January 11, 1999 12:00 PM

Alfre Woodard, Wesley Snipes

Woodard could make the reading of a grocery list sound as emotionally complex as King Lear. Fortunately, in Down in the Delta, this sensational actress has better material to work with than a grocery list, although no one will be mistaking Delta, a small, inspirational drama, for Lear.

Woodard movingly portrays an unemployed, alcoholic single mother in Chicago who reclaims her life after spending a summer working for an uncle (Al Freeman Jr., also terrific) down in Mississippi. Slowly and reluctantly, while getting in touch with her roots and toiling in Freeman’s restaurant, she gives up her bad old ways and learns good new ones. “I wasn’t born here,” Woodard triumphantly tells a gathering of local townspeople, “but I kind of got reborn here.”

Delta marks novelist Maya Angelou’s debut as a movie director (the script is by Myron Goble). She handles actors and scenes capably, but one doesn’t come out of Delta convinced Angelou should forever abandon her pen for a camera. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Woodard is wondrous

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