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Spring's crop of films is mostly adult fare Of age: In the next few weeks movies with grown-up stars like John Malkovich, Robert Redford, Liam Neeson and Steve Martin dominate. Only one features a young friend from 'Friends.'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It's been said before (by me) and it will be said again (probably by me): In the cycle of the American film industry, two months plus a few days belong to the kids, the two months being December (from Thanksgiving, say, till Christmas) and June (from, say, May 15 through July 4). But those two months pay for the other 10 months, so perhaps we grown-ups should not begrudge them their fun.

That also means that down-seasons, like early fall and late spring, belong to us, more or less, which is why in the next few weeks movies with John Malkovich, Robert Redford, Liam Neeson and Steve Martin dominate the film fare, rather than the 18-to-25-year-old mod squadders so beloved by our unruly children. There's only one film starring someone from "Friends." Rejoice.

Here's a look at the schedule as it now stands, offered with the proviso that such documents must be considered fluid as if written in Jell-O, not stable as if written in stone.

Feb. 23

Next Friday, the world's most popular movie star, Jackie Chan, ++ gets a shot at conquering the American audience. His "Rumble in the Bronx" opens, programmed to showcase the tough Asian's extraordinary stunt and martial arts skills, his raw courage and invulnerability to pain, as well as his charming and extremely likable persona. Will Chan become as big in America as he is in Asia? If he makes it only halfway, he's succeeded.

Then there's the troubled "Mary Reilly," which has been in editing a suspiciously long time. John Malkovich plays the noble Dr. Jekyll and that means he also plays the nasty Mr. Hyde, but the point-of-view character is his maid, Mary, played by Julia Roberts. Such a strange household! The great Stephen Frears ** ("Dangerous Liaisons," "The Grifters") directed.

A big, grown-up drama is "Before and After," with Liam Neeson and Meryl Streep as the prosperous artistic parents who look on in horror when their son (Edward Furlong) is accused of murder in their rural town.

Director John Dahl, who teamed so memorably with Linda Fiorentino in "The Last Seduction," joins with her in another noir thriller, "Unforgettable." The hero -- or is he the chump? -- is Ray Liotta, who attempts to re-create a murder through the DNA of the victim, thereby solving it.

March 1

The big one this week, "Up Close and Personal," teams Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer in a Jessica Savitch-inspired melodrama about a TV reporter and her Svengali-like adviser. Jon Avnet of "Fried Green Tomatoes" directed, from a script by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne.

That same day sees the first service comedy, a lost genre, in many a moon: It's Kelsey Grammer as a diesel sub captain in "Down Periscope," taking on the whole dang U.S. nuclear navy. "Major League's" David Ward directed.

On the foreign film front, the highly regarded British movie "Angels and Insects," from the novel by A. S. Byatt, reaches the Charles, while "French Twist" opens, probably at the Rotunda.

March 8

Another busy day. The big news, commercially, is the Mike Nichols-Elaine May collaboration (together again, after all those years!) "The Birdcage," which is the American movie version of "La Cage aux Folles." Robin Williams and Broadway's Nathan Lane are the flamboyant gay couple who try to pass as straight to impress the conservative parents (played by Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest) of Williams' son's fiancee.

For more arcane tastes, the always provocative Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, return to the milieu of gritty crime as in their first "Blood Simple" with a frost-bound piece, "Fargo." In this one, Frances McDormand stars as a pregnant police chief solving a murder on the Minnesota prairie.

Then there's "If Lucy Fell," a romantic comedy about Brooklyn dreamers who give themselves a month to find perfect mates, at the end of which, if they don't, they'll jump off the bridge. The stars are Eric Schaeffer and Sarah Jessica Parker, and they end up with Elle McPherson and Ben Stiller.

"Homeward Bound II" continues the animal odyssey, this time in San Francisco. Michael J. Fox reiterates as the voice of Chance the dog.

"Hellraiser III" also opens: Enough said?

March 15

Today brings Matt LeBlanc, that "Friends" guy, to the bigs in "Ed." It's one of those monkey movies. In this one, the monkey (a chimp named Ed) is on a minor league baseball team, playing third. Matt has to teach him how to field a bunt.

Meanwhile, in "Two Much," hunk of the year Antonio Banderas is a gallery owner on the lam after a scam goes sour. He ends up being pursued by amorous, possessive Melanie Griffith, while he's really interested in her sister, Daryl Hannah. It's a romantic comedy and also a case of art imitating life.

Finally, in "Executive Decision" Steven Segal plays a bad guy for a change, a terrorist who takes over an airliner; somehow a commando has to be inserted onto the plane in flight, as masterminded by an ivory tower kid with no experience in the real world. Kirk Russell is the dangling man. Halle Berry also appears in what is the beginning of a seven-day span in which she takes over Hollywood.

March 22

This day boasts an interesting quad of films. Spike Lee's new film is "Girl 6," which is set against the glamorous world of phone sex. Halle Berry and Quentin Tarantino star, but the girl of the movie is Theresa Randle. Madonna appears also; does that surprise anybody?

Then there's a third Halle Berry film, "Race the Sun," with Jim Belushi as co-star. It's about a college professor challenging a group of kids to build a solar-powered car.

In addition, the remake of the spooky French film "Diabolique" opens, with Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani as the two women who apparently conspire to murder the abusive headmaster of a private school, played by Chazz Palminteri. If it's half as scary as Henri-Georges Clouzot's original back in 1955, it's pretty bloody scary. Halle Berry is nowhere in sight.

Finally, "Big Indian, Little City" opens, a French comedy about a sophisticated businessman (played by Thierry Lhermitte) who learns that 13 years ago he had a son, who has been raised as an Indian in Brazil. The boy is played by Ludwig Brand.

March 29

March goes out like a lion with a huge day at the movies. "Oliver and Company," the Disney cartoon, goes into re-release, while another animated feature, "All Dogs Go to Heaven II," also shows up, both marketed primarily to cash in on the spring vacation blast of kids to the movie-going population.

"A Family Thing" stars James Earl Jones and Robert Duvall as refugees from rural Arkansas who meet in Chicago and learn that they have more in common than they ever would have suspected. It was written by the same Billy Bob Thornton who wrote the other Arkansas-based film, "One False Move," a couple of years back, and it explores many of the same themes, though in the context of family drama rather than crime thriller.

Then there's "Flirting With Disaster," from the David O. Russell who did the very interesting "Spanking the Monkey" last year. It stars Ben Stiller as a young man who goes searching for his birth parents (he was an adopted child) when he impregnates his wife. His parents are played by Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda.

And finally, Steve Martin checks in as "Sgt. Bilko," the ever-larcenous, noncommissioned officer who looks upon the service as an excuse to line his pockets and unline Uncle Sam's. Phil Silvers made the character famous on TV in the '50s; opposing Bilko are Dan Aykroyd and Phil Hartman. Sounds like a pretty good "SNL" skit from about 1978!

April

You'll have plenty of fear the first weeks in April. On Wednesday, April 3, "Primal Fear" opens with Richard Gere as a defense attorney who decides to try to save a sexually abused teen-ager from the consequences of murdering his oppressor. A young Marylander, Edward Norton, gives the movie's most astonishing performance, though; the kid is the grandson of James Rouse and, boy, does he have a future.

Then, more fear on April 12. This film is, literally, "Fear" itself, directed by James Foley. Mark Wahlberg, the artist formerly known as Marky Mark, plays a psychotic kid who takes a serious liking to William Petersen's daughter. Any father of a teen-age daughter is advised to steer clear; we have enough trouble already!

By the end of April, the product begins to thin out, as the screens begin to shake free for the big May pictures and the beginning of the summer season. Two definites, however, for April 19, are the romantic comedy "The Truth About Dogs and Cats" with Janeane Garofalo and Uma Thurman. (Uma? Janeane. Janeane? Um-Oh, forget it!") Then there's "Stephen King's Thinner," another horror opus from the meister of misery.

We can close out April on the 26th with a cultural milestone: the first time that Jean-Claude Van Damme directs. The film is "The Quest," which Universal has just shoehorned into its release plans. Van Damme plays a pickpocket who has to swindle his way into the greatest martial-arts tournament the world has ever seen, and there are reportedly some great fighters on view in this one.

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