're not ,, the leftovers from the year before, launched desultorily into theaters to satisfy contractual obligations; and they're not filler thrown up there to bridge the gap between the collapse of the Christmas pictures and the arrival of the spring ones. They're real movies -- except, of course, when they're not.


Here's a look at what's coming up with the roses in the next several weeks, through the end of May, with the usual proviso that the schedules are fluid and apt to change at any moment.

Next weekend will be hectic, with four films. "If Looks Could Killrepresents the big-screen debut of the little screen's Richard Greico, a Johnny Depp cohort on "21 Jump Street" and his own man on "Booker." Greico plays a high school student on a trip to Europe who is, in classic Hitchcock wrong-man fashion, tabbed as a CIA guy. Complications follow. Another actioner introduces ken-po karate to the big screen and a new top kicker in Jeff Speakman, who is getting the same kind of buildup accorded most recently to Steven Seagal, who lept to stardom in exactly one movie. The film is called "The Perfect Weapon."


Then Gene Hackman and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio do legal battle across the generation gap (they're father and daughter, liberal and conservative) in "Class Action," a comedy-drama. A drama undiluted by comedy brings Robert De Niro to the screen in "Guilty by Suspicion," a look at the days of the blacklist in 1951 Hollywood. De Niro plays a director at the top of his craft who loses it all in a single weekend, when he's "named." Longtime producer Irwin ("Rocky") Winkler wrote it and makes his directing debut.

On March 22, the movie we've all been waiting for appears. I know I've been waiting, that's for sure. It's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze." (By the way, for turtlefreaks who can't wait, there's a benefit performance of the film March 16 at 10 a.m. to assist the Children's House at Johns Hopkins Hospital; for ticket info, call Grant-A-Wish at 242-1549). The other opening is "The Long Walk Home," which documents the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott of the mid-'50s. The stars are Sissy Spacek as a middle-class woman and Whoopi Goldberg as her maid, who are driven apart, then unified by the crisis.

March 29 is dry, probably to allow room for the previous Monday night's Oscar winners to sputter back into the theaters for a few million extra bucks of take-ola. Into April, the first weekend (April 5) yields "Defending Your Life," the first film Albert Brooks has written and directed since "Lost in America." In this one, the hysterical Brooks plays a yuppie called to meet his maker at an inconvenient moment; he's horrified to discover that he is expected to go through his entire existence and justify it, as a way of staying out of the Hot Place. See, he never ever figured that Hell was real. . . . Meryl Streep co-stars. Also on the date, "FX-2" opens, reuniting Australian Bryan Brown, as a genius-level stuntman, and the husky American Brian Dennehy, as a genius-level New York cop. Little else is known.

On April 12, the scary-tough Steven Seagal chops his way through his fourth film, this one called "Out for Justice." He plays an Italian-American cop out to bring down his childhood chum, now evolved into a drug kingpin and killer. William Forsythe, an engaging presence in a number of films as a character actor, gets the promotion to main villain. Also on April 12 is "The Marrying Man," with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, from the prolific pen of Neil Simon. It's billed as a "Pretty Woman" variation, about a millionaire who marries a Vegas lounge singer. Jerry Rees directed.

On April 19, the much-maligned but ever game Blake Edwards returns, after the critical drubbing he received for his most recent film, "That's Life." Clearly he wasn't listening to us. This one, titled "Switch," has an intriguing cast, with Ellen Barkin and Jimmy Smits. It's about a chronic womanizer who goes to heaven where he must answer for his sins. He's sent back to earth as a woman (Barkin), charged with the effort of finding one decent woman friend. Life is different, he learns, when you're a she.

"Mortal Thoughts" has attracted a lot of prerelease attention: it's about a couple of hairdressers who cooperate in the murder of one of their husbands. There's some amusing role-playing here, with Demi Moore getting to off her real-life mate Bruce Willis. Glenn Headley is the third star. Look for lots of funk, angst, spitting and lowlife violence in this one.

"Oscar," which opens April 26, returns Sylvester Stallone to the screen, this time as bumbling Mafioso named Snaps who swears to his dying father that he will go straight. It's a comedy, perhaps a career change that the increasingly monolithic Stallone might be able to use at this point. Also on April 26, "Toy Soldiers" opens; this one looks amusing, a thriller about South American terrorists who take over an American military school where their country's dictator's son is a student. Delta Force is outside but it's the kids inside around whom the plot revolves. Much of the filming took place at a private school in Charlottesville, Va. Sean Austin and Louis Gossett Jr. are in the cast.

Still another starter on April 26 is "Hanging With the Homeboys," which caused a major stir at the prestigious Park City, Utah, independent film festival. Described as an inner-city "Diner," it's about four high school grads out for a last night on the town (New York) as they try to decide what to do with their lives. Joseph P. Vasquez wrote and directed.


On May 3, cop flicks rule. "One Good Cop" features Michael Keaton as a detective who inherits three daughters from his partner. Then the Boz -- the Brian Bosworth so recently and disappointingly of the Seattle Seahawks -- makes his movie debut in "Stone Cold," in which he plays an undercover officer who infiltrates an outlaw 'cycle gang. Let's hope the Boz can be more convincing as an actor than he was as a pro linebacker.

Lots of people, meanwhile, are talking about "The Fisher King," from the visionary director Terry ("Brazil") Gilliam. It opens May 10 with a great cast: Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges. Bridges plays a New York disc jockey hopelessly gone into cynicism and contempt, who encounters a street person (Williams) who has retreated into his private world to escape the awareness of a personal tragedy. Somehow he gets the loudmouth in there with him, and it changes both their lives.

On May 17 comes the movie with the lamest PR come-on I've seen since a visit years back to an Eastern Shore decoy factory. "See wood ducks made," proclaimed the sign. And here's "Born to Ride's" come-on, equally promising: "Vintage bikes are featured." Dynamite! Really blows you away! It's about the last year of the old cavalry and the first year of the new cavalry, which happened to be 1939. An army captain, played by John Stockwell, hires a motorcycle racer, played by TV cool guy John Stamos, to teach his horseman how to fight atop a mount named Harley-Davidson instead of Ol' Paint. Vintage bikes are featured!

May 24 is a busy one, as May edges toward Memorial Day and the start of the summer season. "What About Bob?" has a wonderful premise: Bill Murray plays a shrink's patient who has become so dependent on his guru that he follows the poor man on vacation. Then there's "Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken," an inspirational story about a stunt rider at the steel pier in Atlantic City, N.J., who continued to perform after being blinded. And then there's "Hudson Hawk," the first of the big-budget

summer pictures, with Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello as professional burglars off a-capering in Europe.

Finally, on the Wednesay before the Memorial Day weekend, "The Five Heartbeats" opens, from the gifted filmmaker Robert Townsend, about a black singing group in the '60s.


There's also a whole raft of films that don't yet have dates -- the season yes, sometimes even months, but no dates. For example there's "Fires Within," with Greta Scacchi and Jimmy Smits, about a love affair in Little Cuba. "Russian Roulette" stars Gene Hackman and Mikhail Baryshnikov. This season's John Candy is called "Delirious," with the big guy playing a soap-opera writer who ends up in the middle of one of his own scripts.

John Hughes, that one-man studio, offers "Career Opportunities," about a young guy locked in a department store with a beautiful woman. "Life Stinks" brings back Mel Brooks, this time as a billionaire who ends up living among street people. Two romantic comedies star Bryan Brown and Karen Allen ("Sweet Talker") and Phoebe Cates ("Drop Dead, Fred"). A psychological thriller called "True Colors," starring James Spader and James Cusack, also looks promising.


Spring openings

March 15: "If Looks Could Kill," "The Perfect Weapon," "Class Action," "Guilty by Suspicion."

March 22: "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze," "The Long Walk Home."


March 29: None scheduled.

April 5: "Defending Your Life," "FX-2."

April 12: "Out for Justice," "The Marrying Man."

April 19: "Switch," "Mortal Thoughts."

April 26: "Oscar," "Toy Soldiers," "Hanging With the Homeboys."

May 3: "One Good Cop," "Stone Cold."


May 10: "The Fisher King."

May 17: "Born to Ride."

May 24: "What About Bob," "Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken," "Hudson Hawk."

May 29: "The Five Heartbeats."

To be announced: "Fires Within," "Russian Roulette," "Delirious," Career Opportunities," "Life Stinks," "Sweet Talker," "Drop Dead, Fred," "True Colors."