ROGER & ME
R, 1989, closed-captioned, 91 minutes, Warner Home Video, $89.95.
Michael Moore's documentary about the effects of General Motors plant closings in his hometown of Flint, Mich., is a hilariously cranky bit of propaganda. One part home movie, one part editorial, one part letter bomb, the film is a one-man insurrection. And -- imagine that -- the man is just some yob with a movie camera, an auto worker's son who has never made a film before and who sees in the demise of his home city the perfect metaphor for everything that's gone wrong with America. The result is one of the most subversively comic political films in memory. Moore presents "Roger & Me" as his End of the '80s essay, his attempt to reclaim the decade from those who would have it remembered as an upbeat era of rebuilding and progress. His target and elusive costar is GM Chairman Roger B. Smith, whom Moore tracks throughout the movie in an attempt to confront him with the devastation his company has wreaked on Moore's hometown. About all this Moore is deeply funny and deeply serious. When the laughs come -- and there are more here than in any other movie I saw last year -- they have a prankster's reckless irreverence. Moore loves making trouble, but his impudence is multilayered and fueled, primarily, by rage. He comes on in "Roger & Me" with the bratty effrontery of a party crasher, out to spoil everyone's fun. Acting as the film's curmudgeonly master of ceremonies, Moore presents a collection of sneaky riffs on a score of topics, both large and small -- from unionism and capitalism to Pat Boone, beauty pageants and game shows -- and spins them into a highly personal shorthand history of American corporate collapse. Moore's brand of slapstick reportage strikes the perfect balance between irony and sincerity; it's slyly deadpan and committed, democratic and kingly all at once. -- Hal Hinson
PG-13, 1989, 126 minutes, IVE, $89.95.
With its palette of sacred mauves and ruddy browns, the political mystery "Music Box" suggests the stains of long-spilled blood. There's tragedy in the hollow of Jessica Lange's huge eyes, and terror in the plentiful Hungarian wine, poured garnet into tumblers, then drained like the cheeks of the heroine. "Music Box" is an evocative courtroom drama, directed by Costa-Gavras, the master of message movie-making. It tells the story of a daughter's stubborn love for her father, a Hungarian refugee accused of war crimes. As a cagey Chicago attorney, she systematically discredits the prosecution's compelling witnesses -- haunting Holocaust survivors -- in defense of her great bear of a dad. Her career, her 11-year-old son (Lukas Haas), her widowed father (Armin Mueller-Stahl) are the world to Ann Talbot (Lange). Her father, a retired steelworker who immigrated from Hungary in the last days of World War II, is charged with lying to gain his U.S. citizenship. According to a crusading federal prosecutor (Frederic Forrest), he was not the farmer he claimed to be but the leader of a Nazi-trained death squad. At first Ann believes her father's claims that Hungarian Communists are behind the attempt to extradite him, but she becomes increasingly troubled as she uncovers a dubious past. Like the heroine of Costa-Gavras's last film, "Betrayed," she follows her heart, not her head, to become the devil's advocate. Her romance with the lens and Costa-Gavras's skill behind the camera sustain the movie's terrible poignancy and grant it a power beyond the screenplay's elementary scope. -- Rita Kempley
PG, 1990, closed-captioned, 123 minutes, MCA/Universal Home Video, $91.95.
The heavens part and angels' feathers fly as daredevils buck the firmament in Steven Spielberg's update of a 1943 flyboy fantasy. Boiling clouds and barrel-rolling aside, there's more drag than lift as this sweetly sluggish adventure struggles to get airborne in the 1990s. Based on "A Guy Named Joe," a yarn about a fighter pilot who earns his halo, this version is set in a Montana smoke-jumpers' camp. Richard Dreyfuss stars as Pete, the ace, and Holly Hunter is Dorinda, the spitfire who begs him to hang up his wings -- which he agrees to do after just one more mission, but God has other ideas. One minute Pete is rescuing his good friend Al (jolly John Goodman), the next he is getting a haircut from the seraph Hap (Audrey Hepburn), who tells Pete that basically he's grounded. He must inspire another to greatness, Hap says, before ascending to higher realms. So it is that he becomes the guardian angel of Ted (Brad Johnson), a clumsy but drop-dead handsome fledgling who has fallen in love with Dorinda, who is still stuck on Pete. The true purpose of his mission, he now realizes, is to release her from her promise to be his, "always." But though the performances are insistent, we never believed in their passion in the first place. The only thing on fire here is the evergreens. Dreyfuss is as jaunty as a cricket on a skillet, and Hunter is a cooing bundle of sisterish sensuality in love scenes that play more like NFL touchdown celebrations. They just about bust a gasket, they work so hard. Clearly Spielberg wanted to give us "It's a Wonderful Life" with propellers, but "Always" is an unfulfilled promise, a plummeting dove. -- Rita Kempley
STRIKE IT RICH
PG, 1990, 86 minutes, HBO Video, $89.99.
The career of Molly Ringwald is a bafflement, and "Strike It Rich," an extremely feeble comedy with Robert Lindsay, only further contributes to the mystery. The picture opens in the '50s in London, where Ian Bertram (Lindsay), a promising deputy accountant with a multinational corporation, meets Cary (Ringwald), a pert young American, and falls madly in love. Within minutes, marriage is proposed and modest honeymoon plans are made. Before the happy event takes place, though, Bertram's boss (Sir John Gielgud), who's impressed by his employee's talent with numbers, offers to pick them up in Monte Carlo and treat them to a cruise on his yacht. But being an absentminded and eccentric executive, the boss man arranges for the bride and groom to stay in the resort's fanciest hotel, then forgets to fetch them, leaving them stranded with a huge bill to pay. Written and directed by James Scott, the film comes across like an imitation of an episode of "Fantasy Island" -- and a failed imitation at that. Given the film's title and its numbers-wizard hero, we don't have to stretch our brains to figure out what's coming. And, after all, why should we? The filmmakers haven't. -- Hal Hinson