Michael Sauter
December 18, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST

Rene Russo may be the 1990s’ most steadily rising star, a former cover girl who selflessly brings out the best in some of Hollywood’s heaviest hitters. Playing tough women in high-pressure situations — there’s but a taste of her in Lethal Weapon 4 — she’s like a latter-day Rosalind Russell, with beauty and bearing and comedic dash that borders on screwball dizzy. The big apes (and we don’t just mean the ones in Buddy) had better appreciate her.

Lethal Weapon 3
Russo breaks through as Det. Lorna Cole, who wins Mel Gibson’s heart in a battle-scar comparison that plays like a strip-poker game.

In the Line of Fire
Her Secret Service agent could be a model for Scully: a crisp, cool fed whose wry put-downs turn on fellow agent Clint Eastwood.

Outbreak
Ace virologist Russo spends too much screen time in the lab, but refreshingly grown-up moments come opposite Dustin Hoffman in scenes from a sadly dying marriage.

Get Shorty
Playing a world-weary scream queen, Russo’s a match for John Travolta’s cockeyed optimist of a gangster as he finesses his way into the movie biz. While all around her preen and scheme, she refines the art of the reaction take.

Tin Cup
With perfect comic aplomb, Russo plays a psychologist whose insecurities spill out when she falls for Kevin Costner’s underachieving golf pro.

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