Addams Family Values ** (Century 10, UA 6) America's favorite fiendish family is back in a reprise of Barry Sonnenfeld's 1991 gallows-humor hit, "The Addams Family." But "Addams Family Values" dishes up little more than a string of ghoulish puns and dark double entendres. And only about half really work. Despite Sonnenfeld's insistence that his sequel actually has a plot this time around, the story line is simpler and sillier than what you would find on most TV sitcoms. Gomez (Raul Julia) and Morticia (Angelica Huston) welcome little Pubert into their family and, at the new nanny's suggestion, send Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) off to a summer camp for the rich and privileged. While the kids contend with the evil forces of white, upper-class conservatism, Uncle Fester is tricked into marriage by the homicidal, gold-digging nanny (Joan Cusack). Rated PG-13. --M.H.
Age of Innocence **** (Palo Alto Square) Set in New York City in the 1870s, and rigorously based on the novel by Edith Wharton, this fine film takes us into a world of calling cards, white gloves and horse-drawn broughams. Onto a high-society high-wire steps Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis), his good intentions pulling him toward his sweet fiancee May (Winona Ryder), his heart sweeping him toward a spirited but "compromised" countess (Michelle Pfeiffer). Director Martin Scorsese wields his camera like a sculptor's chisel. Rated PG. --M.V.
Carlito's Way *** (Century 10, Century 12) A hood released from prison tries to go straight, but old friends and a dysfunctional code of honor ultimately destroy him. Credit director Brian De Palma with being more interested in the energy and vitality of the small-time Puerto Rican mobsters than in the cliched irony on which the film is based. The film is marred by the mawkish voice-over narration and by a boring, unconvincing romance between the hood (Al Pacino) and a showgirl (Penelope Ann Miller). But don't let these flaws keep you away. Among the film's many virtues are Sean Penn's wickedly witty portrayal of a mobster lawyer; De Palma's subtly florid creation of a Rick's Cafe American-like night club where, as in "Casablanca," much of the drama unfolds; and several breathtaking action sequences, including a stunning chase that begins on a subway and ends in Grant Central Station. Rated R. --L.S.
Cool Runnings *** (Century 12) As you might guess, nothing is peaceful about the trek from Jamaica to the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary for the ragtag team of four wannabe bobsledders whose only experience with ice has been sucking down snow cones on a hot tropical day. Inspired by a true story, the four men become the first bobsled team to represent Jamaica in the Olympics (using a reggae beat to get a rocking start on their run) and the first to break the color barrier in the white-as-snow world of this winter sport. As the cantankerous coach, John Candy does a surprisingly good job playing straight man to the comic antics of the four leads. Rated PG. --S.T.
Farewell My Concubine **** (Varsity) Chen Kaige has constructed a mammoth political firecracker. The story of two Peking opera stars, set against a half-century of tumultuous Chinese history, this film is an explosion of sound, texture and color that lasts for almost three hours. Based on a popular novel by Hong Kong writer Lilian Lee, the film takes its title from a classical Chinese opera in which all the roles are sung by males. The story unspools around the gay man (Leslie Cheung) who plays the concubine role and harbors real-life unrequited passion for his "king" on the stage (Zhang Fengyi). When his partner marries a prostitute (Gong Li), the delicate trouper has fits of jealousy that threaten their lifelong friendship and operatic career. Rated R. Subtitled. --S.T.
The Firm *** (Old Mill 6) There are so many striking implausibilities in the first half-hour of "The Firm" that you may find it impossible to enjoy the considerable excitement that follows. But if you are willing to believe, for example, that a law student in the top of his class at Harvard would unwittingly accept a job with a law firm that specializes in laundering money for the mob, then the movie's bogus premise may not prevent you from enjoying the suspense and excitement that director Sidney Pollack brings to the telling of the young lawyer's attempt to get away from the firm that no one else has ever left alive. Rated R. --L.S.
The Good Son ** (Old Mill 6) Macaulay Culkin is jealous of his younger sister and forced to share his parents' attention with a visiting cousin--so he sets out to destroy them both. To the movie's credit, his diabolical stratagems fall well within the range of a 10-year-old boy. He knows exactly how to play his mother and knows no shame. Too bad that far too much of the film is devoted to the relationship between the two boys, a relationship that quickly becomes static and ultimately has little to do with the real source of tension in the film--the question of whether loving parents have the emotional strength to see through an evil child who knows exactly how to pretend to be good. Rated R. --L.S.
In the Line of Fire *** (Old Mill 6) At its heart, this the story of an aging cowboy stirred by one last conflict into coming to grips with the meaning of his way of life. This time, the cowboy is Frank Horgan, a secret service agent who has been blaming himself for President Kennedy's death. Horgan's darkest hours are resurrected but his life is revitalized when a would-be assassin tells him of a plan to kill the current president. While strong performances by John Malkovich and Eastwood make this an engaging movie to watch, director Wolfgang Petersen too often substitutes gratuitous violence for suspense, enigma for narrative and cliches about loneliness for character development. Rated R. --L.S.
The Joy Luck Club *** (Century 10, Century 12) Wayne Wang ("Dim Sum") ambitiously re-creates the exquisite tapestry of the novel by Amy Tan, deftly weaving the thoughts and experiences of four women who left unspeakable tragedies behind in China when they immigrated to San Francisco in 1949. The result is a film of dazzling emotional and epic range about the strong bonds between mothers and daughters. The extensive use of voice-over is essential but sometimes awkward. More bothersome is Wang's tendency to punctuate dramatic moments with whistling tea kettles or portentous music, a heavy-handed substitute for Tan's delicate, poetic prose. But these faults seem minor given the subtle truths, rich Chinese heritage and spellbinding tales that survive in the screen version. Rated R. --S.T.
Like Water for Chocolate ** (Aquarius) A movie about food, passion and the mystical power of women, "Like Water for Chocolate" purports to celebrate the preparation of food and the empowerment of women. But with its judgmental tone, "Like Water," in fact, fails to intelligently explore any issues of importance. Set on a ranch in Mexico early in the 20th century, the film revolves around Tita, the youngest of three sisters. Tita's shrewish mother insists that she forgo marriage and remain at home to care for her. Emotionally imprisoned, Tita pours her passions into the food she prepares. Director Alfonso Arau has fashioned a crude film filled with all the trappings of adolescent comedy--flatulence, vomit and instant sexual arousal--which people are taking much too seriously. Not rated. --L.S.
Mrs. Doubtfire **1/2 (Century 10, Century 12) The trouble with men-in-drag movies is that they all have the same message: A man becomes a better man when he acts like a woman. Such is the case with Robin Williams' latest, "Mrs. Doubtfire," in which Williams dresses up like a 65-year-old nanny in order to see his children. After discovering his feminine side, he becomes a better father. Although the message is a good one, it's getting a bit old. What's inherently funny, though about seeing men in drag is magnified by Williams' manic persona. He plays a San Francisco cartoon voice-over actor and really gets to strut his stuff--impersonations, crazy voices, quick one-liners. Director Chris Columbus ("Home Alone") leans on Williams for everything--jokes, plot development, his trademark schmaltz--even though Sally Field and Harvey Fierstein deliver fine performances as well. But Williams' limited range as a "serious" actor makes the tender, heartwarming moments fall flat. Rated PG-13. --N.M.
My Life ** (Century 10, Century 12) Writer-director Joel Rubin ("Ghost") continues his probe into the meaning of life and the reality of death with his latest sob story, "My Life." Michael Keaton stars as a Los Angeles public relations tycoon who, diagnosed with cancer, wills himself to stay alive just long enough to see the birth of his child. He videotapes himself giving his unborn child the lessons of life that he won't be around for. There is also something to be made of his coming to terms with his deeply rooted family problems. Yes, this is the tear-jerker of the season, and something, somewhere in this movie will most likely stir your heart. The versatile Keaton meets the challenges of this role, but Kidman drags the movie down with her typical monotone, unemotional performance. Rated PG-13. --S.I.
The Nightmare Before Christmas * (Century 10, Century 12) "Beetlejuice" meets "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" in Tim Burton's gory, grim "The Nightmare Before Christmas." This high-tech animated film opens in Halloweentown, where the head spookster, Jack Skellington, decides Halloween is no longer his scene. Jack orders Santa Claus to be kidnapped, then dons the red gear himself and takes over the Christmas Eve ride. The message here? The grass isn't always greener. Mr. Oogy Boogy Man, another bad guy, will give kids the heebie-zgeebies for sure. Annoying music by Danny Elfman. Rated PG. --S.I.
The Piano **1/2 (Guild) Ada (Holly Hunter) has sailed from Scotland with her young daughter and beloved musical instrument to enter into an arranged marriage with a shy colonial rancher (Sam Neill), who has a British neighbor who's "gone native" (Harvey Keitel). Struck dumb by childhood trauma, Ada finds her deepest self-expression in music. So far, so good, but then "The Piano" takes us through Ada's "healing process": marriage to an introverted tyrant, the theft of her precious possession, her reclamation of it by becoming a sexual hostage. After all this, Ada finds her voice! How? "Through the transforming power of sex." Jane Campion ("An Angel at My Table") creates a stylish blend of the gothic, exotic and neurotic, but enjoyment of this film, voted best at Cannes this year, may depend on how much disbelief you can suspend. Rated R. --M.V.
The Program ** (Old Mill 6) James Caan stars as Coach Winters, head of the Eastern State University Timberwolves, in this testosterone-driven film. Coming off a bad season, Winters is determined to take this year's football program to a bowl game. His players are just as determined. "The Program" takes an in-depth look at what it takes to pull together a winning team, and the pressures that surround that goal. Money, steroids, beer, women and plain old competition are what this movie is made of. Director David Ward creates an enlightening juxtaposition of the strength, virility and tenacity of this football team, compared with the fragile and uncertain career of each individual. Although a bit grim and gory at times, "The Program" will please hard-core football lovers. Rated R. --S.I.
The Remains of the Day **** (Park, UA 6) After three intelligent adaptations of works by E.M. Forster, Ismail Merchant, James Ivory and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala deliver Kazuo Ishiguro's prize-winning novel "The Remains of the Day." Like their previous works, the film is feast for the eyes, exquisite in every detail. It is also a feast for the mind. The film recalls 20-odd years in the life of Stevens (Anthony Hopkins), a butler who doesn't allow anything--not independence of thought, not love--to distract him from his duties. It is only when his personal lord is revealed to be a Nazi collaborator and traitor to England that Stevens realizes he has worshipped a false god. In his devotion to duty, Stevens loses Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson), head housekeeper. It is a testament to Hopkins' and Thompson's skills that they can convey so much depth of feeling in so narrow a social box. Rated PG. --D.S.
Robocop 3 * (Old Mill 6) The pouty Robert Burke takes over the starring role (formerly owned by Peter Weller) in the third round of "Robocop." The original flick excited viewers' imaginations by looking into the future and doing the impossible--giving a corporation ownership of the Detroit Police Department. "Robocop 2" had predictably sympathetic characters grappling with morality issues, and the third--and hopefully the last--"Robocop" gives much of the same, but more of it. Robo now has quite an attitude. He won't follow orders and joins a group of homeless vigilantes. But it is all entirely unbelievable and done without any imagination. Rated PG-13. --S.I.
Ruby in Paradise ** (Aquarius) While it may be true that the unexamined life is not worth living, the over-examined life may not be worth watching, at least not for two hours. That is the big problem with "Ruby in Paradise," which traces Ruby Lee Gissing's (Ashley Judd, daughter of Naomi, sister of Wynonna) winter of discontent in the tacky beach town of Panama City, Fla. Although Ruby arrives in Panama City with enough pluck to conquer New York, she crumbles during the central crisis of her stay--when she unjustly loses her job after being nearly raped by her boss's son. Judd gives a fine performance, which is a good thing because she is on screen the entire two hours. But too often the camera seems to stall on her face, transforming her soulful gazes into unreadable mooning about. One wishes director Victor Nunez had set a time limit on these moments. Not rated. --D.S.
Short Cuts *** (Palo Alto Square) Based on the writings of Raymond Carver, this film is a three-hour sprawling slice of life in malathion-drenched L.A. There's a waitress and her alcoholic chauffeur husband; a rent-a-clown and her macho, fisherman husband; a divorcee and her chopper pilot ex; a single mom and her jerk of an LAPD boyfriend. Director Robert Altman's jazzy sensibility will always be refreshing, and "Short Cuts" is sometimes flip, sometimes moving and always clever. Although there are plenty of biting moments, and they are stitched together ingeniously, they do not a story line make. After a while, it's impossible to care for so many tattered souls. All of the all-star cast do well, but the parade of famous Hollywood mugs (which worked so well in "The Player") tramples upon characters whose anonymity is at the core of their lives. Rated R. --M.V.
Sleepless in Seattle *** (Old Mill 6) Your tolerance for this movie may depend on how much you believe in perfect romance between perfect strangers. Tom Hanks is Sam, an architect and widower living in Seattle. Meg Ryan plays Annie, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun. Through Sam's son, the two meet via a late-night talk show. The soundtrack has a crooner for every candlelighted mood, but the usually ebullient Hanks has little to do but gamely follow an 8-year-old lead, and Ryan falls back on her familiar perkiness. True romantics will adore this movie. Others, be warned: Suspending necessary disbelief may cause permanent back injury. Rated PG. --M.V. <\q\q\q\q>