With videos, timing really can be everything -- like with certain panting yet pedigreed romances released into January's frigid doldrums. The obvious hope is that you're cold and bored enough to buy (or rent) anything, especially the box cover's promise of unequaled heat. So call it serious mislabeling of contents in the case of the straight-to-tape THE PASSION OF DARKLY NOON (1995, Turner, R, priced for rental). Yes, the cheerleader ripeness of Ashley Judd (A Time to Kill) is on ample display: She plays a backwoods homesteader who just happens to do most of her chores in microscopic attire. And yes, Brendan Fraser (Mrs. Winterbourne) is the religious crackpot who develops a conflagrationary obsession with her. But no, the story that purports to give the camera its main excuse for leering at her sweat-stained limbs is not a profound comment on the dangerous proximity of sin and the fear of sin -- it's an unintended comedy with a scorcher of an ending. It would be even funnier if it didn't take an interminable 146 minutes to let the bombastic dialogue, bad acting, tawdry prurience, and inane plot developments do their stuff. Temperature-wise, OF LOVE AND SHADOWS (1994, Miramax, R, priced for rental), which played a few theaters last year, delivers a bit more, but then anything that shows Antonio Banderas' naked backside is good for at least a few degrees. Equally elevated are the story's credentials, an Isabel Allende (The House of the Spirits) novel about a young couple who find passion as they fight the cruelties of Chile's military dictatorship. Yet the same fundamental defect afflicts both movies, namely that folks whose primary interests are encounters of the flesh -- and who probably don't care that Jennifer Connelly (Mulholland Falls) projects all the emotional depth of a toothbrush, because she's a babe -- are going to lose patience with so much narrative froufrou. Those who are drawn to deep examinations of social problems will resent using them as a pretext to get beautiful but not necessarily talented actors into bed.
Perhaps you'd just consider a warm blanket and a jigsaw puzzle? The Passion of Darkly Noon: D- Of Love and Shadows: C+