Off The Beaten Track

Andrew Bergman may not be a household word, but to those who are keyed into his lunatic sense of humor, the arrival of any new Bergman movie is a major comic event. This is the guy who wrote and directed "The Freshman" (Marlon Brando in a priceless sendup of his "Godfather" role), scripted the hilarious "The In-Laws," coauthored "Soapdish" and came up with the story for Mel Brooks's "Blazing Saddles." His latest japery, the sweetly cuckoo Honeymoon in Vegas, is the most pleasing comedy of the summer.

Bergman is fond of entangling small-time innocents with big-time operators. The schlemiel in this tall tale is New York private eye Jack Singer (Nicolas Cage), a man whose terror of romantic commitment is compounded by his deathbed promise to his mother never to get married. However, afraid of losing the lovely schoolteacher Betsy (Sarah Jessica Parker), he swallows his anxiety and flies with her to Las Vegas for a quickie ceremony. But before they're hitched he makes the mistake of playing poker with mobster Tommy Korman (James Caan), who in one love-struck gaze declares Betsy to be the dead ringer for his late, lamented wife. Singer drops $60,000 to the mobster, who offers to cancel his debt if he'll "loan" Betsy to him for the weekend. So off the fiancee goes with Korman to his paradisiacal Hawaiian pad, where the mobster turns on his considerable charm to win her heart, and where the hapless Singer arrives in desperate pursuit.

This is no less preposterous than the typical Bergman plot; what's new is the delicate romantic chemistry that enables the audience to empathize with all three sides of this absurd triangle. Cage, Caan and Parker couldn't be better. Add a running motif of Elvis impersonators, a hilarious turn by Peter Boyle as a Hawaiian chieftain obsessed with Broadway musicals and a cameo from UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian and you have a sunny comedy of anxiety. It may not achieve the manic highs of "The Freshman," but it produces a 90-minute smile.

This is a lovers-on-the-run movie with a radical, urgent twist. Like the doomed, star-crossed couples in such crime dramas as "You Only Live Once," "Gun Crazy" or "Bonnie and Clyde," the lovers in this anarchic film noir flee the law across a violent landscape, as they drive up the California coast. But these two the explosive, hunky drifter Luke (Mike Dytri) and the dazed freelance writer Jon (Craig Gilmore), are gay, and both are HIV-positive.

Underground Los Angeles filmmaker Gregg Araki, who wrote, directed, shot and edited the film, subtitles it "an irresponsible movie"-which only means that his bold mixture of black, gross-out humor and frank homoeroticism isn't likely to please the Pat Buchanan crowd. But the camp elements can't disguise the seriousness, the anger or the reckless talent that enabled Araki to produce this stylish, eloquent drama on a rock-bottom budget of $23,000. A longer, less successful version of the movie debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. Now fine-tuned-but still defiantly funky-"The Living End" builds to its powerful climax on a deserted beach, where the desperate odyssey comes to a startling conclusion. With a volatile combination of passion and bad manners, Araki ushers an old formula into the age of AIDS, and gives it new meaning.

is a fascinating, singular documentary. How could it be otherwise? Its subject, the physicist Stephen Hawking, possibly the most brilliant theoretical scientist of our time-and certainly the most widely read, with 5.5 million copies of his book in print-is a singular phenomenon himself. This Cambridge professor has revolutionized thinking about relativity theory, quantum mechanics and theories of the origin of the universe while suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease), a muscle-wasting illness that has left him unable to move or speak. And his cinematic biographer, Errol Morris, creator of "Gates of Heaven" and "The Thin Blue Line," is surely the most original documentarian of our day, a filmmaker who has consistently twisted the conventions of the form into eerie and artful new shapes.

It goes without saying that Hawking's ideas on time black holes and the shape of the universe are beyond the grasp of the layman, but not to worry. Morris's visual dexterity, and Hawking's eloquence, allow even a scientific illiterate to grasp the beautiful outlines of these cosmic speculations. And the theory is deftly balanced by Hawking's extraordinary personal story, a moving tale of triumph over the most daunting personal obstacles that is related without a shred of sentimentality. Hawking's computer-generated voice narrates the film, which is supplemented by pithy interviews with his mother his friends colleagues and students-all of whom were shot on stage sets, a characteristically uncanny Morris conceit. Propelled by a galvanic Philip Glass score,"A Brief History of Time" is an elegant, inspirational and mysterious movie. Morris turns abstract ideas into haunting images, and keeps them spinning in the air with the finesse, and playfulness, of a master juggler.