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"The 13th Warrior," "The Astronaut's Wife" and "The Muse"

Quick Flicks

"The 13th Warrior""The Astronaut's Wife""The Muse"

"The 13th Warrior" OK, folks. Get ready to be shocked. I liked this testosterone mishmash of macho tales. I found myself caught up in the old-fashioned storytelling, where battles are epic struggles between good and evil and all warriors are brave and heroic.

Based on a Michael Crichton novel, this bravura-soaked tale of Norse warriors and one itinerant Arab ambassador (Antonio Banderas) makes little sense after the lights go up. But while it's unspooling, there you are, transported back to the dimly lit and dimly witted times of the 9th millennium. Evil is afoot and a soothsayer holds sway. A cannibalistic tribe of bearskin-clad men is attacking a small village. They must be stopped. But the gods say one of the warriors must be dark — that means Banderas' peace-loving poet must become a fighter.

Directed by John McTiernan, "The 13th Warrior" borrows from everything from "Beowulf" to "Braveheart," "The Long Ships" to "The Seven Samurai" without shame and without ever bettering them. But still, watching all the battling, the posturing and trying to figure out the characters' names was a guilty pleasure. "The 13th Warrior" is macho candy.

"The Astronaut's Wife" This one is also a mishmash of other — better — movies. But unlike "The 13th Warrior," that's not a good thing. Part "Village of the Damned" meets "Rosemary's Baby," this flick never quite gets you to believe. First problem is Johnny Depp as one of America's brightest. For me, it was difficult believing not only that he could make the astronaut program but also be responsible for billion-dollar scientific equipment. Equally difficult was the plot. You see, Depp has just returned from a scrubbed shuttle mission, and wife Theron suspects he's not quite the man he once was. She's unsettled by his odd new penchant for listening to static on the radio. When a guy from NASA (Joe Morton) shows up and starts filling her head about extraterrestial interference during the orbital mishap, Theron gets paranoid. When she becomes pregnant, with twins, Theron starts seeing herself on tabloid covers.

Once things get nasty, Depp is completely believable as some malevolent force, but director Rand Ravich gives him little to do. Which, no doubt, stems from Ravich trying to figure out the basics of building suspense. (He never masters it.)

"The Muse" Albert Brooks fans will embrace this latest from their sad-sack neurotic hero, but others will be talking about Sharon Stone's first encounter with comedy. Hired by Brooks' screenwriter alter-ego Steven Phillips, Stone, the title goddess, is expected to do for him what we see she's done for "Titanic's" James Cameron, Rob Reiner and Martin Scorsese — inspire him to pen a hit. Along the way, Phillips' usually understanding wife (Andie MacDowell) discovers her husband's secret. But wouldn't you know it, the two gals hit it off, and before you can say "move over Mrs. Fields," Stone is helping MacDowell launch her own cookie business.

Although "The Muse" has more than its share of terrific one-liners, the movie quickly collapses under the weight of its own blandness. Aging is no fun anywhere, but in Hollywood it is a sin. Funnyman Brooks is feeling his impending alienation and fires the first shot. Unfortunately, it's not his best shot.

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