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Movie Spotlight

September 20, 1998|Kevin Thomas

According to Stargate (KNBC Sunday at 8:30 p.m.), the great ancient Egyptian civilization that gave us the pyramids actually began on another planet--the planet Abydos, millions of light-years from Earth. The 1994 film mainlines our fascination with that ancient culture by making its achievements--quite literally--otherworldly. Now if only the rest of the film weren't so earthbound. In any event, Dr. Daniel Jackson (James Spader) is a brainy, controversial Egyptologist hired for a top-secret military project translating the hieroglyphics on a huge, mysterious stone uncovered in 1928 in Giza, Egypt. His conclusion: The stone is a giant ring, a portal, into another dimension--so off we go. With Kurt Russell.

Primal Fear (CBS Tuesday at 9 p.m.) makes fools of us and makes us like it. A tight courtroom melodrama that serves up twist after twist like so many baffling knuckleballs, this 1996 film handles its suspenseful material with skill and style. "Primal Fear" follows top Chicago defense attorney Martin Vail (Richard Gere) through the case of his life. Edward Norton received an Oscar nomination for his performance as an altar boy accused of murdering an archbishop.

Everything about Executive Decision (KABC Thursday at 8 p.m.), in which Arab terrorists take over a 747, is familiar except how crisply its conventional story is executed. It is another film in which a handful of heroes is all that stands between the bad guys and the end of civilization as we know it. The 1996 hit is also shrewdly cast.

In the hands of director Danny DeVito and writer Michael Leeson, The War of the Roses (KTLA Friday at 8 p.m.), the story of Oliver and Barbara Rose is biting and vicious, a styptic pencil on the battered face of "civilized divorce." This 1989 release is also thoughtful, laceratingly funny and bravely true to its own black-and-blue comic vision.

Taken from a real-life Vietnam War incident, Brian De Palma's superb 1989 Casualties of War (KCOP Friday at 8 p.m.) turns into a battle epic with a screw loose, conveying a sense of moral quagmire, of sinking into dangerous terrain, honeycombed with tunnels and traps, all hell exploding around it. Michael J. Fox, never better, is the Minnesota farm boy who resists a gang rape planned by a macho sergeant (Sean Penn, who bursts the bounds of his role with a gargoyle intensity).

Boys Town (KCET Saturday at 9 p.m.) brought Spencer Tracy an Oscar for his portrayal of Father Flanagan, who is said to have "There's no such thing as a bad boy." Mickey Rooney co-stars as one of the juvenile delinquents who tests the good priest's faith.

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