Lisa Schwarzbaum says don't miss ''Croupier,'' ''Hamlet,'' and some upcoming smaller movies

By Lisa Schwarzbaum
June 23, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

Why the best summer movies may not be the biggest

Big action movies are as much a hallmark of summer as pollen count reports on the local news. And some of the biggest — ”The Patriot,” ”The Perfect Storm,” ”X-Men” — still lie ahead. But already, moviegoers who prefer delicacies to Big Macs may feel hungry.

I’m sending anyone who asks me what to see — what’s REALLY good — to ”Croupier,” the stylish neonoir thriller starring Clive Owen as an unproductive novelist lured back into his old shady life as a casino dealer; Alex Kingston, from NBC’s ”ER,” plays a Barbara Stanwyck-type Alluring Lady, a wealthy gambler dame with secrets. Made with an icy cool sense of danger and rue by British filmmaker Mike Hodges some three decades after his last cult hit, ”Get Carter,” this little indie opened in just 17 cities in April. And it’s come up a winner, outgrossing almost all other new independent releases this year. Beginning June 30, ”Croupier” expands to 100 theaters. Find one of those theaters or move to a new city accordingly.

I’m also encouraging even picky moviegoers who don’t care for Shakespeare films (as well as those who don’t care for Ethan Hawke) to see the current hip, taut, pulsating modern dress adaptation of ”Hamlet” starring Hawke as the melancholy Dane. Not least among the pleasant surprises is Bill Murray’s snarky, snaky performance as Polonius — he plays the courtier as a cynical Washington spin doctor.

I’m sending Francophile cineasts to ”Humanité” or ”East-West” while popcornophiles slog through ”Gone in 60 Seconds.”

I’m packing music lovers off to the pulsing rave comedy ”Groove,” and the scorching Sex Pistols documentary ”The Filth and the Fury,” while suggesting that they also see ”Chicken Run” because the score is such a big part of the fun.

I recommend that anyone interested in really beautiful, non-Angelina-Jolie-style acting see every picture Samantha Morton is in; right now she owns the screen in ”Jesus’ Son,” a junkie love story that’s uplifting, rather than deadening.

I advocate repeat viewings of Mike Figgis’ clever quadruple split screen, all-digital ”Time Code 2000,” devoting one of those sessions to studying the upper left-hand corner where Jeanne Tripplehorn, playing a jealous lover, eavesdrops on her unfaithful girlfriend via hidden microphone.

And I preach hope for the near future, because the following small treats await in July.

”Shower,” a winning and unusually funny Chinese film about the clash of modernity and tradition as played out in an old Beijing bath house, opens July 7, the same weekend as Disney’s ”The Kid.”

And so does the rerelease of Joel and Ethan Coen’s ”Blood Simple” — the essence of their artistic vision in its earliest form, scabrous, funny, and chilly

”Chuck and Buck,” one of the most unsettling films to come out of Sundance this year, opens July 14, the same weekend as ”X-Men.” It’s the story of adult men who once shared an intense childhood friendship, one of whom grows up, succeeds in business, and woos a woman, while the other pines — with unnerving intensity — for the bond they once shared.