The almost unanimously negative reviews that have greeted the release of new movies such as "The Couch Trip" and "Cop" are a sure sign that it's January: the month when movie studios traditionally release the movies they don't otherwise know how to get rid of. But the Dan Aykroyd-Charles Grodin comedy and the James Woods thriller aren't the only movies that word of mouth says are at best problematic. Hopes don't seem especially high for "Sweethearts Dance," with Don Johnson, or the long-delayed "She's Having a Baby," with Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern, or the similarly long-delayed "Masquerade," with Rob Lowe and Kim Cattrall.

And then there are movies whose release is uncertain even now: "Brenda Starr," the Brooke Shields-Timothy Dalton comic book adaptation that's tied up in court; or "Hearts on Fire," a drama starring singers Bob Dylan and Fiona, which some insiders are betting bypasses the theaters and goes straight to videocassette; or even "School Daze," the new film by "She's Gotta Have It" director Spike Lee, which according to some reports is unreleasably bad. To be fair to Lee, though, it should be pointed out that the initial word of mouth often comes from conservative sources, who aren't typically kind to an offbeat film.

A 'Spaceballs' Chance

No question about it: MGM wants to keep Mel Brooks happy, even though it has been a while since Brooks came up with a hit movie for his favorite studio. But a lingering desire to please Brooks is one reason for what might be the Academy Award season's most fruitless "for your consideration" ad to date: a two-page Hollywood Reporter spread suggesting that Oscar voters consider Brooks' "Spaceballs" in 15 categories. In the ad, MGM "Proudly Draws The Academy's Attention to ... Individual Achievements" that include four Best Actor contenders (Brooks, John Candy, Rick Moranis and Bill Pullman), one potential Best Actress (Daphne Zuniga), plus Best Direction and Best Original Screenplay nods for Brooks. Naturally, they also suggest a Best Picture nomination. Naturally, the movie doesn't have a prayer of getting any of those nominations -- but maybe, just maybe, Brooks' next movie for MGM does, which is the whole point of the "Spaceballs" campaign.

"Spaceballs" is far from the only long shot receiving Academy Award advertisements these days, even though we've yet to see much action from the "Ishtar" campaign that Warren Beatty's contract says Columbia must wage on a bigger scale than the 1982 campaign for Beatty's "Reds." Still, the Hollywood trade papers have been full of ads, some hyping the long shots and others promoting sheer impossibilities. For Best Picture, for example, ads have appeared on behalf of "Maurice," "Angel Heart" and "Three Men and a Baby"; for Best Actor, Eddie Murphy (for "Beverly Hills Cop II"), Dan Aykroyd ("Dragnet"), Michael J. Fox ("The Secret of My Success"), John Candy again (this time for "Planes, Trains and Automobiles") and Danny DeVito and Billy Crystal ("Throw Momma From the Train"); for Best Director, Peter Yates ("Suspect"), Leonard Nimoy ("Three Men and a Baby") and Barry Levinson ("Good Morning, Vietnam"), among others. Some of those folks are no doubt deserving -- just don't expect to see any of them make the finals in a year in which 263 movies are eligible for Oscar, the most in 13 years.

Madonna Does Marlene

It's been in the rumor stages for months; now, Daily Variety reports that Madonna will indeed try to revive her floundering film career by playing the Marlene Dietrich role in a remake of "The Blue Angel," directed by Alan Parker and coproduced by Diane Keaton ... William Shatner did it by playing a TV cop and Leonard Nimoy did it by directing, but by and large the original cast members of "Star Trek" haven't been able to break out of the personas they developed on that series. But Walter Koenig -- Ensign Chekov to Trekkies -- is hoping to make an impact by switching spaceships: He's been signed to star as an astronaut in "Moontrap," a low-budget science fiction picture from noted television commercial firm Magic Lantern Productions.