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Lover Men

Three films offer differing takes on the myth of the romantic hero

Jack Mickler (Marlon Brando), a burned-out psychiatrist at a Queens mental hospital who talks the hero out of a suicide attempt, isn't sure what to make of him, either. But because he's a reformed romantic himself, Jack becomes fond of his patient.

According to New York state law, he has ten days to examine the young man and establish whether he's a nut case who needs heavy medication and a padded room or just a hapless dreamer with an unusually rich fantasy life. The film consists mainly of three types of scenes: Don Juan spinning tall tales about his childhood, adolescence and sex life; flashbacks to the life in question; and sweet domestic scenes between Jack and his wife, Marilyn (Faye Dunaway, who doesn't have much to do but still seems to be having a grand time).

It's a given that Don Juan's rich (and richly erotic) stories will rekindle the Micklers' dormant marriage, and that the dreamer will eventually triumph over the cynics who want him institutionalized. The script's free-floating, slightly daft aura is exceptionally fragile; the slightest hint of condescension would have shattered it instantly. It's a storybook fable for adults -- Miracle on 34th Street with hormones.

But thanks primarily to the chemistry between the two male leads, the film is a delight from start to finish -- provided, of course, that you're willing to sympathize with a promiscuous, goofy and enigmatic protagonist whose only distinguishing characteristic is that he's in love with the idea of love.

Depp plays Don Juan with a hilariously straight face, which renders funny scenes funnier and sexy scenes sexier and makes Leven's amazingly ornate dialogue feel spontaneous and true -- the musings of a restless man who lives an epic life among trivial people. (This guy can't even find a simple way to tell Jack that one of his great loves was a virgin; he instead describes her as "unacquainted with the miracle of physical love.")

And Brando is surprisingly effective in a low-key, working-Joe part that's leagues away from the hammy, cameo hack jobs he's specialized in for the past couple of decades. Alert, bemused and sly, he moves and talks like a man half his age and one-third his weight.

In a sense, Jack Mickler's progress from bored old man to reinvigorated lover finds its parallel in Brando's performance: as a bored old doctor rediscovers how much he loves romance, the burned-out movie star who plays him rediscovers how much he loves acting.

Don Juan DeMarco isn't a perfect movie. It coasts along from set piece to set piece on the fumes of audience goodwill, and because Jeremy Leven is a better writer than director, it doesn't always find a visual equivalent for the passion expressed in the hero's words. But on its own sweetly kooky terms, it's a success.

In a key flashback, one of Don Juan's most ardent lovers asks the young stud how many conquests he's had, and is treated to a list of some 1,500 names. "The number," deadpans Don Juan, "was considerably higher than she was prepared to expect."

After sitting through this wonderful movie, so were my spirits.

Rob Roy, a new romantic adventure from director Michael Caton-Jones, concerns a rugged 18th-century Scottish highlander who battles evil British royals to save his land, his family and his honor.

The kilt-wearing, homily-spouting title character -- played by Liam Neeson as a cross between Jesus Christ, Shane and the Brawny towel man -- is the leader of a clan of roguish toughs-for-hire eking out a precarious living among the hills and moors of Scotland. When we first meet them, they're repossessing some stolen livestock for the Marquis of Montrose (John Hurt), a British oppressor who's engaged in a power spat with Killearn (Brian Cox), his Scottish counterpart.

To make an essentially simple yet inexplicably protracted story somewhat shorter, Rob Roy decides to borrow a thousand pounds from the Marquis to finance the expansion of his own lands. The Marquis' slimy underlings, led by a foppish swordsmaster (Tim Roth), double-cross Rob Roy. They steal the money from the hero's courier and best pal, Alan (Eric Stoltz). Then they kill Alan, hide his body and concoct a story about how Alan pilfered the money and fled to America.

The Marquis asks Rob Roy to side with him against Killearn in exchange for loaning him another thousand pounds, but our hero is too honest to do such a thing, and his impudence and inflexibility drives the Marquis into a homicidal snit. Rob Roy flees for the highlands, and in between tender domestic interludes with his loving wife, Mary (Jessica Lange), campfire strategy sessions with his fellow clansmen and the occasional defensive retreat into the moors, he tries to figure a way out of this mess.

The story has all the ingredients of a breathlessly romantic adventure tale, but neither veteran screenwriter Alan Sharp nor the director can figure out how to present them. The film's obsession with rotting teeth, spurting wounds, slain and gutted animals, mutilation, urination and torture seems to point toward a willful deglamorization of adventure-movie cliches, but these elements are canceled out by the good guys' Hollywood-perfect makeup and hair, the wide-screen vistas and the symphonic score.

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