Cinema: No Slumming in Summertime

Three ambitious new films enliven the dog days

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Watch out, America, full moon's coming. That's when a wily psychopath -- a werewolf of modern paranoid fantasies -- turns some idyllic suburban home into a slaughterhouse. And when anyone wanders too close, the psycho (Tom Noonan) festers into action. A tabloid journalist (Stephen Lang) ends up flambeed in a runaway wheelchair. A photo-lab technician (Joan Allen), whose blindness has not inhibited her taste for sexual adventure, invites the psycho home and is soon in mortal peril. His only nemesis is Will Graham (William L. Petersen), an ex-FBI agent who uses a kind of Method forensics to identify with a killer's motives and thus predict his next move. But Will has much to lose as well: a wife, a son, a family life just like those the psycho loves to explode. And thanks to a tip from another serial killer (Brian Cox), the psycho has Will's home address.

Manhunter, based on Thomas Harris' novel Red Dragon, is a police procedural with some smart new fangles. The FBI uses all the sleuthing techniques of the computer age, yet its most sophisticated device is Will's brain, trancing itself into the psycho's psyche. Will is the typical tough-cop hero -- a loner whose awareness of his own checked rages makes him see the killer as his evil twin -- but he is also a decent family man; a supermarket chat with his son, about the bad things bad men do to people, is one of the film's surprise highlights. The killer is both monstrous and pathetic: a sad, overgrown child. Only when he springs into violent action is he imposing, graceful. He becomes a Baryshnikov of derangement.

With Miami Vice and his terrific debut feature Thief, Writer-Director Michael Mann honed his nouveau slick style: a strong silent leading man with a superb supporting cast, a flair for intelligent camerabatics, a bold, controlled color scheme, an assertive avant-rock sound track. Here he has found another subject to suit that disquieting style. Manhunter should keep viewers riveted throughout, and queasy through the next full moon.


Here is a movie about twelve-year-olds that was made for 40-year-olds. It's The Hardy Boys as filtered through the sensibility of Judy Blume. It's The Goonies with angst but without the pirates. It's S.E. Hinton's rewrite of Leave It to Beaver. It is, in other words, a self-conscious elegy to the reckless dreams of youth. The film's four young friends -- sweet, smart Gordie (Wil Wheaton), take-charge Chris (River Phoenix), feisty Teddy (Corey Feldman) and fat Vern (Jerry O'Connell) -- are forever stopping in their tracks to proclaim, "I'm in the prime of my life," or "Kids lose everything unless there's someone to look after them." Does any twelve-year-old talk with such analysand self-awareness? The boys may be just scruffy outsiders in the small-town '50s, but they sound like a Classics Illustrated version of Bruno Bettelheim.

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