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Prime-Time Flicks

March 19, 1995|Kevin Thomas

As grave as government accountants, the gangsters in the prestigious but disappointing 1991 Billy Bathgate (KTLA Monday at 8 p.m., TBS Wednesday at 7:05 p.m.), starring Dustin Hoffman, Nicole Kidman and Bruce Willis, make J. Edgar Hoover look like Party Animal I. With Robert Benton (of "Bonnie and Clyde") and Hoffman as Dutch Schultz in Tom Stoppard's meticulous adaptation of the E.L. Doctorow novel, sounds surefire, but this most lugubrious of gangster pictures is as solemn as a statesman's funeral.

In King of New York (KTLA Tuesday at 8 p.m.), one of virtuoso Abel Ferrera's most stylish films, Christopher Walken plays a feared New York crime lord who, at the start of this 1990 production, is released from prison after five years. With detention having inflamed his do-gooder's soul, he plans to strong-arm the city's drug kingpins into redistributing their booty to the poor. This strategy, involving a morality play at the service of great gobs of mayhem, is more hypocritical than usual, considering that Ferrera's filmmaking instincts are clearly on the side of violence. But the film, which has passages of surpassing lunacy, is never boring.

Director Jim Abrahams and co-writer Pat Proft's Hot Shots! (KTTV Tuesday at 8 p.m.), a 1991 parody of the bombastic "Top Gun," is a successful exemplar of the off-the-wall school of comedy. Charlie Sheen gets his deadpan delivery down to an exact science as disgraced flyer Topper Harley, who gets a second chance. Many amusing references to other movies and an engaging leading lady (Valeria Golino) also help overcome some dull spots.

In the 1992 Single White Female (KCBS Wednesday at 9 p.m.) a frumpy Jennifer Jason Leigh moves into chic Bridget Fonda's apartment in New York's Beaux Arts landmark, the Ansonia. Leigh mutates into a demonic revenger. A shame, too, because, up until the film goes disastrously wacko, there are some fine, offhanded moments between the two actresses.

The Principal (KTLA Thursday at 8 p.m.), with Jim Belushi in the title role, takes one of the best subjects imaginable, the tensions and conflicts at an urban high school, and turns it into one more cliche-ridden revenge movie.

As a departure from most Vietnam War movies, Roger Spottiswoode's Air America (KTLA Friday at 8 p.m.), which stars Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. and is about the CIA's secret airline operating in Laos in 1969, seems so invigorating at first. At its best, it's a luxuriant black comedy, and as long as the film is racking up its absurdist points, it's a free-wheeling, sporty entertainment. But it lacks focus, and its conflict is a case of too little too late.

Lili (KCET Saturday at 8 p.m.), the 1953 MGM musical with Leslie Caron as a French orphan, enchanted millions, including most famously--and most surprisingly--H.L. Mencken.

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