MEN DON'T LEAVE

PG-13, 1989, 115 minutes, closed-captioned, Warner Home Video, $89.95.

Small, perishable and exquisitely funny, Paul Brickman's "Men Don't Leave" is a movie filled with blessed little miracles. The film takes on a serious subject -- a woman's attempts to repair her family after the death of her husband -- and, in places, its atmosphere verges on the tragic. But "Men Don't Leave" is a priceless combination -- a comedy that travels on raging emotional currents. As Jessica Lange plays her, Beth, the mother of two boys -- 9-year-old Matt (Charlie Korsmo) and his teenage brother, Chris (Chris O'Donnell) -- isn't a worldbeater; in fact, she's not sure what she is. Nobody else in the movies is as skilled as Lange at expressing the tangle of emotions behind the silences and shy awkwardness of a character such as Beth. This is painful, moving material, and Lange doesn't censor or tidy up Beth's imperfections or her impulse to crawl into a hole. The people around Lange are equally accomplished. Joan Cusack's Jody is a cherishable nut case. Whenever she speaks it's in hyper-slow cadences, as if she were teaching phonetics to chimpanzees. Kathy Bates is wickedly bitchy as the cigarette-sucking tyrant who owns a catering company where Beth works. And as Charlie, the avant-garde musician Beth takes up with, Arliss Howard is a combination of laid-back charm and adventurousness. But regardless of how perfect he is, the moviemakers have been smart enough not to make finding another man the answer to Beth's problems. "Men Don't Leave" weaves an enthralling, resonant spell. It's a heart-sounding, evocative work, and one of the best films about blows against the family ever made. -- Hal Hinson

BLAZE

R, 1989, 117 minutes, Touchstone, $89.95.

"Blaze" comes on splendid as a Mississippi paddle wheeler -- whistle tooting, wake churning, fancy ladies at the railing. A bit of fetching Louisiana lore, it is history bent to suit the politics of a love story. That great state was scandalized when, in the waning days of the '50s, Gov. Earl K. Long (Paul Newman), took up with Blaze Starr (Lolita Davidovich), a striptease artist almost young enough to be his granddaughter and as voluptuous as a queen-size bed. "Blaze" traces the early days of Starr's career but focuses on her flamboyantly funny life with the governor. Having the time of his life in the role, Newman combines the hot-tin tomcat of his youth with the mature crusader of "The Verdict." A sly old rounder and a wily political strategist, Long as Newman plays him is plumb irresistible. Written and directed by "Bull Durham's" Ron Shelton, the film is based on Starr's autobiography, "Blaze," which naturally has its biases. Sex, the way Shelton presents it and the governor approaches it, is an indoor sport. For that matter, so is politics. A seductive celebration of the sporting life, "Blaze" proves as zesty as Cajun spices and as tickly as a feather boa. -- Rita Kempley

THE WIZARD

PG, 1989, 120 minutes, closed-captioned, MCA Home Video, $91.95.

"The Wizard" is basically a Nintendo commercial, except when it's plugging Universal's theme parks. Directed by Tom Holland from producer David Chisholm's screenplay, this dull children's adventure stars Fred Savage of "The Wonder Years" as the 13-year-old Corey, who runs away to California with Jimmy (Luke Edwards), his younger half-brother. Jimmy is autistic, but he is a wiz at video games. En route the boys are aided by Haley (Jenny Lewis), a trucker's daughter who helps them build a grubstake at Reno's crap tables. Basically, it's "Rain Man" for small puddles. -- Rita Kempley