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IN BRIEF

STARGATE PG-13, 1994, 183 minutes, Live Home Video. Roland Emmerich's loopy, mostly entertaining sci-fi adventure begins in 1928 at the foot of the Great Pyramids, where archaeologists have unearthed an enormous ring-shaped artifact. Immediately the scene shifts to the present, where experts at an underground military site in the United States bring in Egyptologist Daniel Jackson (James Spader) to figure out what they've found. Jackson determines that the ring is actually a map of the heavens that, if properly calibrated, becomes a doorway for instant space travel. With his shaggy hair drooping over his brow, Spader plays Jackson as a bumbling egghead lost in his own thoughts. Also, like the Richard Dreyfuss character in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," Jackson is something of a child, and his sense of wonder at the miracles opening up before him gives the film its emotional center. Not only does Spader's comic spin carry us through the first half of the film, it also provides a neat counterpoint to the macho seriousness of Kurt Russell as the military officer overseeing the project for the government. After Jackson has deciphered the symbols on the Stargate, he joins a reconnaissance team that walks through it to the other side of the galaxy. Unfortunately, they can't get back again, and while they remain stranded, the movie is, too. The effects conjured up by Peter Mitchell Rubin and Patrick Tatopoulos are inventive, often even thrilling. And as the god Ra, Jaye Davidson is perfectly otherworldly (when he's angry, the whites of his eyes glow like headlights). By the end, though, the film's early promise has pretty much degenerated into routine pyrotechnics.

-- Hal Hinson/Washington Post
A GOOD MAN IN AFRICA R, 1994, 95 minutes, MCA/Universal Home Video. Bruce Beresford's prosaic filming of William Boyd's novel about Brits in Africa has a protagonist who is a boozer and a womanizer and an amoral slob. By no means is he a good man, and he couldn't care less. Morgan Leafy (Colin Friels) is a career underachiever assigned to a midlevel diplomatic post in a fictitious West African nation known as Kinjanja. A profoundly unhappy man, Leafy hates his job and Kinjanja, and, through a combination of sloth, incompetence and bad karma, manages to make a mess of nearly everything he touches. But when oil is discovered off Kinjanja's coast, British High Commissioner Fanshawe (played with supercilious verve by John Lithgow) assigns Leafy the task of persuading Kinjanja's leading candidate for president, Professor Adekunle (Louis Gossett Jr.), to sell the rights to the British. But the cagey Adekunle catches his scheming wife (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer) in flagrante delicto with Leafy, and using the bumbling diplomat's indiscretion as leverage, forces him to try to bribe Dr. Murray (Sean Connery) into approving a development deal that will make Adekunle millions. All this double-dealing is a bit of a shock even to Leafy. Up till now, his personal brand of corruption has been sleazy but rather passive. Leafy's moral transformation is at the center of "A Good Man in Africa," but frankly, the character is such a lightweight that one hardly cares what happens to him. Beresford and Boyd, who adapted his own novel for the film, attempt to re-create the novel's atmosphere of casual debauchery. But somehow the combination of gin and gonorrhea that they offer seems somewhat less than shocking.

-- H.H.

TOP TEN

RENTALS
(1) Timecop (MCA-Universal). (2) Clear and Present Danger (Paramount). (3) Natural Born Killers (Warner). (4) True Lies (FoxVideo). (5) Stargate (Live). (6) Color of Night (Hollywood). (7) The River Wild (MCA-Universal). (8) The Lion King (Disney). (9) Milk Money (Paramount). (10) It Could Happen to You (Columbia).
SALES
(1) The Lion King (Disney). (2) The Mask (Turner). (3) The Little Rascals (MCA-Universal). (4) Snoop Doggy Dogg: Murder was the Case (WarnerVision Ent.). (5) Beavis & Butt-Head: There Goes the Neighborhood (SMV). (6) Four Weddings and a Funeral (PolyGram). (7) Beavis & Butt-Head: Work S----! (SMV). (8) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Disney). (9) Penthouse: Swimsuit 2 (WarnerVision). (10) Speed (FoxVideo).

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