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At the Movies: Wisdom of Crocodiles

July 11, 2000

Steven Grlscz is in a rut. He meets girls, dates them and kills them. Then he meets a nice young woman and falls completely in love with her, and she with him. Suddenly, he doesn’t feel like killing her, and that’s a problem for Steven, because he needs to kill her to survive.

That, in a nutshell, is ``The Wisdom of Crocodiles,″ a slick-looking Jude Law film that starts with promise but stumbles in the end.

Law plays Steven, a handsome, articulate young medical researcher who carries some hefty baggage into relationships _ he’s a vampire. Think dressed-to-the-nines urbane London bloodsucker, not the dark-cape-and-fangs creatures of old.

Law, the mesmerizing co-star of ``The Talented Mr. Ripley″ and ``Gattaca,″ is the main reason to see ``The Wisdom of Crocodiles.″ His icy cool performance is riveting.

``Crocodiles,″ which was released in Europe in 1998 before Law had made much of an impact with American audiences, contrasts good and evil and suggests the two are interconnected. Steven is at times very good and seems genuinely empathetic to people in the hospital at which he works.

He’s also very bad. At the beginning of the film, he adroitly seduces a young woman. She goes back to his place, he chomps on her neck until she’s dead and then he dumps her body in the ocean.

It soon becomes apparent that Steven has done this sort of thing before. He chronicles his relationships in elaborate diaries. He gets women to fall for him and then kills them because to live, he needs the blood of those who love him.

Fishermen recover the body of his latest victim at about the same time he meets Anne Levels (Elina Lowensohn), a stunning engineer who captures his heart.

Two police detectives suspect Steven of killing his previous love interest and begin investigating. It is at this point that ``Crocodiles″ starts to fizzle.

This film can’t decide what it wants to be _ mystery, fantasy or a love story with a twist. Director Po-Chih Leong, who has had success with films in Hong Kong, is no stranger to martial arts fight scenes. He even has Law beat up a group of London toughs in a well-choreographed action sequence.

But just as the action gets going, the film downshifts as the relationship between Steven and Anne grows more intense. All the tension that should come from the movie’s ultimate question _ will Steven kill Anne? _ is drained by a painfully prolonged ending. Where there should be dialogue and motion, there are periods of extended silence while Steven and Ann brood.

By the time the final question is answered, the audience has grown tired of the wait.

``The Wisdom of Crocodiles″ is a Miramax Films release. It is rated R for strong violence and gore, language and sexuality. Running time: 98 minutes.

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Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G _ General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG _ Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 _ Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R _ Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 _ No one under 17 admitted.

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