Stephen Hunter Recommends

There have been plenty of movies of fairy tales, but "The Brothers Grimm" is something else, much rarer: It's a movie about fairy tales. Its conceit is that the boys, on a mission to eradicate the spirits from a Black Forest glade in Germany in 1813, encounter snippets of experience that will later grow in their minds into the tales that haunt our childhoods today. But there have been a few other films more or less about fairy tales -- and all of them better than "The Brothers Grimm."

"The Company of Wolves" (1984, 95 minutes) was made by Neil Jordan way before "The Crying Game" turned him into a brand name. It's an examination of the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, but through the prism of modern psychiatry. Overripe, precious, erotic, violent, moody and dangerous -- and no, not particularly savory -- it returns the fairy tale to its dark roots. Jordan was in his symbolist phase then, so the picture (memory barely serves) is similar to "Brothers Grimm" in that it's rich in symbol and intimation. It stars Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury and David Warner; to see it is to enter the thickets of Freudian shrubbery.

"Working Girl" (1988, 115 minutes) as in what the heck is that one doing here? The answer is that it's really "Cinderella" in modern dress, what with Melanie Griffith as Cinder herself, working-class and put upon, and Sigourney Weaver as her fairy godmother who feels entitled to so much, and Harrison Ford as the Prince Charming who looks for the woman he loves, not the woman he's supposed to love. Okay, so the setting isn't that wondrous Mitteleuropean principality of Graustark or Molvania, but a modern Manhattan corporation. Mike Nichols directed, surely and swiftly; it's one of his best pictures and it proves the sturdiness of the fairy tale format. These stories have lasted, and there's a reason.

"Freeway" (1996, 110 minutes) takes us back to Little Red Riding Hood again, this time set in cheesy Southern California among not your better class of customers. Reese Witherspoon, so regal, so earnest in many of her films, goes way downmarket in this one. Meanwhile, Keifer Sutherland, pre-"24," plays a psycho killer named Bob Wolverton, who picks her up as she hits the road to her grandmother's house, er, trailer. Witherspoon, another spunky gal who may have given up too much of her edge to play nicey in hopes of staying a major movie star, shows grit and toughness and the whole thing is wonderfully tongue in cheek. Whatever happened to writer-director Matthew Bright? He had something going in this production.