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Friday, August 5, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`Barcelona' Another Brilliant Portrait Of Privileged People

Movie review

XXX 1/2 "Barcelona," with Chris Eigeman, Taylor Nichols, Tushka Bergan, Mira Sorvino, Pep Munne. Written and directed by Whit Stillman. Broadway Market, Seven Gables. "PG-13" - Parental guidance advised because of language, subject matter. -----------------------------------------------------------------

Whit Stillman's first movie, "Metropolitan" (1990), was a witty time-warp gem: a reminder that the sensibility that created "The Philadelphia Story" and other classic upper-crust comedies of manners didn't die with their creators.

His latest treat, "Barcelona," often plays like more of the same, although it benefits from a European bite that recalls Billy Wilder's best comedies. More worldly than "Metropolitan," which dealt with American teenagers on home turf, it follows a similarly sheltered pair of twentysomething Americans to Spain in "the last decade of the Cold War."

Ted (Taylor Nichols) is running a European office for a Chicago firm when his confrontational cousin, a Navy lieutenant named Fred (Chris Eigeman), shows up and makes himself at home in Ted's Barcelona apartment. The two grew up together, they appear to have very little respect or affection for each other, and soon they are (verbally at least) at each other's throats.

While Ted keeps most of his eccentricities to himself, Fred throws caution to the winds and baits the Europeans who clearly regard his gung-ho militarism with contempt. Soon both men are involved with a social circle of Spanish women whose behavior they barely grasp.

Eventually they're attracted to the same woman (Tushka Bergan), a cool translator who dates Ted but continues her liaison with a Spanish reporter (Pep Munne). After a lethal USO bombing interrupts their idyll, Ted asks Fred to find his own digs and things get complicated on both the personal and political levels.

Eigeman is brilliantly, hilariously obnoxious as Fred, who can inadvertently suck the life out of a jazz-scored party by organizing a limbo routine. He belligerently wears his Navy outfit wherever he goes (some people think he's on his way to a costume party); carefully dissects the ending of "The Graduate" from a narrow conservative's point of view; and proudly boasts that he's everything his anti-American enemies loathe ("I am their worst assumption").

Fred keeps your interest because, no matter what your political persuasion, he comes off as the swiftest, most caustic person around - even if he doesn't have the most sophisticated sense of self-preservation. Eigeman, who played the similarly self-possessed Nick in "Metropolitan," appears to be having the time of his life.

Taylor is the perfect foil for him, never more so than when the two cousins are reviving childhood feuds or debating Fred's honesty. Only the women, who were more clearly defined in "Metropolitan," fail to make much of an impression, although that's probably deliberate. They're supposed to be mysterious European presences whose motivations are not entirely clear to Americans.

Stillman received an Academy Award nomination for writing "Metropolitan," and he still relies heavily on dialogue to make his points. But this is never just a collection of pictures of people talking. It's a droll portrait of privileged, rather myopic people whose actions rarely speak louder than their words.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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