The Whole Wide World

Columbia TriStar Home Ent., $19.95

VINCENT D'ONOFRIO superbly brings Robert E. Howard, the 1930s creator of Conan the Barbarian, to rampageous life in World (on DVD July 29), Dan Ireland's first film. The irony of the title is that "the best pulp writer in the whole wide world" lives in a world too small-minded to accommodate his imaginationa Texas burg where nobody but Robert can see the bug-eyed monsters he bellows at and sword fights in the dusty streets.

His unyieldingly odd nature beguiles the equally feisty schoolmarm Novalyne (Renée Zellweger), an aspiring writer of a more conventional sort. But she can't coax him out into the world of common day, nor unshackle him from his typewriter and his domineeringly ailing, Blanche DuBois-like mama (the splendid Ann Wedgeworth).

The 1996 film is equal parts period piece, screwball comedy, quiet tearjerker, and drifty opium dream. D'Onofrio and Zellweger couldn't be better together, and the commentary track on the DVD illuminates how they nailed their performances. To convey the awkwardness of the pair's first meeting, they both began talking at the same instant; this tricky bit was synchronized by D'Onofrio giving Zellweger a secret signal, tapping the table.

When he spots her in a theater with another man, D'Onofrio gives the character a finger twitch he filched from a performance of Olivier at the Old Vic. His larger gestures were less precise: D'Onofrio got so into the character that he came with inches of chopping his foot off. The role is a masterpiece of oddly muted passion. TIM APPELO

JUST ABOUT NOTHING interesting is coming to disc Aug. 12. For the girl-power demo, there's The Lizzie McGuire Movie, with Hilary Duff. For older, ass-kicking teens, there's Cradle 2 the Grave, with Jet Li and DMX. For adults who can't get enough of Audrey Tautou (currently in Dirty Pretty Things), there's He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not. Action fans will dig Tsui Hark's Once Upon a Time in China trilogy, while Chris Rock fans can only be disappointed with the fizzled political satire Head of State. Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro stab their way onto DVD in The Hunted. Also look for the recently released Charlton Heston cheesy '70s sci-fi flicks The Omega Man and Soylent Green. EDS.

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