Whatever happened to...

If the Tinseltown axiom "You're only as good as your last picture" is true, then where are you now if your last picture was Next of Kin? The following four actors were all once-promising talents who, in coming months, have new movies coming out. But we're wondering--can it possibly make a difference?

Sissy Spacek

With her plain-jane looks and Texas twang, she was never the likeliest of contenders to make it to the top, but a series of offbeat roles in eccentric '70s cult items like Badlands, Three Women, Welcome to L.A., and Heart Beat-plus a bravura turn as the wronged tele-kinetic teen in the boxoffice hit Carrie-- landed her the chance to play Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner's Daughter, for which Spacek won a Best Actress Oscar. Her new prominence turned Spacek into A Leading Lady, which is when her career troubles started: aside from an okay Costa-Gavras thriller, Missing, she has elected to make six of the all-time "Who cares?" projects of the last decade: Raggedy Man, The River, Marie, Crimes of the Heart, Violets Are Blue, and 'night, Mother. Since the last, Spacek's been licking her wounds, er, home raising her kids. She's back on the screen--for the first time in four years--in The Long Walk Home.

Valerie Perrine

This former Vegas showgirl, whose huge chest houses the teensiest of voices, came to prominence a decade or two after Hollywood stopped making the kind of movies she was born to play--nasty films noir. Her movie debut as intergalactic porno star Montana Wildhack in Slaughterhouse Five caught Bob Fosse's eye, and he skillfully directed her to an Oscar nomination as the heroin-shooting stripper in Lenny. But she passed on playing Carole Lombard in Gable and Lombard, a certain mistake (though the movie bombed, Jill Clayburgh's free-spirited performance helped make her a star), and instead played the prim mistress of a hard-drinking movie star in W.C. Fields and Me. This ill-advised attempt at "stretching" sent Perrine back to the typecasting mines, where she's been playing a variation on the goodhearted Playboy Playmate bimbo ever since. Features like Superman I and II _and _The Electric Horseman gave way to The Magician of Lublin and Agency--then Perrine slid to the bottom, accepting a role as leading lady opposite not just Steve Guttenberg but also the Village People in the worst film of the past ten years, Can't Stop the Music. Aprés that, the deluge: miniseries like "Malibu," TV series like "Leo &. Liz in Beverly Hills," movies like Maid to Order. She'll soon be back on the screen in Bright Angel.

Molly Ringwald

It's difficult to recall now that just a few short years ago, Ringwald had every female teenager in America dressing like her, doing her hair like her, and lining up around the block to see each new film--not since Sandra Dee in the '50s has a teen queen risen so fast and fallen so far. (And Dee never even came close to the cover of Time magazine, which profiled Ringwald in 1986.) After starting out like any other jailbait screen hopeful on TV's "The Facts of Life," Ringwald looked promising in Tempest, survived Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, and then hit it big when she found her signature role as teen princess in three John Hughes flicks, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink. She knew it was time to make the jump to young adult roles, but instead of playing self-destructive Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick for producer Warren Beatty, Ringwald guessed incorrectly that she'd be better off playing it safe, and made his lame sex comedy The Pick-up Artist, which became the first of her starring vehicles to flop. But not the last: For Keeps, Fresh Horses, and Strike It Rich all showed up in theaters only briefly en route to video store shelves. She's back soon in Alan Alda's Betsy's Wedding.

Patrick Swayze

Though still--if salary and billing are any indication--thought in some quarters to be a name draw, Swayze is a textbook example of what can go wrong at the top. From his movie debut, bumpin' 'n' grindin' atop his skateboard in Skatetown U.S.A., there's been no doubt that Swayze has star quality--when he dances up a storm. (As producer Joe Pasternak said of swimster Esther Williams, "Wet, she's a star.") But Swayze promptly got off the dance floor and instead turned to routine Guy Stuff, both on TV (in hit miniseries like "North and South, I and II") and in movies like The Outsiders, Uncommon Valor, Red Dawn, Grandview U.S.A., Youngblood, and Steel Dawn. He was just A another working actor until 1987, when he cut loose again with his devastating dance moves in the runaway smash Dirty Dancing--suddenly, Hollywood types were talking star. But--in an eerie parallel to the overnight success of John Travolta--Swayze hasn't danced on screen since; he wants to be known for his acting.It's no coincidence that Swayze was a longtime client of the now-defunct personal management team of LeMond/Zetter, who rose to prominence mismanaging--you guessed it--Travolta. Swayze's packaged himself as a sensitive (he cried on his "Barbara Walters Special" appearance) muscle-bound action hero, a continuation of his earlier lacklustre leading man career, in big time duds like Road House and Next of Kin. For the record, Swayze went after playing Che opposite Meryl Streep in Oliver Stone's now-cancelled screen version of Evita--but, hey, Pat, that's a singing role. With footwork like this, Swayze should be back on TV in no time. He's on the big screen next in Ghost.