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IN BRIEF

Fiction

August 22, 1993|DICK RORABACK

THE NEGATIVE by Michael Covino (Viking: $12; 359 pp.) $75 million. That's what it has cost Doug Lowell to make the sequel to "High Plateau." His first film had been a succes d'estime. "Plateau I," a space epic, had out-twinkled "Star Wars" and made enough money to unhinge the producer/director. Flushed with fruition, Lowell has pulled out the stops for "II": 150 Eskimos flown to the Sahara Desert; 76 takes for one love scene; $3.2 million alone to shoot the perfect Antarctic sunset, "a dusk with self-knowledge of its own demise." Sure, but will it play in Peoria?

Lowell has no idea. Neither does Frank Furia, but he steals the matched negative anyway, the sine qua non without which the movie will never be screened. Furia is a piece of work himself. Son of as Mafia don, he is a Cornell grad, a reader of Veblen and Czeslaw Milosz, a man who calms his antsy co-conspirators with "Be joyously amazed by the occasional serendipity of events." And they need calming, especially after Lowell decides not to pay the ransom on "Plateau II," reasoning that his insurance will pay more than the iffy film will earn if it's a bomb. Whereupon Furia kidnaps a Siskel-and-Eberty critic team to assess the film's worth. . . . Save for occasional pontificating on the Importance of Film, "Negative" is a literate caper, with more twists than Chubby Checker, and a first-time author who bears watching.

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