March 23, 1987 12:00 PM

Raising hell with every movie convention from babies to biker road warriors, this film launches a no-opportunities-missed assault on the funny bone. Director Joel Coen, 32, and producer brother Ethan, 29, co-wrote the screenplay, just as they did in their acclaimed 1985 thriller Blood Simple. Their real means of expression, however, is not the word, but the camera as it sweeps, swivels, twirls, pivots and, yes, gets laughs. Unless, of course, you suffer from motion sickness and find yourself tempted to shoot the darned thing. Hardier souls can hang on for the joyride provided by these whoopee boys of American cinema. The plot concerns a convenience store thief (Nicolas Cage) who weds his booking officer (Holly Hunter) and tries to settle down. It’s a simple premise the Coens quickly complicate. Hunter can’t have kids, and ex-con Cage can’t adopt. So the couple decides to kidnap, picking from a litter of quints born to unfinished-furniture tycoon Nathan Arizona, played with zest by Trey (F/X) Wilson. For the record, the Coens have devised the funniest kidnap scene in memory as moppet anarchy (15 tots were used in three shifts to play the five) drives Cage to distraction. Cage, an adenoidal horror as Kathleen Turner’s husband in Peggy Sue Got Married, proves ideal as a well-meaning mush head who learns the perils of being a parent. Hunter, in her first starring role, is an endearing amalgam of feisty and fragile. The film gets its unexpectedly moving focus from the way the purloined baby, played by 8-month-old scene stealer T.J. Kuhn, brings out the best in the criminal types he encounters. John Goodman and Bill Forsythe are particularly hilarious as escaped cons astounded by paternal instincts they never thought they had. (For all its yahoo excesses, the film ends with a warmhearted Capra-esque touch.) It seems the only thing the Coens haven’t found is a way to mount the camera on a baby’s bottom. But you know they would if they could. No matter. With its arsenal of camera tricks, Raising Arizona is a movie treat. (PG-13)

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