• The theory that "nothing succeeds like excess" is given a heavy workout in SLAP SHOT! It's the macho trip of the century, with escalating doses of calculated mayhem and the most obscene language (in quantity if not quality) of any major film in history. Luckily, it is also outrageously funny and almost perfectly cast. Paul Newman stars as the never-say-die coach of a losing hockey team in an obscure mill town. When the mill shuts down and the team is threatened with extinction, Newman goes all out to turn the team around and win the league championship, hoping that the owner will sell the team to another city. With the aid of dirty tricks, violence on the rink and the talents of a trio of new recruits (who play with slot cars between games), Newman soon has the team on its way to rejuvenation. Nancy Dowd's screenplay gives the proceedings a MASH-like atmosphere, and portrays Newman as an amiable jock whose rootless, free-wheeling lifestyle dooms his intermittent effort to reconcile with his estranged wife (Jennifer Warren). George Roy Hill's direction and Dede Allen's editing are crisp and forceful. Slap Shot occasionally crosses the line from macho parody to offensive exploitation, but for the most part it is good, clean, dirty fun. Rated "R."

• THIEVES is a complex comedy-drama about a couple attempting to cope with the imminent break-up of their marriage. Basically it is a character study, and though it contains many good moments, the movie as a whole does not quite survive the transition from stage to screen. Marlo Thomas recreates her Broadway role as a schoolteacher in a rundown New York neighborhood, attempting to resist the upwardly mobile lifestyle of her husband, Charles Grodin. Marlo's dramatic and comedic talents are displayed to better advantage here than in her previous movie, Jenny. But she is handicapped by a role that attempts to equate spontaneity with childish irresponsibility (such as leaving expensive furniture to be stolen, while the couple lives in a nearly empty apartment). Grodin's characterization is even more circumscribed, and may be the key to why the movie so often fails to connect. He plays an almost totally reactive character, responding in a most conventional manner to Marlo's unconventional thrusts and parries. His attempts to recapture his past have a forlorn quality about them, and even in the couple's tentative reconciliation one senses that he has found her, but not himself. Herb Gardner's screenplay is often witty and psychologically incisive, but much of the dialogue that played well on stage sounds oddly stilted in the movie. Irwin Corey, as Marlo's salty cab-driver father, provides a great deal of the movie's momentum and humor. Though it finally falls short as a satisfying movie, Thieves displays considerable evidence of intelligence and craftsmanship that may serve its principals well in future films. Rated "PG."

• Though they have little else in common, THE SENTINEL and TWILIGHT'S LAST GLEAMING share a common view of man as manipulated tool.

In The Sentinel, the manipulators are the forces of good and evil, as seen from a medieval religious viewpoint. Christina Raines is a hapless New York fashion model who becomes ensnared in this struggle between two sets of manipulators, and whose free will is finally levelled down to the choice of whom she will be manipulated by. Reinforcing the view of man as helpless and depraved is an accelerating parade of hideous deformities, gratuitous gore and decidedly non-erotic nudity. Sense-of-life issues aside, The Sentinel works reasonably well as a horror film in the tradition of The Exorcist and The Omen, with a literate script and good performances. Those who incline toward the film's view of human nature may even find it a religious experience.

In Twilight's Last Gleaming, the most simple-minded movie of its type since Executive Action, the manipulators are a group of political insiders, covering up the final secret of the Vietnam War. According to this particular conspiracy theory, these people (including an unnamed President of the United States) were aware from the start that the war was a hopeless cause; its only purpose was to impress the Russians with America's guts and determination. Burt Lancaster, as a former high-ranking military officer who is aware of The Secret, takes over a Titan missile base with the aid of several death-row escapees, and threatens to start World War III unless the President tells all. The movie is as technically proficient as it is politically naive. As is usual with this type of dramatized paranoia, the manipulators are firmly entrenched, and the plot holes are sufficient to swallow up a whole missile base. There is not a scrap of documentation brought forth to support the film's thesis; if there were, the public would be better served by bringing the evidence out into the open, rather than by hiding behind fiction masquerading as political reality. There are enough real demons in government without inventing imaginary ones. Rated "R."