12/01/98- Updated 05:03 PM ET


Monotony is undoing of 'Evita'

After a decade of seeing even dramatic movies interrupted by scenes that play like music videos, here comes the physically resplendent Evita (Bstar25.gif (145 bytes) out of four). So fluidly visual that only a deathbed finale can flag its pace, it's the first Panavision music video to run 2 1/4 hours, the monotony finally sapping its staying power. Out of sight, it is as out-of-mind as one of last week's channel-surfs.

But while it's on the screen, the movie flows over you. In a casting gamble as dicey as this oddball's box office chances, Madonna plays Eva Peron, the Argentinian first lady whose shrewdly stage-managed sack time helped take her from rags to President Juan Peron's riches. An able clotheshorse who can sing, Madonna struts the duds and sometimes even sells the homogenized Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber score.

This is an accomplishment as far as it goes, and it might go further were she not one-upped by Antonio Banderas. The Spanish hunk, whose Hollywood career has stalled on a litany of theater-clearers, exudes star presence in a relatively subsidiary role as the film's ubiquitous "commentator," Che. He steals the picture not only from Madonna but also from Jonathan Pryce as Juan, this normally estimable actor being mostly distinguished here by superb forehead makeup.

The last time director Parker and his co-screenwriter Oliver Stone collaborated, the result was the suspiciously pat Midnight Express. With 99% of Evita being sung, the tone here is obviously different, though viewers may again exit the theater wondering if they've gotten the full story. Cinematographer Darius Khondji's images are sharp, but the film's attitude about a heroine adored by the masses but reviled by so many others remains fuzzy.

With one of the most dazzling screen chassis in years, Evita is definitely worth a look — maybe even two. But don't look under the hood. (PG: sexual allusions)

By Mike Clark, USA TODAY