The Relic Peter Hyams (15) High School High Hart Bochner (15) Killer: a Journal of Murder Tim Metcalfe (18) Lush Life Michael Elias (nc) La Passione John B Hobbs (15) Dangerous Ground Darrell Roodt (18)
The toothy matriarch in Aliens was Winston's, and you feel deflated when the Kothoga - the monster that has been terrorising museum staff throughout The Relic - is finally revealed to share its genes, or at least its dentist, with that excessively-dentured extra-terrestrial. After 90 minutes of dimly-lit carnage-by-torchlight, you expect something more in return for your throbbing eyeballs than a big bug with an overbite and a drooling problem. Monsters used to titillate and terrorise. The Kothoga looks like he needs therapy and a nice hobby - other than tearing off people's heads and nibbling at their brains, that is.
Maybe it runs in the family. The screenwriters do, after all, have the audacity to suggest that the Kothoga is the son of Satan, which doesn't really wash, but it's endearing to see a B-movie lungeing earnestly for gravitas all the same. The creature has reached Chicago in the form of microscopic eggs clinging to leaves, though you'll enjoy the film more if you ignore all that mumbo-jumbo, and instead buckle up for some dumb frights. Tom Sizemore is nice and grimy as the superstitious cop who helps evolutionary biologist Penelope Ann Miller battle the Kothoga when it starts rampaging around the bowels of Chicago's Natural History Museum while there's a gala dinner going on upstairs. (The announcement of a gala dinner in a horror or disaster movie naturally foreshadowing the gleeful culling of the upper classes, like an undercurrent of anarchist hostility that Hollywood has never quite been able to jettison.)
The Relic is really too stuffy to give you the grubby thrill that you expect from a monster movie. An over-fussy screenplay credited to four writers has squeezed out most opportunities for the sort of blithe comedy that the picture badly needs, but one shockingly funny scene surfaces through the fog of scientific poppycock: a post-mortem conducted by a pathologist who cracks one-liners over her subject, the lips of the victim's now bodyless head parted as though in startled astonishment at the tasteless gags bringing the stale mortuary air crackling to life.
The prospect of an entire film parodying the Michelle Pfeiffer school drama Dangerous Minds does not promise a great deal (and wasn't Dangerous Minds itself absurd and pompous enough to qualify as a comedy anyway?). But given such limited source material, High School High is a pleasantly fruity slice of lunacy which digs up jokes that have been dead for years, dusts them down and makes them... well, if not bright and new, then at least as funny as they were when you first heard them in the playground.
For what it's worth, the film follows an idealistic teacher (Jon Lovitz) who arrives at a dilapidated inner-city school and resolves to give his wards something to live for. David Zucker and Pat Proft, two of the twisted minds responsible for the Police Squad! television series and Naked Gun films, worked on the script, with the result that one out of every five gags comes within an inch of the bull's eye - a high success rate given the relentless rush of visual and verbal zingers. Occasionally, the film- makers display unfortunate Benny Hill tendencies, even considering the butch gym mistress to be an enduring and original figure of fun. However, they more than compensate for such lapses with a bestiality gag that has you doubled up before the shame gets a chance to kick in.
The true story of the friendship between convicted murderer Carl Panzram and prison guard Henry Lesser forms the core of Killer: a Journal of Murder. Panzram (James Woods) entrusts his personal diaries to Lesser (Robert Sean Leonard) with a beady eye on publication, and a delicate exchange of trust takes place that will eventually test Lesser's loyalties. The film has a certain chilly dignity, thanks mostly to Ken Kelsch's muted photography. But it's also mechanically paced and frequently tedious. The writer-director Tim Metcalfe made a much snappier psycho-thriller effort a few years back when he dispensed with all notions of taste and decency and wrote the reprehensible and very funny Kalifornia. This film feels like penance for that.
Some four months after its video release, the jolly but unremarkable Lush Life has inexplicably been granted a short cinema release at the National Film Theatre. Jeff Goldblum and Forest Whitaker play a pair of charismatic jazz musicians reduced to bumming it around the circuit, taking in everything from weddings to jingles in order to make ends meet. While the film focuses an their friendship, it is fizzy and likeable, but a bid for additional weight in the shape of terminal illness stretches your patience. The result is more Kenny G than Charlie P.
Finally, the two most appalling films of the year so far. La Passione, cooked up by the singer-songwriter Chris Rea, is one of those embarrassing accidents that happens from time to time when rock stars get too much money and not enough drugs, and start thinking they're Fellini. This story of a young northern lad who dreams of owning a Ferrari makes Paul McCartney's Give My Regards to Broad Street look like Battleship Potemkin. I fled after just half an hour. In the words of Rea himself, this is the road to hell.
But I happily stayed to the bitter end of the hilarious Dangerous Ground, a thriller that offers a laugh a minute - every one of them unintentional, and most stemming from Elizabeth Hurley. Following her role as an English junkie in Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Hurley stretches her range by playing a South African junkie, and proves herself to be the Pia Zadora of the Nineties. She teams up with Ice Cube, who is scouring South Africa for his missing brother and, together, they bring down the country's drugs trade, heal the wounds of apartheid and plumb new depths of inexpressiveness.
All films (except 'Lush Life') open tomorrow
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