May 15, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

In a future where DNA is caste destiny, Hawke, a scrappy ?de-gene-erate,? uses tricks like fake urine samples to impersonate an aristocrat and become?it sounds cheesy out of context?an astronaut. When his mission director is killed and the cops find Hawke?s bodily detritus at the scene, both his launch and romance with the office ice queen (Thurman, vulnerable) hang in jeopardy. The corporal paranoia transforms suspense into pleasurable dread, and, for all of writer-director Andrew Niccol?s arch genre gimmicks, the themes are right out of Renoir?brotherhood, honor, the will. When Gattaca hit theaters?eight months after Dolly?s cloning?many critics misread it as a bioethics parable, which is rather like approaching Casablanca as a critique of French Morocco?s visa policy.

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Xander Berkeley,
Gore Vidal
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