The Battle to Get 'Platoon' for Home Rental; Two Sure Hits Due in March; New Releases

Times Staff Writer

When you go to your local store to rent HBO's "Platoon"--available today because of the out-of-court settlement between HBO and Vestron last weekend--you may face two aggravations.

First of all, you might not be able to find it.

"Stores will probably be out of rental copies," said Frank O'Connell, HBO Video's chief executive officer. "People may have that problem next week, in two weeks and in three weeks. The demand is much stronger than the supply. We hate to see that."

If you can find a rental cassette, however, another problem may surface. "There'll be a higher price for this movie in some places," O'Connell warned.

Both problems are associated with the film's $99.95 price tag, $10 higher than the usual major-movie price. Unwilling to pay the extra money, some retailers haven't purchased as many copies.

O'Connell said HBO went all out to persuade store owners to consider the profit, not the size of the investment: "Each cassette can rent a minimum of 100 times. That's about $220 at the average rental price. The cost to the retailer is $70 per cassette. That's a threefold return on the investment."

To HBO's delight, some retailers are responding to the anticipated demand by ordering more copies. Initially, 351,000 were shipped to stores and distributors.

"We've made 15,000 additional copies and we'll probably wind up making at least 25,000 more," O'Connell said. "We've been told that over half the distributors have increased their orders."

But to some retailers, the solution may simply be to pass the price increase on to the renters. HBO doesn't mind that either.

"That will generate more revenue for the retailers," O'Connell said. "They may use the additional money to buy more copies of 'Platoon.' "

Incidentally, O'Connell verified that retailers will have "Platoon" all to themselves for longer than usual. There won't be competition from pay-per-view outlets for 75 days. Usually, major movies are available on pay-per-view on the same day they debut on home video.

Also, cable TV, the other competition for video stores, won't get "Platoon" until seven months from now--two months longer than usual.

COMING MOVIES: Two big hits, destined for the rental Top Five, are due in mid-March. CBS-Fox's "The Living Daylights," the James Bond movie featuring Timothy Dalton's debut as the British spy, will be available on home video March 17. Touchstone's "Stakeout," the cop comedy-adventure starring Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez, is scheduled for March 15 release.

Director Rob Reiner's acclaimed "The Princess Bride" is due March 30 on Nelson Entertainment. Warner Video's "Surrender," the romantic comedy starring Michael Caine, Sally Field and Steve Guttenberg, will be in the stores March 16. "The Lost Boys," the teen vampire movie, will be released by Warner Video on Feb. 24.

Next week: "Robocop" and "Disorderlies."

The week of Jan. 31: "No Way Out" and "Jaws: the Revenge."

NEW RELEASES: HBO's "Platoon," last year's best-picture Oscar winner, is one of the best war movies ever made. Set during the Vietnam war, it shows how war batters the soldier's psyche. The message isn't new, but it has much more impact than in many other pictures because of the skills of director-writer Oliver Stone, who shows jungle warfare as it is--a terrifying, mind-numbing experience. The hero is a rookie soldier (Charlie Sheen), a college dropout modeled after Stone. The spine of the movie is his indoctrination into the horrors of infantry combat by two sergeants. One is a scarred, vicious psychopath (Tom Berenger), who represents the extreme of the soldier deadened by war. The other is a sensitive good guy (William DaFoe) who's always fighting the dehumanizing effects of war. So there's good and evil tugging at this confused rookie in the jungles of Vietnam. After the all those Rambo-like war movies, the grisly realism of this one is particularly jarring.

In CBS-Fox's "Predator," Arnold Schwarzenegger tackles an alien from outer space. Maybe regular human villains aren't quite challenging enough any more for the No. 1 macho man in movies (yes, he's superior to Stallone). Schwarzenegger plays the leader of a crack rescue team that, through CIA double-dealing, is sent to a Central American jungle on a bogus mission. This outfit, which includes soldiers played by Carl Weathers and Bill Duke, has a series of chilling, bloody encounters with one of the more cleverly conceived creatures to hit the screen in years. Action-adventure fans should love this movie, which is one of the most suspenseful entries in the genre since Schwarzenegger's classic, "The Terminator." Schwarzenegger hasn't improved as an actor but directors (in this case, John McTiernan) have learned how to use him in the least offensive way. His dialogue is kept at a minimum.

RCA/Columbia's "La Bamba" is a sentimentalized account of the rise of the San Fernando Valley's Ritchie Valens, the poor Hispanic teen-ager who became a star with two huge rock 'n' roll hit singles in the late '50s--"Donna" and "La Bamba"--before his death in an Iowa plane crash at 17. He's a virtuous, virginal kid with a crush on a blond Valley girl named Donna--the inspiration for that hit single. The unsettling fact that this likeable character, played by Lou Diamond Phillips, is going to die at the end generates considerable gloom. The love-hate relationship between Valens and his older brother (Esai Morales), an alcoholic biker, provides some badly needed grit. But the driving force behind director-writer Luis Valdez's fairly skillful tear-jerker is the music of Los Lobos, which performs the Valens songs.

You'll have more appreciation for MCA's spoof, "Dragnet"--co-starring Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks--if you're familiar with the '50s TV series featuring Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday of the Los Angeles Police Department. Then you'll realize just how good Aykroyd's impersonation of the fast-talking, stone-faced Friday really is. He plays it straight, not for laughs. But the laughs come naturally watching up-tight Friday in wild encounters in present-day Los Angeles. Supposedly, the Aykroyd character is the nephew of the '50s Friday and an even bigger square than his uncle. Much of the humor in this lively, frequently funny parody comes from the abrasive interplay between stodgy Friday and his partner (Hanks), a hang-loose, irreverent womanizer, as they track down a megalomaniacal evangelist (Christopher Plummer) who heads an evil cult.

Key Video's "Eat the Peach," an offbeat drama with whimsical touches, is about two daring but unemployed dreamers--Vinnie (Stephan Brennan) and his brother-in-law (Eamon Morrissey)--struggling to survive in an Irish village. In an old Elvis Presley movie, they see a carnival motorcyclist riding high around a cylindrical track called a Wall of Death and decide to build one themselves. Supposedly it's their key to fame and fortune, but financing, constructing and promoting it turns out to be nothing but headaches. This beautifully photographed film offers subtle pleasures. Though it moves at a crawl, the earthy characters and their plight absorb you. The film is very sentimental but it's the kind of sentiment that sneaks up on you.

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