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Sex Education

On its frenetic surface, the film offers a burlesque Baedeker of the mid-'80s youth scene in Squaresville, U.S.A.: Brit-inspired punks vs. Yank-inspired punks vs. Nazi punks, mods and rockers, and cowboys. What it offers at its shockingly sappy core is a familiar view of adolescent rebellion as a goofy but inevitable phase. Stevo wants to break out of the trajectory plotted for him by his Harvard Law-schooled father (Christopher McDonald, who appears in TV's Veronica's Closet), a Vietnam protest veteran who insists he hasn't "sold out" but "bought in." Heroin Bob fears that he'll grow up to be just like his paranoid, reclusive old man (and also worries that he somehow let the fearsome old coot down). As their season of protest winds down, these conflicts get resolved in the most shameless, heart-tugging way. Even punks get the blues.

When I was growing up, anyone who dressed weird or threw a tantrum was said to be "acting out" -- externalizing some psychic blip or primal urge that couldn't be expressed otherwise. Stevo and his friends aren't even acting out -- most of the time they're acting, period. Stevo is obsessed with unveiling poseurs (or, as he says, "posers"), until he finds that everyone he knows is one, including himself. But does writer/director Merendino know how shallow Stevo really is? Stevo keeps talking about "anarchy" when all he and his pals aspire to is an addled pop nihilism that finds beauty in "the end" and connection in dance-floor punch-outs.

If there were any depth in Merendino's script, his ensemble's collective performing style -- wild mood swings rendered in seriocomic mugging or ostentatious deadpan -- wouldn't find it. And if there were any resonance to their acting, Merendino's directing style would obscure it. Despite its free-form storytelling and hyperactive editing, the movie has an unsettling slickness. Stevo narrates straight to the camera, whether introducing (or reintroducing) characters or delivering a cheerfully useless little essay on the unknowable roots of punk violence. The result is as presumptuous as a standup comic pretending to be a monologuist. Stevo's punk worldview doesn't encompass a vision of America's future; this film does not engender hope for the future of American movies.

Opens April 30 at the Tivoli.
-- Michael Sragow

ENTRAPMENT
Directed by Jon Amiel

Sean Connery has always been a terse, minimalist actor, spitting out his lines in tight bursts of Scottish brogue. But in Entrapment, the kingly Scot goes beyond minimalism to the point where he's practically doing semaphore with his eyebrows.

As the legendary art thief Robert MacDougal, Connery isn't just reserved, he's comatose. The picture opens with MacDougal scaling a New York skyscraper in order to steal a priceless Rembrandt. Or at least we think it's MacDougal. At any rate, the heist catches the attention of a foxy agent with a prestigious New York insurance company. Gin (Catherine Zeta-Jones), it seems, has been on Mac's trail for some time. She tells her boss (an unusually sedate Will Patton) she's sure Mac is the only man alive with the moves smooth enough to have pulled off the Rembrandt job and begs him to let her go after him. The boss, who has a little crush on Gin, is skeptical. He already sent two of his best agents after Mac, and they vanished without a trace. Yes, she says, "But they were men."

Indeed, the one thing Gin is not is a man. Mac notices this, too, and, before long, the two have partnered up to steal a precious gold mask. Up to this point, nearly every aspect of this phenomenally dull movie is phenomenally routine. As expected, there is a bit of sexy banter between the male and female leads, most of it barbed and all of it designed to make it look as if the two can't stand the sight of one another. But there is not even the slightest trace of freshness or originality in either the script -- which was written by Ron Bass and William Broyles from a story by Michael Hertzberg and Ron Bass -- or in Amiel's stodgy direction.

As an actor, Connery has established great reserves of goodwill with his audience, but he seems determined to do nothing except cash in on it. The problem is, he has been doing that so long now that he's just about emptied the tank. (When was the last time he was actually good in a film?) And, first with The Mask of Zorro and now this, Zeta-Jones seems to have proved that her talents extend to the decorative and no further.

Her best scenes here are the ones in which she gets to put her athletic ability (and her pert bottom) on display. It would be impossible to say that she and Connery generate any heat together. Throughout most of the picture, the partners have played by Mac's rule, which is, "Nothing personal." And to convince themselves that they are making the right decision, they keep telling themselves, over and over, "Alone is good. Alone is good." And if that's not bad enough, the dialogue further sabotages Connery in his big romantic moment with his co-star by having him stammer out the line, "My situation is so ... complicated." Never before has this great actor seemed so unmanned.

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