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The Cold War thaw brings a dilemma for Hollywood's scriptwriters: Whom are we going to use for villains?

Those ruthless agents of the Evil Empire look like pussycats now. Movies such as ``To Russia With Love' and ``The Spy Who Came in From the Cold' would be robbed of their immediacy if filmed today.``The Fourth War' might be considered a casualty in the onrush of world events. The Cannon-Pathe release concerns two unreconstructed cold warriors who fight a private battle that threatens to upset the peace between the United States and Soviet Union.

Roy Scheider is the hard-nosed colonel of an American base on the border of West Germany and Czechoslovakia in the fall of 1988. He becomes inflamed when he sees a fleeing Czech shot down by Soviet border guards.

Scheider plots revenge, slipping over the border for a night of drunken mischief-making. His opposite number, Jurgen Prochnow, who is equally dedicated to combatting his enemy, retaliates.

The pranks become deadly, and Scheider's subordinate, Tim Reid, is powerless to stop him. A sympathetic but disciplined general, Harry Dean Stanton, warns Scheider, to no avail. The plot is complicated by the arrival of a suspicious beauty, Lara Harris.

The struggle climaxes in a man-to-man battle that seems to bear out Albert Einstein's prediction: that the Fourth World War will be fought with stones.

John Frankenheimer (``The Manchurian Candidate,' ``Seven Days in May') is an old hand at directing this kind of macho confrontation, and he masterfully builds the tension. The bone-chilling terrain (actually Canada) adds immeasurably to the film's effectiveness. But in the end, it's today's headlines that make ``The Fourth War' dated.

Scheider and Prochnow make worthy protagonists, and Stanton adds strength as the general.

What's a screenwriter to do? Even the South Africans (``Cry Freedom' ``Lethal Weapon 2') are becoming less viable as heavies. Oh, well, the Colombia drug lords are still available.

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