MARCH 2003

BASIC: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Connie Nielsen, Timothy Daly, Harry Connick Jr., Brian Van Holt, Giovanni Ribisi, Taye Diggs, Roselyn Sanchez, Christian de la Fuente, Dash Millhok (Directed by John McTiernan; Columbia) John, an excellent but tarnished military investigator, and Connie, a highly motivated MP, have their sleuthing cut out for them. That's because drill-instructor Sam and several of his underlings have vanished in the middle of a training maneuver. Where are Rummy and Ashcroft when you really need them? Opens 3-28

THE CORE: Hilary Swank, Aaron Eckhart, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, DJ Qualls, Bruce Greenwood, Alfre Woodard, Tcheky Karyo, Nicole Leroux, Richard Jenkins, Gregory Bennett, Dion Johnstone, Christopher Shyer, Jennifer Spence (Directed by Jon Amiel; Paramount) Listen up--the center of the earth has stopped rotating, and if we don't get a team of scientists in there with a mega-bomb right away, it's curtains for mother planet and all her children. We worry that Hilary and Aaron won't be able to carry the movie, much less save the world. Opens 3-28

HEAD OF STATE: Chris Rock, Bernie Mac, Tamala Jones, Lynn Whitfield, Dylan Baker, Jude Ciccolella, Robin Givens, Stephanie March, Nick Searcy, James Rebhorn (Directed by Chris Rock; DreamWorks) Chris Rock, so electrifying in "Dogma" and "Nurse Betty," has had a run of limp luck these past couple of years ("Down to Earth," "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," "Bad Company"). So it's high time he seized control of his career, which is precisely what he's done here--writing, directing and starring in a comedy that puts him in line to be the world's most powerful player. That's right, he's chosen by the Democratic Party to run for the Presidency of the United States. Hey, we could do--and have done--worse. I just know Chris is the man to keep an eye on those crazy hanging chads. Opens 3--28

THE CUCKOO: Victor Bychkov, Ville Haapasalo, Anni-Kristiina Juuso (Directed by Alexander Rogozhkin; Sony Pictures Classics) A Finn all but crucified for his alleged cowardice and a Russian officer headed for a court martial take refuge with a lovely Lapp widow toward the end of World War II. And that was surely their lucky day. Alexander Rogozhkin's anti-war fable made a favorable impression at the Telluride and Toronto festivals. Opens in March.

HYPNOTIC: Goran Visnjc, Shirley Henderson, Miranda Otto, Paddy Considine (Directed by Nick Willing; First Look Pictures) Before a serial killer is able to strike again, his young about-to-be-victim escapes. She's mute now and in tattered emotional state, so she's of little help in the search for her abductor. In her determination to zap the fiend, a fiercely driven British detective (Shirley Henderson) enlists the aid of an American hypnotist (Goran Visnjc). So guess who'll soon be peeping in on the hypnotist's wife and daughter? Opens in March