"I Dreamed of Africa," "The Emperor and the Assassin," Gladiator" and on video, "Galaxy Quest" 

Quick Flicks

!B! "I Dreamed of Africa"!B! "The Emperor and The Assassin"!B! "Gladiator"

Now on Video:!B! "Galaxy Quest"

"I Dreamed of Africa" — Forget about dreaming, this movie will have you snoring. Although British director Hugh Hudson ("Chariots of Fire," remember?) makes the movie visually gratifying, the plot and acting are dramatically DOA. The film wants desperately to deliver a profound statement about man's (or woman's) place in nature, but inadvertently shows us the opposite. The movie gives us people who travel to Africa to find themselves, yet once there, are either annoyed by the locals or assess their suitability as servants.

It is based on a true story. Kim Basinger is Italian mother Kuki Gallmann, who, along with her son and her new husband (Vincent Perez), moves to a ranch in Kenya. But there's trouble in this paradise — from both man and beast: evil poachers, a dog-eating lion, and lots and lots of hissing snakes.

While watching "I Dreamed of Africa," I dreamed of being elsewhere.

"The Emperor and The Assassin" — Set in the third century, this film details King Ying Zheng's (Li Xuejian) desire to unify the five warring kingdoms of the divided China. Ying's former lover, Lady Zhao (the always luminous Gong Li), devises a fake assassination plot to justify his invading the other kingdoms. But when Ying Zheng gets too bloodthirsty, she changes her allegiance.

This Chinese language epic starts out with great promise, but the character-driven tale soon loses its dramatic edge as it bumps along for 162 minutes. And once we get to know all involved, we find ourselves much more interested in the secondary plot about the assassin Jing Ke (Zhang Fengyi). In fact, his story is much more heroic and entertaining than the emperor's.

"Gladiator" — Rather like mainlining testosterone, this Ridley Scott spectacle turns the outdated sword 'n' sandals screen genre on its ear. But be warned, all of Scott's "Blade Runner"-esque flash and slash comes with plenty o' gore.

In traditional tragic hero style, Maximus (Russell Crowe) is a general favored by the dying Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) as his successor. You see, both believe in the founding tenets of the Republic. This doesn't sit well with the heir apparent, the malevolent Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). He chooses treachery and murder to ascend to the throne and rid himself of his rival. But Maximus escapes his death sentence and is sold as a slave to Proximo (Oliver Reed in remarkable form). He becomes a gladiator and fights his way back to Rome for revenge.

Crowe is terrific as Maximus but Reed steals the show. Reed, who died during filming, leaves quite a legacy, once more giving us the charming brute only he could play. "Gladiator," with a running time of 154 minutes, is a movie you will either love or hate. I loved every frenetic, brutal moment.

"Galaxy Quest" — Tim Allen stars in this surprisingly funny spoof of "Star Trek" that somehow slowly morphs into a tale of derring-do that rivals the venerated sci-fi series at its best.

Years after the TV hit "Galaxy Quest" has left the prime-time airwaves, it seems the actors involved are stuck recreating their roles for countless adoring fans. Their lives are filled with bank openings and sci-fi conventions, hawking memorabilia and memories. But it seems they have some really out-of-this-world fans who need their help to save their planet from a barbaric race of lizard men. Allen does a terrific Shatner riff; Alan Rickman does a believable turn as the Spocklike character; and, Sigourney Weaver seems to be having fun as the spaceship's resident blonde babe. Whether you're a Trekkie or not, this is great fun.


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