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Choose Comedy, Action Or Bio From Fresh Sheet In Video Stores

Fri., March 28, 1997, midnight

There are times when you walk into your neighborhood video store and almost immediately begin to sigh. It seems as if you’ve seen everything worth seeing, and nothing new looks even remotely tempting.

First of all, acknowledge that this is a fantasy. If you typically do nothing more than prowl the New Releases aisle, you’re passing up some of the best films ever made. You’ll find them over in the Classics, Foreign or Western sections.

Nothing spices up a regular diet of Jim Carrey films like a Humphrey Bogart mystery, an Akira Kurosawa adventure-drama or another viewing of “Shane.”

Then again, there are those weeks in which multiple films open, and the range of material - much less quality - that they represent is more than enough to get you through a weekend of video-viewing.

This week is one of those weeks. From James Ivory’s bio-pic “Surviving Picasso” to the Jackie Chan comedy-action-thriller “Supercop,” from David O. Russell’s offbeat comedy “Flirting With Disaster” to another adaptation of a John Grisham novel (“The Chamber”), movie fans have little to complain about.

And if, despite all this, nothing looks appealing? Well, there’s always “Shane.”

Surviving Picasso ***

Working from a book about the 10-year relationship between Pablo Picasso and Francoise Gilot, an artist in her own right and the mother of two of Picasso’s children, filmmaker James Ivory has directed this rather harsh look at the self-absorption of genius.

For all his talent, or maybe because of it, the Picasso of this film is a master manipulator.

Anthony Hopkins certainly looks the part, and he manages to capture the requisite charisma as well as the childish sense of self-indulgence.

Natascha McElhone is good as Gilot, but American actress Julianne Moore is superb as one of Picasso’s cast-off lovers.

Overall, this is a good, if limited, look at the allure of genius - the good and the bad aspects. Rated R

Supercop ***

In the follow-up to his successful “Rumble in the Bronx,” Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan released this 1993 tumble-heavy police story with a completely redubbed soundtrack. Chan’s producers showed good sense in bringing this vehicle back, as it tends to attract a younger audience. Actually, though, it should appeal to anyone who enjoys Chan’s lighthearted style. There’s plenty of action, but that doesn’t translate into the kind of of gratuitous death montage that, say, an American action star would be only too happy to shamelessly emphasize. In fact, “Supercop,” which involves Chan’s character going undercover in China to foil a murderous gang, features far less explicit killing than certainly any Schwarzenegger, Stallone of Van Damme action-thriller. And there’s always Chan to watch as he survives his stunts, all of which he does himself, and as he softens the mood by alternately playing the hero and the fool. He is a one-of-a-kind movie industry, all unto himself. Rated R

Flirting with Disaster ** 1/2

If you failed to understand the appeal of David O. Russell’s first film, the dark comedy “Spanking the Monkey,” you might be equally turned off to this raw-edged study about family relations. Looking for his birth parents, a young man (Ben Stiller) sets off in search of them with his wife (Patricia Arquette), their as-yet unnamed infant son, the adoption-agency representative (Tea Leoni) and, ultimately, a pair of offduty ATF agents (don’t ask). Blended into this zany plot are Mary Tyler Moore and George Segal as the adoptive parents, Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda as the birth pair. Much of the laughter comes at the expense of the characters, whose neuroses rival those of Woody Allen, and much of what happens is indeed funny. Still, Russell tends to paint himself in plotconscious corners, and the film seems simply to run its course rather than end in any meaningful way. Rated R

The Chamber **

When John Grisham decided to write “The Chamber,” he wanted to step away from his typical style of legal thriller and do a study of family, Southern racism and the death penalty. Even though his attempt at becoming Pat Conroy failed, his novel did have its dramatic moments. Most of that changed, however, when James Foley signed on to direct this film adaptation. Intent on following the success of such other Grisham hits as “The Firm,” “The Client” and “A Time to Kill,” Foley streamlined William Goldman’s screenplay and stressed the idea of a mystery at which Grisham only hinted.

Basically, the story follows a young lawyer (Chris O’Donnell) who goes to work on the death-sentence appeal of his unapologetically racist grandfather (Gene Hackman), who was convicted of bombing a Jewish lawyer’s office. As the lawyer seems more intent on uncovering family secrets than he is on doing legal research, the old man’s chances aren’t good. But then the conclusions the lawyer reaches both about his family and himself don’t resound with much self-knowledge either.

Foley pushes his movie along, and the acting by all involved is adequate, but nothing here improves much on the statements already made in such films as “Dead Man Walking” and even Sharon Stone’s “Last Dance.” Rated R

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