September 30, 1996 12:00 PM

Edward James Olmos, Maria Conchita Alonso, Arie Verveen, Steven Schub

Years ago young actors were routinely referred to as Brando-esque if they exuded sweaty sex appeal and mumbled inarticulately while still managing to seem desperately sensitive. It’s an adjective that has long since fallen by the wayside. But it deserves resurrection to describe Arie Verveen, the Irish actor who makes a spine-straightening impression in Caught, a searing little melodrama about love and lust among fish-store workers.

He plays a homeless man who, after stumbling into a New Jersey fish shop run by a longtime married couple (Olmos and Alonso), takes a job there and moves into a spare bedroom. Soon, Olmos is happily pronouncing Verveen a “born fish man” and treating him like a son, while Alonso is casting lustful looks at the boarder. When the couple’s real son (Schub) shows up, it doesn’t take him long to figure out that the interloper in his old bedroom is also canoodling his mother. Schub, an unstable sort, seeks revenge. Caught plays better than its lurid plot sounds, mostly because the actors all so fervently believe in their common-folk roles, because its forthright sex scenes really steam and because director Robert M. Young (Dominick and Eugene) uses a no-frills approach that underplays the essential soapiness of the story. (R)

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