October 07, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

ED WOOD (R) Edward D. Wood Jr., the worst filmmaker of all time, is the hero of Tim Burton’s magically funny and bizarre new movie. As Ed, a transvestite with a thing for angora, Johnny Depp is peppy and sleek, a bright-eyed simpleton hustler so ridiculously upbeat he could practically be a character in one of his own films. Burton re-creates the shooting of such hilariously inept Wood classics as Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 From Outer Space, duplicating the sets and staging with a loving exactitude that makes every tacky prop and zombie performance seem revelatory. Where the film becomes unexpectedly moving is in Ed’s friendship with the aging, decrepit Bela Lugosi, brilliantly played by Martin Landau. Bitter and impoverished, a morphine addict for 20 years, Bela lives in a cryptlike tract house stuffed with ghoulish mementos. Yet he hasn’t lost his cornball theatrical panache, and it lends him a kind of desperate integrity. The beauty of Ed Wood is that Burton loves these losers for who they are. A ( 242, Sept. 30)

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