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** Backdraft--The story line is not always...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

** Backdraft--The story line is not always discernible, but the special effects are spectacular throughout. Kurt Russell and William Baldwin are brothers who work as firefighters in Chicago where an arsonist is at work. Language, sex, violence. Rating: PG-13.

*** Dances With Wolves--Oscar-winning film in which Kevin Costner plays a frontier soldier who befriends a tribe of Indians. The epic founders here and there, but for the most part is as big as its ambitions. Violence, sex, nudity. Rating: PG-13.

*** Defending Your Life--Albert Brooks wrote and directed this comedy in which he is an ad man who dies, then discovers that he must defend his life before being permitted to move to another heavenly level. Meryl Streep co-stars, and she and Brooks make an invaluable contribution to this pleasant mixture of comedy and pathos. Rating: PG.

* Dice Rules--The "uncut, untamed and unbelievable" concert film starring Andrew Dice Clay is, as expected, obscene, but worse than that, monotonous. Language, sex. Rating: NC-17.

* Drop Dead Fred--A slight, only occasionally amusing fantasy in which Phoebe Cates is a woman whose imaginary childhood friend reappears when she is in trouble. Language. Rating: PG-13.

** The Five Heartbeats--The familiar adventures of five young men who form a singing group in 1965. Robert Townsend co-wrote, directed and stars in the film, one whose sincerity does a lot to cover the amateurishness with which the film was made. Language, violence. Rating: R.

** FX 2: The Deadly Art of Illusion--Bryan Brown and Brian Dennehy continue in the roles they created in the original 1986 film. Brown is the special effects man, Dennehy is now a private eye, and together they nail a cop killer. Nudity, violence. Rating: PG-13.

** Home Alone--A John Hughes comedy in which a couple, off to Paris, leave one of their children behind. The movie is static for a time, but when it begins to move it is a bucket of laughs. Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are the burglars who invade the boy's home. Violence, language. Rating: PG.

Hudson Hawk--Bruce Willis is a cat burglar who wants to retire but is pressured into doing one more job. Rating: R. Not reviewed.

*** A Kiss Before Dying--A spare, gripping remake of the 1956 film. This time, Matt Dillon is the young man who murders those who stand in his way. Sean Young is the woman who marries him and wishes she had not. Violence, sex, nudity, language. Rating: R.

** The Marrying Man--Alec Baldwin is a millionaire who marries a cabaret singer, played by Kim Basinger. Neil Simon did the script, in which the two principals battle as much as they make love. Rating: R.

** Mortal Thoughts--A diverting, if not really memorable murder mystery in which Demi Moore and Glenne Headly are Cynthia and Joyce, suspects in the death of Joyce's husband, played by Bruce Willis. Violence, language, sex. Rating: R.

*** New Jack City--A hard, fast and exciting contemporary mob film in which drug sellers take over a New York housing unit and convert it into a fortress. Mario Van Peebles directed and plays a lead role in the film. Sex, nudity, language, violence. Rating: R.

Only the Lonely--John Candy is an aging bachelor whose love life hampered by an overly possessive mother. Rating: PG-13. Not reviewed.

** One Good Cop--Engrossing and frequently funny comedy-drama in which a cop finds himself caring for the three children of a buddy who has died in the line of duty. Michael Keaton and Anthony La Paglia star. Language, violence. Rating: R.

* Oscar--A forced farce in which Sylvester Stallone is a mobster who promises his dying father that he will try to go straight. Everybody tries, but to no avail. Rating: PG.

stars) Out For Justice--Steven Seagal is a cop who finds himself locked in battle with his boyhood enemy, a man who has turned the old neighborhood into a killing field. The movie is violent, but you're likely to laugh at many things in this unredeemable film. Violence, language, nudity, sex. Rating: R.

A Rage in Harlem--An uneasy mix of comedy and gore, but when the film is funny, it is very funny. Robin Givens is the Southern girl who carries a suitcase full of hot gold to Harlem where everybody wants to know her and the gold better. Sex, language, violence, nudity. Rating: R.

** Shipwrecked--The movie, done in Norway, is an old-fashioned story about a stowaway, a shipwreck, pirates and stolen treasure. Keep in mind that it was made for children, not adults. Violence. Rating: PG.

** Silence of the Lambs--A horror/suspense film that would be a lot more palatable if the gore were not so excessive. Jodie Foster is the FBI agent who picks the brain of a jailed murderer to establish a profile on another murderer who is still at large. Violence, language, nudity. Rating: R.

** Sleeping With the Enemy--Julia Roberts is a young woman who marries the wrong man. When she tries to leave him, he pursues her with murder on his mind. The film is not always plausible, but it is good fun. Violence, sex. Rating: R.

** Spartacus--Restored version of the 1960 epic in which Kirk Douglas plays the slave who led a revolt against Rome. The movie, now as then, is a largely cumbersome thing that becomes interesting only when Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov and Charles Laughton are to the fore. Violence. Rating: PG-13.

* Stone Cold--Muddled, brutal action film in which Brian Bosworth, former football star, plays an undercover cop who infiltrates a gang of evil bikers. Violence, language. Rating: R.

** Switch--A frequently amusing comedy in which a womanizer, murdered by a trio of his victims, returns to earth as a woman. Ellen Barkin and Jimmy Smits star. Sex, language, violence. Rating: R.

** Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze--The continued and funnier adventures of the mutant creatures who this time learn how they got that way. Violence. Rating: PG.

** Thelma and Louise--Initially interesting but ultimately disappointing movie starring Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon as women who take to the road after one of them shoots a rapist. Language, sex, nudity, violence. Rating: R.

** Toy Soldiers--A brutish and predictable terrorist film in which South Americans take over a boys' school and threaten to kill the students, one by one, unless their demands are met. The film does become exciting after a time, but the preliminaries are the usual. Language, violence. Rating: R.

** Truth or Dare--Madonna, as she did her 1990 Blond Ambition Tour. The documentary is supermarket tabloid on film. Sometimes it amuses. Sometimes it simply settles for gross. Language, sex, nudity. Rating: R.

* What About Bob?--Unfunny, predictable "comedy" in which Richard Dreyfuss is a shrink and Bill Murray is the nerdy patient who plagues the psychiatrist and his family. Language. Rating: PG.

Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken--The true story of a stunt rider who makes it to the big time, the Steel Pier at Atlantic City. Rating: G. Not reviewed.

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