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SPRING Movies In Bloom Season's offerings range from action flicks to art picks, and include 'the hot one'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It must be spring; the movies are blooming everywhere!

Here's a list of the films due into Baltimore through Memorial Day, with the usual caveat to let the reader beware: Sometimes the studios or the distributors change dates suddenly. So what follows isn't reality, it's Virtual Reality. And remember this one important thing: If the dates are changed, it's not my fault. Thank you very much.

On Friday, "Gladiator" punches its way into town. An operatic boxing picture about teen-agers recruited by an evil ex-champion to fight on an underground circuit in Chicago, it stars Cuba Gooding Jr. of "Boyz N the Hood" and James Marshall of "Twin Peaks." The Bad Guy is Brian Dennehy. Rowdy Herrington directed. The same day "The Lawnmower Man" opens, from a novel by Steven King and starring Jeff Fahey. The movie takes off from the technology of Virtual Reality and is full of computer-generated imagery.

"The Double Life of Veronique," about the bond between two women (both played by Irene Jacobs), opens March 12 at the Charles; it's the most heralded foreign film of last year.

The next day is busy, busy, busy. "Article 99" is a comedy-drama set in a veteran's hospital about a group of young doctors -- Ray Liotta, Kiefer Sutherland, Lea Thompson, Forest Whitaker -- who take on not only their patients but also the cumbersome Veterans Affairs bureaucracy. Then there's the ironically titled "American Me," with Edward James Olmos as star, writer and director. Olmos plays a Mexican drug lord in East L.A. who, even after arrest and sentencing, continues to rule the streets from behind bars. "My Cousin Vinnie" rounds out the trio with Joe Pesci as a loudmouthed but inexperienced Jersey lawyer who is called down south to represent his innocent cousins in a murder case in a small, rude town. (Of course all towns in the South are small and rude, but that's another story.)

On March 20 comes "the hot one." I should explain: Immediately after "Shining Through," with Michael Douglas and a blond opened up, a guy calls. He says, "Is this the hot one?" I said no, the hot one comes in March. "Great," he says. "Can't wait till the hot one."

"The hot one" is "Basic Instinct," with Douglas and blond Sharon Stone, directed by the sick genius Paul "RoboCop" Verhoeven. Douglas plays a kinky cop on the search for a lesbian serial killer. NC-17, anybody?

Also on March 20, "The Mambo Kings" opens, a big-budget number about two Cuban brothers (Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas) who land in the New York of 1953.

How smart is it to release "The Cutting Edge" on March 27, a month after the Winter Olympics shut down? We'll find out. Anyway, it's about a figure skater whose partner is injured just before the Olympics, so a hockey player is recruited. Is that a gag, or what? The stars are D. B. Sweeny and Moira Kelly. Also on March 27 is "The Power of One," about South Africa, with a powerful cast including Morgan Freeman, Armin Mueller-Stahl and John Gielgud. It's about a young man coming of age during the imposition of apartheid. And finally on March 27, yet another entrant in the Who-Dusted-JFK? sweepstakes: "Ruby," with Danny Aiello in the title role. According to these guys, the mob did it.

April 3 is busy, busy, busy, busy, with seven films coming out on the same day. "Straight Talk" offers an unusual romantic pairing, with country-calm Dolly Parton linked with thousand-word-a-minute city boy James Woods. She's a radio talk show shrink, he's a newspaper reporter. "Newsies" is from Disney. A musical. About newspapers back in the gay Nineties. No. Those gay Nineties.

Then there's "Rock-a-Doodle," the new animated feature from Don ("An American Tail") Bluth, which watches as a rooster learns how to control the rising of the sun. "Thunderheart" offers Val Kilmer as an FBI agent who searches for the murderer of two Indian women on the Sioux reservation and discovers his own Indian heritage. Michael Apted directed. "Beethoven" is the spring dog movie, about a gigantic St. Bernard who bedevils prissy owner Charles Grodin. And, speaking of dogs, here's Rodney Dangerfield in "Ladybugs," as a salesman in a corporation who agrees to coach a girls' soccer team as a way to a promotion. Finally, "Ferngully: The Last Rainforest," another animated film (why do I suspect most of America's spring vacations begin April 3?). It's about mythical creatures trying to protect the rain forests.

On April 10, the class project of the spring heaves into view. This is "City of Joy," with Patrick Swayze as an American doctor working among the poor in Calcutta, the world's most devastated city, where he discovers love and joy as well as pain. Roland Jaffe, who shot "The Killing Fields," directed. "A Class Act" restores the clown princes of movieland, Kid 'N Play, to the screen. Then there's "A Midnight Clear," derived from the William Wharton novel about a platoon of misfit genius kids who find themselves in the middle of the Battle of the Bulge. Ethan Hawke stars.

"Deep Cover" gets a Wednesday start date, April 15; directed by Bill Duke ("A Rage in Harlem"), it gives the superb Larry Fishburne his first starring role as an undercover narc who is seduced by the lifestyle of the drug dealers he's been sent to nab.

On April 17, "The Babe" comes a-calling, with John Goodman as the most famous Baltimorean of them all, George Herman Ruth, he of the 60 swats and the seven or eight hotdogs at a time. Herbert Ross directed the film, which means it will be in good taste, even though the Babe wasn't always known for his good taste.

April 24th is another busy day, with five films scheduled to arrive. "White Sands" is a police thriller with Willem Dafoe and Mickey Rourke. Dafoe is a sheriff in the desert country of New Mexico and is investigating a murder that leads to those ne

farious nasties in Langley, Va. "The Player" is famous already, a savage look at the Hollywood filmmaking system with over 50 cameos by famous people playing themselves. It's about a murderously ambitious junior film executive who, instead of firing the writer as they are wont to do, merely kills him, saving the buyout. Robert Altman, who did "M*A*S*H" and "Nashville" and then quit the town in disgust, directs. "Passed Away" is a nasty black comedy about four siblings squabbling over their late father's money at his funeral; it stars Bob Haskins, William Petersen, Tim Curry and Peter Riegert and was written and directed by Charlie Peters. "Proof" is an Australian movie about a blind photographer involved in a love triangle. Details forthcoming. The comedy-drama "Paydirt" opens the same day, with Jeff Daniels as a larcenous criminologist on the track of some hidden loot. It's hidden under Catherine O'Hara's house. Meanwhile, some bad boys have tumbled to the plot.

May 1 is a curiously mute weekend, with nothing slated. On that weekend, we shall rest. On the following, May 8, we shall see "Housesitter," with Goldie Hawn and Steve Martin, from director and ex-Miss Piggy Frank Oz. She's a conwoman who takes over his country home (he's a prosperous architect) by representing herself as his wife. "Night on Earth" is Jim Jarmusch's new film. It might be called "The Taxicab Movie," for it contains five vignettes all set in taxicabs in different cities. Jarmusch has gained a cult reputation with "Down by Law" and "Mystery Train." Then there's "Poison Ivy," Drew Barrymore's slut movie. The diminutive heroine of "E.T." plays a wild young hitchhiker, who tries to take over and destroy, through seduction, the family that takes her in.

The big ones begin to hit in late May, trying to get a leg up on the summer movie season. The biggest of these arrives May 15, when "Lethal Weapon 3" checks into America on about a million screens. Danny Glover and Mel what's-his-name are back, as is Joe Pesci. A building is actually blown up in the film -- a real building in a real city -- for explosion fans. Richard Donner, the director of the first two "Weapons," repeats. For the non-"Weapon" audience, there's "Edward II," an updated Shakespearean rag set in contemporary Britain, starring Steven Waddington and Tilda Swinton.

On May 22, ready or not, are two more huge ones. There's "Patriot Games," based on the novel by Tom C-----. Mr. C------, of course, was so angry at the changes made in the plot of the movie from the plot of his book, that he demanded his name be taken off it. Paramount may or may not do him this favor, but we here at The Sun aim to please. The story follow's C-----'s hero Jack Ryan, CIA hotshot, as he saves the Prince of Wales' life and becomes the object of an IRA terrorist plot on the Eastern Shore. Much of it was filmed in Maryland, Mr. C-----'s stomping grounds. Then there's "Aliens 3," which really ought to have a real tiny little 3 behind it and the 3 ought to float and it ought to be read "Aliens Cubed." Sigourney Weaver returns, as does "the Bitch," that big, dishy mama bug with the multiple jaws, the bad saliva problem and the massive attitude. Looks scary as hell. Directed by David Fincher, an MTV vet.

Here are some free-floaters -- films that don't have firm dates yet but are still on the spring schedule. First of all, there's Nora Ephron's "This Is My Life," with Julie Kavner as a comedian who finds that stardom means less quality time with her kids. "Back in the U.S.S.R." is a romantic thriller with Frank Whaley as a kid who gets sucked into all kinds of trouble in the Moscow underworld on a school trip. "Mo' Money" stars Damon Wayans and is an extension of a skit on "In Living Color," about a con man who goes straight. "35 Up" is a continuation of the famous British documentary that follows a group of children as they grow up; it checks in with them every seven years, this being the fifth installment. Then there's "Steven King's "Sleepwalkers." You know all about it. And last, there's "Voyager," with Sam Shepherd, directed by Volker Schlondorff.

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