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A critic, a Kubrick, a croc and a good bit of bad French

As a noted film critic, I assume that you are eager to read my impressions of Eyes Wide Shut, the controversial, much-discussed final film in the oeuvre of Stanley Kubrick, or, as he was known to those of us who considered him a close personal friend before he died, Stan.

What is one to make of Eyes Wide Shut? Is this the chef doeuvre, the piece de resistance if you will, of this legendary cinematic auteur? Does it possess the penultimate exigency, the insouciant escargot, the frisson de voiture of Stan's earlier work? Or does it succumb to the inevitable bouillabaisse en route that every great roman a clef experiences when he reaches the point that the great French director Renault Citroen once, in a moment of pique, described as fromage de la parapluie (literally, "umbrella cheese")?

These are, indeed, some questions. And if one is to address them truly, one has an obligation, as a noted cultural commentator as well as a human being, to have some direct knowledge of the film in question. Thus it was that this critic _ reluctantly pausing in his ongoing project of reading the complete, unabridged works of Marcel Proust in the original French handwriting in a drafty room with poor lighting _ went to the cinematic theater for a first-hand viewing of Eyes Wide Shut.

This critic will not, as the great Italian director Ronzoni Sono Buoni used to say, "beat around amongst the shrubbery." This critic will come right out _ at risk of violating the First Rule of serious cinematic criticism ("Avoid clear sentences") _ and tell you exactly what Eyes Wide Shut is about: It is about two-and-a-half hours long. That is frankly more time than this critic can afford to spend in a cinema, because at this critic's current rate of cinema-concession-snack consumption (CCSC), which is one box of Goobers per 45 minutes of film viewing, this critic would soon develop what the great German director Audi Porsche Messerschmitt referred to as Ahugengrossenbiggenfattenheinie. After two-and-a-half hours, it would take a construction crane to hoist this critic back out of his seat.

And so this critic elected to instead view another film playing at the same theater, Lake Placid, which is about half as long as Eyes Wide Shut, but involves even less actual viewing time if you, like this critic, close your eyes tight shut for certain scenes, such as the one at the beginning where a scuba diver is swimming in the lake and something grabs him from underwater, so his friend tries to rescue him by pulling him back into the boat, and the only really positive thing you can say about the diver at that point is that, if he had survived, he would never again have had to worry about finding pants in his size, if you get this critic's drift.

Lake Placid explores a classic literary theme _ a theme that has fascinated artists from Homer to Shakespeare to Milton to Milton's younger brother, Arnold, namely: What happens when an Asian crocodile swims over from Asia and winds up in a secluded lake in Maine, where it grows to a length of 30 feet?

The answer is: some serious chomping. Because naturally, after the crocodile eats half of the diver in the opening scene, more people immediately show up and insist on swimming in the lake with their legs dangling down invitingly like big fat corn dogs with feet.

One of the great mysteries of the cinema is why characters insist on plunging into bodies of water known to contain hungry irate marine life forms with mouths the size of two-car garages. More than once this critic has been tempted to shout, "GET OUT OF THE WATER, YOU CRETINS!" But, of course, the characters cannot hear. Also, there is some risk associated with spraying semi-chewed Goobers into the hair of the person sitting in the row ahead.

And so the audience of Lake Placid _ which, for the showing attended by this critic, consisted mostly of large families who apparently had mistaken the theater for the Playtime Daycare Center for Loud Hyperactive Children _ can only sit and chew helplessly as the crocodile eats various minor characters, not to mention a bear, a moose and part of a helicopter. This sets the stage for the film's climactic scene, in which _ this critic is not making this scene up _ the heroes lure the crocodile into a trap by flying the injured helicopter over the lake and dangling from it, in a sling at the end of a long cable, a LIVE COW.

Not since the heyday of the great Japanese director Nissan Kawasaki has this critic seen a more effective cinematic use of airborne livestock. If that cow does not win an Oscar for Best Supported Actor, this critic will have some very harsh words for somebody.

In conclusion, Lake Placid is a worthy addition to the cinematic genre of Movies Where Body Parts Frequently Wash Ashore. As for Eyes Wide Shut: Although this critic has not seen it personally, cinematic sources say that it has a certain je ne sais quoi (literally, "movie stars naked"). So this critic is giving both of these fine films two thumbs up. That's a total of four thumbs up. So it's a good thing that spares are washing ashore.

Dave Barry is a humor columnist for the Miami Herald. Write tohim c/o the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132.

1999, Miami Herald