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Movie Spotlight

March 29, 1998|Kevin Thomas

Mass hysteria . . . a major U.S. city--Dallas--demolished in a sudden and fiery wave of destruction . . . the chilling sense that civilization may be coming to an abrupt and violent end. No, this isn't a description of "Independence Day." Instead, it's the doomsday scenario buttressing Asteroid (NBC Sunday, 7 p.m.), the latest movie to feed our fear of cataclysmic disaster. Unfortunately, the 1997 "Asteroid" is neither very frightening nor very entertaining. Massive asteroids hurtling toward Earth simply aren't very compelling villains compared to super-advanced, multi-tentacled space monsters.

A high-energy mix of spectacular music, vigorous acting and cliched situations, What's Love Got to Do With It? (Fox Tuesday at 8 p.m.) is a rough-and-rowdy 1993 fairy tale with a feminist subtext. The biggest assets in the film are the exceptional actors who play Tina and Ike. Angela Bassett, and Laurence Fishburne bring to this film the ability to deepen characters in ways that are not in the script. Although the picture rightfully belongs to the Oscar-nominated Bassett, Fishburne never fails to make Ike remarkably compelling, human.

Public Housing (KCET Friday at 9 p.m.), which first aired in January, is another of Frederick Wiseman's extraordinarily intimate documentaries, turning his penetrating lens to Chicago's pulsating Ida B. Wells housing development. Wiseman's chosen people this time are a cross-section of the troubled South Side housing project's 5,000 mostly black residents, many of whose lives are the equivalent of getting in the way of a wrecking ball. Some of them nurturing dreams of escaping this cycle of poverty, but many others, it seems, living from day to day without hope.

A Rage in Harlem (KCOP Saturday at 7 p.m.) takes place in a sensual, surreal, cartoonishly violent and breathtakingly bawdy comic universe of novelist Chester Himes, and it comes to us in an especially exuberant and entertaining package. Robin Givens lands in 1956 Harlem with stolen loot and hooks up with the unlikeliest man in town, a mild-mannered undertaker's accountant and original timid soul, Jackson. As played by the very accomplished Forest Whitaker, Jackson is a bumbling, fumbling blob who is the perfect comic foil for Imabelle's sexiest-woman-in-12-states routine. Although the 1991 film is considerably milder than Himes' novel, director Bill Duke and company have been true to Himes' brash, blasphemous spirit, and that is no small thing.

High Society (KCET Saturday at 9 p.m.), the elegant 1956 musical version of "The Philadelphia Story," finds Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby vying for Grace Kelly.

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