From The Light, `Doc Hollywood,' To The Heavy, Lou Reed's `Lyrics'

Video movies

"Doc Hollywood." Contrived but sassy, silly but fresh, British director Michael Caton-Jones' first American film is almost too sweet to be believed, but just cheeky enough to be enjoyable in an undemanding way. Michael J. Fox plays a New York doctor, headed for Hollywood and a career as a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, who gets sidetracked into a Brigadoon-like limbo when his reckless driving lands him in "the buckle of the Bible Belt." He thinks he's entered the Twilight Zone, but for this rural hideaway in need of a doctor, he's a godsend. Unfortunately, there's a Message being drummed in so insistently (cities are bad, small towns are good) that it almost overwhelms the charm of the film.

"Life and Nothing But." Bertrand Tavernier's 1990 film about postwar chaos in 1920 France is too subtle and light on its feet to do justice to it in a few sentences. The search for an "unknown soldier" to be enshrined beneath the Arc de Triomphe; the French army major's efforts to identify 350,000 soldiers (some dead, some missing); two women's attempts to find a missing husband and lover, respectively - all figure in a shrewd and grimly humorous tale about how memory becomes travesty as war-memorial construction takes precedence over actually remembering what happened.

"The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear." This may be the swiftest, funniest, most lunatic comedy yet from the team that created "Top Secret," "The Naked Gun," "Ruthless People" and "Airplane!" (but not its lousy sequel, which was the work of imitators). "2 1/2" is not in any way similar to "Airplane II," which did little more than recycle the cast and gags from the first film. This sequel improves on the original, keeps on getting better and lets such original cast members as Priscilla Presley and George Kennedy really cut loose. Leslie Nielsen again plays Lt. Frank Debin, an Inspector Clouseau-like policeman who is always missing a beat while on the beat.

"Cool As Ice." Try to imagine Vanilla Ice in the Marlon Brando role in "The Wild One." Somebody did, and this is the embarrassing result. The script, which includes a hoary subplot involving blackmail, a kidnapping and a guilty family secret, is essentially a way of tying together a collection of familiar-looking music videos that are so loosely connected to the story that they have about the same impact as commercials. - John Hartl

Screen gems

John Hartl's tips for when the New Releases bin is bare:

1. "Diner." Barry Levinson, director of "Bugsy," the new Warren Beatty movie opening at theaters tomorrow, made his directing debut with this semi-autobiographical 1982 film about growing up in Baltimore.

2. "Tin Men." Levinson's second film about Baltimore was this 1987 gem starring Richard Dreyfuss and Danny De Vito as aluminum-siding salesmen.

3. "Rain Man." Levinson won an Academy Award for directing this 1989 drama starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise as brothers.

Video bargain of the week

"The Country Girl" (Paramount Home Video, $14.95). Shortly before retiring from the screen, Grace Kelly won an Academy Award for this 1954 Clifford Odets drama, in which she played the long-suffering wife of Bing Crosby.


Lou Reed, "Between Thought and Expression - Selected Lyrics" (Hyperion, $18.95)

In October 1990, Lou Reed interviewed Vaclav Havel, playwright, poet, president of newly emancipated Czechoslovakia, and - surprisingly? - a Velvet Underground fan.

Havel handed Reed a book. "These are your lyrics, hand-printed and translated into Czechoslovakian. There were only 200 of them. They were very dangerous to have. People went to jail."

No one will be jailed for owning "Between Thought and Expression." But Reed's lyrics are still dangerous - not, as in communist Czechoslovakia, for what they are, but for what they say.

De-activating society's failsafe mechanisms, he tells secrets, lifts shrouds, and at his best depicts a reality so harsh, so harrowing, that it becomes almost fantastical. No one could live like that, no one could love like that.

"Between Thought and Expression" presents that reality without distraction. Despite all but two of its 88 lyrics being drawn from Reed's recorded works, it is less a companion to the albums, more a corollary. The music, we find, often trivializes Reed's meaning, dulls its intensity through familiarity. Stripped of that reassuring coating, there are stories here that even devoted fans have yet to hear.

Reed canceled his scheduled reading engagement this fall at the University of Washington, and "Between Thought and Expression" does not compensate for that loss.

But with both a new album, "Magic and Loss," and a multi-disc retrospective, it does provide a welcome opportunity to re-evaluate all that Reed has accomplished in the past. And, perhaps, to anticipate what he will offer in the future. - David Thompson

"Monica Lewis Swings Jule Styne" (DRG)

Longtime nightclub chantootsie Monica Lewis has lost neither her voice nor her verve (nor her ability to pick good material) and she salutes Styne in this lively new album, including " I don't Want to Walk Without You," some choice movie songs and hits from "Gypsy," "Funny Girl," "Bells are Ringing" and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." She's accompanied by a lively, swinging combo.

"Mel and George `Do' World War II" (Concord)

Jule Styne is represented by three songs - "I'll Walk Alone," "I've Heard That Song Before" and "I Don't Want to Walk Without You, Baby" - on this fine new album combining the voice of Mel Torme and the piano of George Shearing. These two are so attuned to each other's strong suits they become one in this engaging get-together that also includes a dandy Ellington medley and the Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen classic, "Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive," that has become the theme song for this season's "Homefront" series on ABC. - John Voorhees