Belle Epoque ** (Aquarius) Spain's lackluster nominee for this year's best foreign language film Oscar is set during the sunny spring days of 1931 when the country is poised for a new beginning after the collapse of the monarchy. Director Fernando Trueba uses this unrestrained time of confusion and gaiety as a backdrop for his comic tribute to earthly delights. He takes his time--and too much of ours--to equate sex with life in "Belle Epoque." The story follows the Casanova-like escapades of a young army deserter (Jorge Sanz) taken in by a philosophical old artist (Fernando Fernan Gomez) and his four hot-blooded daughters. The movie stops and starts, its structure often recalling tired porn in which everything is set up for the next sexual dalliance, ogled by the eye of the camera like a peeping Tom. Rated R. Subtitled. --S.T.
Beverly Hills Cop III * 1/2 (Century 10, UA 6) Most of the gunfights and chase scenes in this tired threequel careen through an amusement park called WonderWorld (several scenes were filmed just down the road at Santa Clara's Great America), but this incarnation of the decade-old original is no thrill ride. It's about as exciting as a broken merry-go-round. Eddie Murphy reprises his role as Detroit police officer Axel Foley, who heads back to SoCal to avenge the shooting death of his boss. He encounters your basic, boring counterfeit ring, your basic bad guys and your basic shootouts and car chases. The whole package is less inspired than your basic TV cop show. Bronson Pinchot makes a funny reappearance as Serge, a gallery-owner-turned-arms-dealer, one of few humorous highlights in this dull, formulaic, predictable action flick. Rated R. --M.H.
Crooklyn ** 1/2 (UA 6) Spike Lee revisits the sidewalks and brownstones of his childhood in this funny but uneven comedy. The Bed-Stuy streets of Brooklyn sweltered and exploded in "Do the Right Thing," but this time all the heat is trapped inside as a family of seven struggles in the early 1970s. With such pop culture icons as "The Partridge Family" and "Soul Train" blasting in the background, the story unfolds in a loose, episodic fashion primarily through the eyes of the feisty 10-year-old sister (Zelda Harris) who holds her own with four rowdy brothers. Although their comic roughhousing sets the tone, the movie is best in its quiet touching moments. Strong performances by Alfre Woodard and Delroy Lindo as the parents--not Lee's excessive use of camera gimmicks--move us to understand the importance of family. Rated PG-13. --S.T.
The Crow ** 1/2 (Palo Alto Square, Century 12) An intensely violent action picture, "The Crow" is based on the comic book series by James O'Barr. It tells the story of a rock singer (Brandon Lee, who died in a freak shooting accident during the making of the film) who comes back from the dead to avenge his and his fiancee's murder. This film owes a great debt to "Batman." Lee even wears white makeup and red lipstick like the Joker. But "The Crow" is more thematically whole and mesmerizing than the Tim Burton film. It packs a significant punch, grabbing you right away and never really letting go--even when it descends into predictable action-caper cliches. Rated R. --N.M.
The Flintstones * 1/2 (Century 10, Century 12) For a few minutes, it's fun to meet the Flintstones. The modern Stone Age family is perfectly cast with John Goodman and Elizabeth Perkins earnestly bringing Fred and Wilma, to life. Rick Moranis and Rosie O'Donnell carry the requisite amount of empty-headed good cheer to their roles as Barney and Betty Rubble. But let's face it, these characters are as flat as the paper they were originally hand-drawn on. The real stars are the production design and special effects teams that developed Bedrock. The simple tale centers around Fred getting duped into an embezzlement scheme at Slate & Co. quarry, where he has been promoted to a junior executive position. Fred has to hit rock bottom in order to discover the true value of family and friends. Your Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm will love "The Flintstones." Adults should be forewarned: Yabba-dabba-don't go unless you have to. Rated PG. --S.T.
Four Weddings and a Funeral *** (Century 10, Century 12) The beguiling spell of love and hope that British director Mike Newell cast in "Enchanted April" works its magic again in "Four Weddings and a Funeral," a high-spirited romantic comedy of intoxicating fun. Newell repeats his formula of tossing a diverse group of people together in a predictable situation. The film's charm comes through as the characters unexpectedly reveal themselves and get delightfully silly over affairs of the heart. Hugh Grant and his circle of friends boast about being single and proud of it while toasting the "enemy" at the string of weddings they attend. It takes a soft-spoken American (Andie MacDowell) and a funeral to convince the confirmed bachelor that the time has come to stop flirting with commitment. Rated R. --S.T.
The Inkwell ** 1/2 (UA 6) This film by 22-year-old Matty Rich ("Straight Out of Brooklyn") is a warm, charming, coming-of-age story about the life lessons a 16-year-old African-American boy (Larenz Tate) learns during a summer vacation with his family in 1976. Flaws in the script and a lethargic pace are made up for by the strong cast, especially Joe Morton and Suzanne Douglas as the boy's parents. The film focuses on a specific period and a specific place--the Inkwell was an exclusive beach at Martha's Vineyard populated almost solely by blacks--but the story and emotions of this sweet, tender film are timeless and universal. Rated R. --N.M.
Kika * (Aquarius) Body parts, high heels and color-saturated sets star in Pedro Almodovar's lurid attempt to combine comedy with murder, sex and mystery. Spain's bad boy again borrows from his Holy Trinity--Banuel, Hitchcock and Wilder--but this time comes up with a strange cinematic hybrid that doesn't work, doesn't move and doesn't have anything to say. "Kika" is a kinky post-modern pastiche fatally short on substance and energy. Kika (Veronica Forque), a kooky makeup artist, is at the center of an intricate story that has her sleeping with both a moody lover (Alex Casanovas) and his American stepfather (Peter Coyote), a writer who may have a passion for murder. Almodovar's dark vision is neither funny nor insightful, and he never allows you to care about these characters. In Spanish with subtitles. Not rated. --S.T.
Little Buddha ** (Park) To play the part of Buddha, the father of a spiritual and cultural tradition that has sustained millions of people for 2,500 years, Bernardo Bertolucci chose Keanu Reeves. the numskull star of "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure." "Little Buddha" is the story of the young Prince Siddhartha and his possible reincarnation in the present day as a young American boy in Seattle. "Little Buddha" is ornate, richly photographed, filled with color and spectacle and teeming with thousands of extras. But as an epic, it falls flat. Instead of relying on the historical resonance of the subject matter, Bertolucci ("Last Tango in Paris," "The Last Emperor") gets bogged down in a slow-moving story populated by ineffective, trendy actors and actresses. Rated PG. --N.M.
Maverick * (Century 10, Century 12) The television show offered viewers the pleasure of watching scoundrels being deceived. The movie version is about deception as well, but this time the folks being cheated are all in the audience. Lacking a shred of dramatic integrity, "Maverick" continuously sacrifices plot and character for cheap, gratuitous gags--the kind that appeal to adolescent males with room-temperature IQs. Who else thinks it's funny to see a character who can't fight or shoot break out of character and begin to do so? Who else thinks it's witty to hear Indians curse and complain in the vernacular of teen-agers? Who else could Hollywood have had in mind when it turned out this lowbrow version of a "Lethal Weapon" movie? Rated PG. --L.S.
Renaissance Man ** (Century 10, UA 6) This disappointing effort from director Penny Marshall lacks the comfy, uncomplicated charm of her previous films ("Big," "Awakenings" and "A League of Their Own"). Danny DeVito plays an unemployed advertising man turned teacher charged with whipping a gang of numskull enlisted men into mental shape. This being a military flick, the protagonist must clash with authority (personified by drill sergeant Gregory Hines) in a pointless subplot that comes from nowhere and is left dangling like a participle. The film tries to tug the cardiac cords by portraying the Army sweat-hogs as victims of various familial dysfunctions. Marshall seems lost, working with an uneven script that burps out a new subplot every five minutes. --N.M.
Schindler's List **** (Century 12) Because "Schindler's List" is a movie of such power, scope and intelligence, it will eventually take its place alongside masterpieces like "Battleship Potemkin," "Grand Illusion" and "The Great Dictator." Three hours and 15 minutes long and shot almost entirely in black and white, "Schindler's List" tells the true story of how one man, and not a particularly good or extraordinary man, pits himself against the Nazi war machine to rescue nearly 1,100 Polish Jews from certain death. Director Steven Spielberg spares nothing in his evocation of the era. The performances are universally outstanding. Liam Neeson is formidable as the handsome, urbane, philandering Oskar Schindler, whose shifting emotions and allegiances must be masked at every turn. Ben Kingsley plays Schindler's Jewish accountant with heartbreaking humanity and restraint. Rated R. --D.S.
Sirens *** (Aquarius) In John Duigan's light-hearted look at sexual awakening, model Elle MacPherson's sensuality translates pretty well from the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue to the big screen. As a model posing for portraits, she is just one visual highlight in an all-around intriguing tale of a young Englishwoman (Tara Fitzgerald) who experiences a sexual awakening in the pastoral mountains of rural Australia. The beautifully filmed venue for this awakening is the secluded house of controversial painter Norman Lindsey (Sam Neil), whose work created considerable scandal in 1930s Australia. Rated R. --J.S.
Thirty-two Short Films About Glenn Gould ** 1/2 (Palo Alto Square) This connect-the-dots chronology of the piano virtuoso's life is told in 32 clever vignettes. A bittersweet picture of the gifted musician, who abruptly gave up live performing at age 32 and died of a stroke at age 50 in 1982, emerges from self-contained, often witty segments ranging in length from 45 seconds to more than 10 minutes. Colm Feore plays Gould with a benign otherworldliness that is engaging. His performance belies the complicated genius of the man. There is no doubt Gould was brilliant and eccentric, but this seems to be the only note the film can sound. The series of films sound a tired and questionable theme over and over again: Gould was not like the rest of us. Not rated. --N.M.
When a Man Loves a Woman ** 1/2 (Century 10, Century 12) Director Luis Mandoki ("The White Palace") deals less with alcoholism than the relationships of those who are victims of it in the appropriately titled "When a Man Loves a Woman." Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia give believable performances as a seemingly perfect, loving couple who are torn apart by Ryan's drinking. Much of the psychology here seems to be snagged straight from John Gray's popular book "Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus," but, overall, the film tells a solid story about the power of love. Rated R. --S.I.
White Fang 2: Myth of the White Wolf ** 1/2 (UA 6) White Fang returns in a rousing, old-fashioned adventure story that owes more to Disney than Jack London. The wolf-dog and his prospector friend from San Francisco (Scott Bairstow) have survived the harsh Alaskan winter of 1906 only to discover an equally formidable foe: the greedy white man with gold fever. "Dances with Wolves" meets "Thunderheart" as the young miner comes into contact with the starving Haida tribe seeking the legendary white wolf, a great warrior who will lead them to the caribou and restore balance to the land. Implausible but carefully plotted, the movie provides edge-of-your-seat entertainment. Rated PG. --S.T.