Stars: Nicolas Cage, Elisabeth Shue, Julian Sands. Written and directed by Mike Figgis. Rated R for nudity, profanity, sexual situations.

This week the Academy Award nominations were announced and I realized that I had some catching up to do. Both of the stars of "Leaving Las Vegas" had been nominated for Oscars, with Nicolas Cage being the front-runner in the Best Actor category. As it turns out, the nominations are well deserved but it's also evident why the film didn't get nominated for Best Picture. "Leaving Las Vegas" is a bleak, relentlessly downbeat film with the skimpiest of plots tenuously held together by its deft characterizations.

Ben Sanderson (Cage) is an unrepentant drunk who has come to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. Sera (Elisabeth Shue) is the Vegas hooker with whom he falls in love. Ben stays with Sera on the condition that she never asks him to quit drinking, and he accepts her choice of profession on the same terms. The two are as happy as a dysfunctional couple can be, but things can't remain as they are forever.

Well-acted, well-directed, original? Yes. Entertaining? Not terribly. "Leaving Las Vegas" is a film that can appreciated for its merits but is more difficult to appreciate as a whole.

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