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MOVIES Malone's double play lands on very different themes

October 26, 2001

Jena Malone may be no Leelee Sobieski -- currently in The Glass House, Joy Ride and My First Mister -- when it comes to monopolizing the marketplace.

But the accomplished Malone, 16, who memorably mouthed off to Julia Roberts in Stepmom, scores an impressive double. She's in a pair of very different films opening today in limited release: the family drama Life as a House and the offbeat indie Donnie Darko.

And coming up sometime next year is a reunion. Malone, who played the young Jodie Foster in the 1997 alien thriller Contact, is a Catholic schoolgirl in The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys. Foster, who also produces, is a stern Mother Superior with a peg leg who takes exception when some of her charges create an obscene comic book.

''We talked about what we had done together long ago,'' she says. Malone doesn't think she still resembles Foster at all, but adds, ''I don't look like my mom, either.''

The actress calls Billy Bob Thornton ''dad'' in the comedy-drama Behind the Sun, due in January. Off-screen, she calls him ''great.'' Malone allows that Thornton, who will have about five back-to-back films in theaters including Bandits and the Coen brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There, easily wins the ubiquitous title. ''He definitely is everywhere.''

-- Susan Wloszczyna