"Evita," starring Madonna, Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Price, will open Holiday 1996.

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"Evita" sneak peek shows some promise

Hollywood Pictures hosted a 10-minute sneak peek of "Evita" for the press last week in San Francisco, and if nothing else, the ambitious, mega-million-dollar film take on Andrew Lloyd Webber's Broadway extravaganza has the attitude of a blockbuster.

The film, starring Madonna as Eva Peron, the powerful first lady of Argentina in the late 1940s, has been the hot topic of Hollywood's holiday slate since the casting of the Material Girl sparked protest in Argentina last year.

Shot in musky sunset tones, the film's preview is striking visually and rings a heavy emotional chord throughout.

The clip is thick with crowd scenes. At political rallies, parades and Peron's funeral, one of the story's pivotal moments, the throngs of people exude an almost unearthly stillness, even when marching. The effect gives those few minutes of the film a halting, Felliniesque aura.

Director Alan Parker has quite a task on his hands -- reviving the seemingly dead genre of movie musicals and making it work in the jaded 1990s. But in these scenes he defines his artistic vision and zeros in on what he hopes will rivet audiences -- soul-bearing close-ups.

Co-star Antonio Banderas, in one scene stepping from a crowd and locking eyes with the camera, pulsates with passion and piercing intensity. If his full performance is anything like his two songs in the clip, "Evita" could very well signal the return of the swooning female movie-goer.

Madonna, not surprisingly, isn't as strong. Desperately searching for some kind of emotional depth as she sings, she looks more like she's passing a cinder block. But with Webber's dense, electronically-flavored music and burdensome lyrics for roughage, it's no wonder.

Even with these apparent imperfections and the fact that a musical seems almost absurd today, "Evita" might just be a hit. At the Cannes Film Festival in May, the same preview caused quite a stir among the well-heeled in attendance.

The film will open in November or December.

This article appeared in the Daily Republic, Fairfield, CA.

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