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STARRING: Anthony Hopkins, Hope Davis, Anton Yelchin

DIRECTOR: Scott Hicks

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes

RATING: PG-13 for language and weird thematic content

THE LOWDOWN: A boy neglected by his mother makes friends with their new boarder, a man with apparent psychic powers.

Oh, that mysterious, irresistible Sir Anthony Hopkins, with his cool blue eyes and strange magnetism. His characters are beginning to run together.

The end of "Hannibal" finds Hopkins -- as the murderous Hannibal Lecter -- on a plane, sitting next to a little boy.

"I can't eat this food," the kid complains, resisting the airline meal.

"Nor should you," says Hopkins, who, naturally, has brown-bagged it. As he goes on to give the boy advice (a frightening thought), his tones are authoritative and commanding, but also intimate, understanding, oddly inviting.

That's the type of character Hopkins plays in "Hearts in Atlantis," a long, meandering, introspective movie based on a Stephen King tale.

Oh, in this new drama he's not murderous or ghoulish, at least as far as we know. But he has the same authority, the same cool, self-possession that he always has. And he talks to kids the same way.

"Hearts in Atlantis" has been described as part psychological thriller, part coming-of-age movie. For better or worse, it's more coming-of-age. In that respect, it's like a lot of other coming-of-age movies, and that's a stroke against it. (You know that kind of movie. You get the adult voice-over droning on: "I think that was the last summer of my childhood. . . .")

The acting, though, and the lovely filming buoy it up. So does the pace, which is luxuriously slow.

Scott Hicks, who directed "Hearts in Atlantis," is never in a hurry. He gave us "Shine," in which it took pianist David Helfgott's head a good five or six minutes to hit the piano during his Rachmaninoff-induced breakdown. And "Snow Falling on Cedars," which seemed like a long, long March day in Buffalo. Hicks always has a minute to squander on the trickle of water in a creek, the slant of sun on a log, the wet glint of a snowflake.

The misty, sun-drenched town where "Hearts in Atlantis" takes place is lovingly rendered. The story unfolds with ease. Anton Yelchin (I keep wanting to say Boris Yeltsin) plays Bobby, a fatherless kid whose mom (Hope Davis) loves him only absent-mindedly. Into their knockdown house walks Hopkins, who rents a room from them.

And things get slightly strange.

Bobby is on the brink of adolescence, and suggestion is made of that spookiness that is said to go with that stage in life. But Hopkins, benign but mysterious, adds to the weirdness. He befriends Bobby. And he has, it appears, psychic powers.

The movie meanders along a number of story lines. Bobby has a couple of little friends, and they're a wistful trio, especially the blond, ethereal Carol. (She's played by Mika Boorem, also seen in "The Patriot.")

And by the way, what is with these kids' names? Where do Anton Yelchin and Mika Boorem come from, Yugoslavia?

I had mixed feelings about "Hearts in Atlantis." It seemed to leave a few strings untied (the title was one of them; I never could get straight exactly what it meant). And it's strange, considering that Stephen King was involved, that most of the story isn't anything we haven't seen before. But it's made so well that for all its golden landscapes, voice-over meditations and piano notes, it appeared to keep the audience captivated.

Most of the audience, that is.

Like too many free screenings, the preview was full of scumballs who didn't think twice about talking loudly and nastily throughout the movie. But it was interesting to notice that the slugs rarely spoke up when Hopkins was on screen. Maybe it was the old Lecter connection, but Hopkins commanded and cowed them.

That's the biggest psychic power of all.


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