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‘Freshman’ Out at Right Time : THIS WEEK’S MOVIES

Its makers may not have planned it this way, but the video debut of the uneven 1990 comedy “The Freshman” (RCA/Columbia, no list price, PG) comes at just the right time for the comedy, even with its flaws, to serve as the perfect antidote to the recent spate of gangster films.

Actually, some people will want to rent “The Freshman” just to see if its preposterous plot makes more sense the second time around. But the movie’s real appeal lies in Marlon Brando’s delicious parody of his “Godfather” role. Especially funny is his first scene as an Italian-American “importer” who very much resembles a certain Don Corleone.

From there on, “The Freshman” remains watchable enough, but things get awfully silly--involving a gullible film student from Vermont (Matthew Broderick), a Komodo dragon, the Brando character’s sexy daughter (Penelope Ann Miller), federal agents and “gourmets” who dine on endangered species.

Or do they really? That’s just one of things that is hard to figure out in this unglued farce (a couple of rewrites might have helped). Still, the reasonably fresh “Freshman” has a lot to recommend it, including the always reliable Bruno Kirby as Brando’s wackiest relative.

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But try watching “The Freshman” and imagining it without Brando. How in the world did they get him to do it? Someone must have made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Very easy to refuse are the rest of the new domestic-movie offerings, with a gruesome twosome of ’90 films leading the pack--"Hardware” (HBO, $92.99, R), the killer-android film that had to trim down its violence to avoid the now-defunct X rating, and “Soultaker” (AIP, $89.95, PG-13), about five victims of a car crash who must avoid the title fiend and get back to their bodies before life-support systems are unplugged.

Other recent films: the made-for-cable “Criminal Justice” (HBO, $89.99), the goofy spoof “9 1/2 Ninjas” (Republic, $89.98, R) and the Burt Ward-starring (!) comedy “Virgin High” (RCA/Columbia, $79.95, R).

Much better bets are three foreign classics just released by New Yorker Video. Each concerns an unusual female character, and they’re all important works by outstanding French directors: “My Life to Live” ($59.95, 1962), Jean-Luc Godard’s view of a rebellious young woman, played by Anna Karina; “Story of Women” ($79.95, 1988), Claude Chabrol’s drama about a woman who performed abortions in Nazi-occupied France; “Zazie Dans Le Metro” ($69.95, 1962), Louis Malle’s comedy about an iconoclastic 11-year-old girl.

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