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Salute to Scotland, scares, remakes on spring film list

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Hmm, this must be a first. A good portion of the spring's prestige movies are based on . . . Sean Connery's tattoo.

Absurd, but true. Connery, it is famously known, wears a faded blue stencil on a forearm that reads "Scotland Forever," meaning forever until the taxes got too high, which is why he now resides in Marbella, Spain.

But as it turns out, two of the biggest pictures of the spring appear to be illustrated versions of "Scotland Forever" -- one the old swashbuckler "Rob Roy," remade with Liam Neeson, and the other set in a slightly more medieval time frame, Mel Gibson's "Braveheart," about the coming of the English to Scotland in the first place.

When it comes to spring films, though, other possibilities are not so intriguing. "Die Hard With a Vengeance" sounds just like "Die Hards" one and two with a vengeance; "Crimson Tide" may be the last Armageddon picture, set on a nuclear sub; "Outbreak" gives us Dustin Hoffman in an Army uniform and some nasty, diseased monkeys.

Here's a look at the films on the way over the next three months, up until the formal beginning of the summer season on Memorial Day, with the usual blah-blah to the effect that as distributors jockey for position, some films may come, and some may go (that is, straight to video). Friday, the big news is the Dustin Hoffman picture "Outbreak," about an Army medical team combating a new virus that's contaminated a research installation. Wolfgang Petersen, the very good German director of "Das Boot" and "In the Line of Fire," helms the project, and

Morgan Freeman and Rene Russo are along for the ride.

David Frankel's "Miami Rhapsody" also opens that day, a full four weeks after opening in other markets. It's a romantic comedy, with Sarah Jessica Parker and Antonio Banderas, about a bride-to-be offended by the adultery she sees all around her. Finally, there's "Strawberry and Chocolate," a gay-themed film

set in Cuba.

March 17, the two studio pictures are "Losing Isaiah" from Paramount and "Bye Bye, Love" from Twentieth Century Fox. In the former, lawyer Jessica Lange helps welfare mom Halle Berry fight for custody of her child, and in the latter, a bunch of divorced dads, led by Paul Reiser and including Randy Quaid and Matthew Modine, struggle to cope with single parenthood. The horror entry is the sequel "Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh," and I have no idea what that subtitle means.

Then there's "Federal Hill," set in Providence, R.I., with Nick Turturro of "NYPD Blue," about young Italian-Americans coming of age, and I don't want to go too far out on a limb, but I'd bet someone has seen "Mean Streets." Finally, "Muriel's Wedding" holds forth at the Senator; it's an Aussie comedy-drama about a dullish young woman much put upon by family and friends who decides to reinvent herself in the big city.

March 24, brings us Damon Wayans as "Major Payne," a gung-ho Marine officer riffed down to a wimpy boys' school. Then, from Disney, there's "Tall Tale," starring Scott Glenn as the bad guy, Oliver Platt as Paul Bunyan and Patrick Swayze as Pecos Bill. Nick Stahl is the kid. "Dolores Claiborne" appears to be a clone of "Misery," with Kathy Bates reappearing as a homicidal captor of a snooty yuppie, played not by James Caan but by Jennifer Jason Leigh. It's also adapted from a Stephen King book and also released by Castle Rock. The art film that week is "Queen Margot," with Isabelle Adjani, which re-creates the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre.

March 31, March goes out like a lion when a restored version of Sam Peckinpah's epically violent 1969 western, "The Wild Bunch," arrives; check your guns at the door, please. It's a weekend for wild: Also opening is "Born To Be Wild," but it doesn't have any guns in it at all, being a children's picture about a boy and his gorilla from Warner Bros. Then there's "Tank Girl," from the punk-futuristic British comic strip, with Lori Petty, directed by Baltimore's Rachel Talalay. And finally, "Tommy Boy," out of the "SNL" film factory; Lorne Michaels produces as Chris Farley plays a not terribly bright guy who has to fight to save his father's auto parts company from an evil stepmother played by Bo Derek. His ally: David Spade. His enemy: Rob Lowe.

April 7, He's long, he's tall, he's a movie star, and he's back from beyond. Gary Cooper? Not hardly: try "The Goofy Movie," from Disney. It's animated -- you were expecting "And Al Pacino is Goofy"? And it's said Goofy actually acts in this one. Then there's "Bad Boys" from Columbia, with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as undercover cops in Miami. "Don Juan de Marco" restores the once and future king Marlon Brando to the screen; he plays shrink to Johnny Depp, who thinks he's the famous Latin lover, and Faye Dunaway agrees. MGM's "Scotland Forever" checks in this day, with Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange fighting English usurpers in "Rob Roy." The artier films of the weekend include "Once Were Warriors," a harrowing but reputedly powerful examination of child abuse in New Zealand, and "The Sum of Us," with burly Aussie Jack Thompson facing the reality that his son is gay.

April 12, MGM's animated feature "The Pebble and the Penguin" opens.

April 14, "A Walk in the Clouds" opens, a period romance with Keanu Reeves and Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, who fall in love amid the grape arbors of Northern California after World War II, directed by the Mexican director Alfonso Arau of the beloved "Like Water for Chocolate." From the sublime to the ridiculous: "Jury Duty," with Pauly Shore. Enough said?

April 21, Universal offers "The Cure," a tale of boyhood bonding and adventure, starring Joseph Mazzello and Brad Renfro. Fox counters with film noir, in "Kiss of Death," which gives "NYPD" hunk David Caruso his first starring role, one originally played by Victor Mature. He sure ought to do better than Victor! Richard Price wrote; others in the cast are Samuel L. Jackson and Nicolas Cage.

"Jefferson in Paris" restores the tony cosmopolitan team of Ivory, Merchant and Jhabvala to the screen, with Nick Nolte as the red-headed Virginia genius rube and Greta Scacchi as his French lover. Far less tony is Jim Carroll's raw cult novel "The Basketball Diaries," about street hustling in New York for dope and baskets, finally brought to the screen with the brilliant Leonardo DiCaprio in the starring role.

And rounding out the weekend's work is "A Little Princess," starring Liesel Matthews, derived from a novel by the Frances Hodgson Burnett who wrote "The Secret Garden." It's about a young girl sent from India to a boarding school in New York when her officer father goes off on a campaign; when he is lost, she is penniless and must fend for herself.

Wednesday, a movie called "Friday" opens: that is, Wednesday, April 26; it stars Ice Cube, and it's a drama set in the 'hood.

April 28, brings two unheralded films: "A Pyromaniac's Love Story," a comedy, stars William Baldwin, John Leguizamo and Sadie Frost, and it chronicles a busboy's desperate attempts to woo a waitress. "Top Dog" stars Chuck Norris, but it's aimed more at the family trade than the young males, with Chuck as a detective helped by his brilliant K-9.

May 5, in "French Kiss," Meg Ryan heads to Paris in search of fiance Kevin Kline but falls in love with a mysterious Frenchman. Lawrence Kasdan wrote and directed. That same day, Mark Harmon returns to the screen in "Glenorky," playing the father of two kids (Sarah Liscette Wayne and Joshua Jackson) who spend a summer at a lake known for its legendary creature. The last entry that day is yet another film derived from a video game, "Mortal Kombat." The head fighter is Christopher Lambert.

May 12, brings the first of the big dogs. This is "Crimson Tide," which sounds as if it should have been written by Tom Clancy, but wasn't. On a nuclear sub on missile patrol, Capt. Gene Hackman and Lt. Cmdr. Denzel Washington have a serious dispute about the meaning of a message which may require them to fire their birds or may not, depending. Tony Scott directs. The other movie that day is "Bar Girls," a lesbian comedy with Nancy Allison Wolfe and Liza D'Agostino. It's going to the Charles.

May 19, A week later, Bruce Willis returns to the franchise that made him a star: it's "Die Hard With a Vengeance," with Samuel L. Jackson along for the gunfights. The setting, however, is New York, not a single locale.

Less explosive than either, "Forget Paris" also arrives that day, as directed by and starring Billy Crystal and written by Crystal, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, the team behind the wonderful "City Slickers" and the D.O.A. "City Slickers II."

It's about something very similar to "An American in Paris" -- an American basketball ref in Paris! Debra Winger, Ellen Andrews and Joe Mantegna also appear in the film.

May 26, sees the arrival of two more big-budget jobs. The first is Mel Gibson's "Braveheart," which he stars in and directs; it's a medieval battle film that retells the story of the British conquest of Scotland in the late Middle Ages. The preview looks gorgeous.

Then, from Amblin Entertainment (the Spielberg mill) comes yet another pop icon from the '50s resuscitated as a $40 million '90s movie, "Casper." Its preview has been seen in theaters, too,

boasting brilliant special effects.

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