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After blasting off, it's time for a vacation

The nicest guy in Hollywood looks slightly malevolent these days, with a goatee adding a touch of evil to his usually friendly countenance. Tom Hanks has grown the beard for his next assignment, so different from his roles on screen over the last three years.

A vacation.

If anyone deserves time off, it's Hanks, who has strung together five hits (including Apollo 13, which makes its debut today) and two Academy Awards since 1992. The strain of being America's best friend in movies is beginning to show.

During interviews for his new film, Hanks never was impolite, but there was an edginess to some answers that hinted he's eager to kick back, grow a beard and not be asked why.

Not yet, however.

"This?" Hanks shrugged, stroking his facial growth. "This is just because I'm not doing anything. I don't know when my next job is and, quite frankly, I've been in the public eye so much . . . that I think it would be nice to give the public a break from my fat mug. You do need to go away every now and again and come back."

Hanks walking away from stardom right now seems akin to Michael Jordan hanging up his basketball jersey. In fact, sports analogies are popularly used to describe the success he has enjoyed/endured. Apollo 13 director Ron Howard likened the chance to work with him at this point to managing Mickey Mantle in 1956 when he won the Triple Crown.

Now it appears that Hanks is ready for some off-season conditioning. He'll be back, and don't expect him to change his gameplan when he returns.

Questions about whether he'll play an antihero are, perhaps, another reason Hanks would be happy never to see another reporter's tape recorder again.

"I get nothing, and the audience gets nothing, from me playing a bad guy just for the sake of playing a bad guy," he said, with a firmness that comes from answering a question once too often.

"There is nothing to be gained by me playing a psycho killer, just because I'm tired of being a nice guy, or I want the audience to see some other side of my personality. That's horse__. That's not the artistic endeavor that movies are supposed to be.

"It might be worth it to a studio _ because I'm a movie star and they would like to have me do anything for them _ but unless I understand how my countenance can fit into that bad guy, I'm not interested."

"LIFE IS LIKE A BOX OF A-BOMBS" _ One might guess that Oscar nominee Gary Sinise doesn't have a sense of humor, given his intense, piercing portrayals in Forrest Gump and now Apollo 13. It sneaks out of his tight jaw on occasion, as in one instance in Houston when he was discussing his friend Hanks and filming an upcoming HBO movie in which Sinise plays President Harry S. Truman, with make-up and a balding hairpiece.

Sinise wanted to send his pal a souvenir, based on Hanks' unforgettable image on the Forrest Gump posters.

"I was really hoping we would find a park bench somewhere that I could sit on with my double-breasted suit and my Harry Truman face, with a little suitcase and my tennis shoes on. Do that picture," he said, tilting his head to the left and away in a Gumpian pose.

Inspired by the laughter that bit earned, Sinise started riffing on the movie poster's catchlines, with mock reverence and hand gestures to indicate where the words would fit:

"The world will never be the same . . . once you've seen it through the eyes . . . of Harry Truman," he intoned. "Gary Sinise is Harry Truman.

"Then I'd send it to Tom, autographed: 'Best wishes, Harry Truman'."

Check Sunday's Floridian section for an expanded interview with Sinise, who even has a nice smile, when he allows himself the luxury.

NO "BREAK" FOR ST. PETE _ Vincent Van Patten (yes, one of those Van Pattens) said last week that the film he produced in St. Petersburg last year, the tennis drama The Break, will debut on Aug. 20. Just not here.

The Break will get a trial run in Miami and Fort Lauderdale before a decision is made to release it nationwide or go straight to home video. No plans have been made to screen it in Tampa Bay, despite the business support (and free acting extras) the area provided during filming at the Stouffer Vinoy Resort. Perhaps our status as a grade-C market in most studios' eyes had something to do with it.

"I doubt that," said Van Patten from his California office. "We want to go someplace to get a good feel for how it will play. It's absolutely nothing personal; if it were up to me (and not TriMark Pictures) it would play in St. Pete. We were very, very thankful. People down there were terrific."

So, why not give us a Break?