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Movie Spotlight

March 01, 1998|Kevin Thomas

In Braveheart (NBC Sunday at 9 p.m., completed Monday at 9 p.m.), Mel Gibson plays 13th-Century Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace, and, boy, is his heart ever brave, and he's smart too. At close to three hours, the 1995 "Braveheart" is a great big chunk of brogues and pillaging and whooping. Gibson, who also directed, is priming us for an epic experience--"Spartacus" in kilts. As a filmmaker, he lacks the epic gift, but the movie, scripted by Randall (no relation) Wallace, works on a fairly basic level as a hiss-the-English medieval Western. Gibson's calisthenic efforts are clunky but they're not boring, at least not until the film moves into battle overkill in the third hour and the soundtrack turns into one big aaarrgh.

The Mark of Zorro (AMC early Tuesday at 1:30 a.m.) is the 1920 film that once and for all established Douglas Fairbanks Sr.'s stardom. In the timelessly entertaining Fred Niblo-directed production, Fairbanks plays the ubiquitous masked avenger during the reign of an oppressive 1820s California governor. An aristocrat supposedly newly arrived from Spain, Fairbanks affects a foppishness that infuriates leading lady Marguerite De La Motte. "Zorro" plays like a period "Superman" and reveals, in its concern for much-abused and exploited American Indians, an unexpected social conscience. Other silent classics AMC is screening this week: the 1926 Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (early Thursday at 3 a.m.), with Harry Langdon and Joan Crawford, and the 1929 The Iron Mask (early Friday at 1:30 a.m.), a splendid version of the Dumas classic, with Fairbanks directed by Allan Dwan.

In the 1984 Mike's Murder (TNT Thursday at 7:30 p.m.), Debra Winger loves not wisely but too well; the object of her affections becomes the pigeon in a Los Angeles haze of drugs and murder. A modern, overlooked, disquieting thriller by James Bridges; another of those movies that suffered grievously in the studio edit.

Imaginary Crimes (KCOP Friday at 8 p.m.), set in the early '60s, is about the family life of a con man. It's a terrific subject for a movie but, the way it's been done here, the story is mildewed with good intentions. The filmmakers seem to be flaunting what sensitive souls they are--more sensitive, even, than the characters in their movie. Harvey Keitel plays Ray Weiler, whose wife (played, in flashbacks, by Kelly Lynch) has died, leaving him in charge of two young daughters, Sonya, the elder (Fairuza Balk), and Greta (Elisabeth Moss). Ray is the kind of guy who is constantly cooking up get-rich-quick schemes and then wheedling out of the inevitable fallout. The emotional core of the 1994 film is Ray's abiding love for his daughters, but he's hopelessly mired in a small-timer's mind-set.

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