As the setting is English suburbia, you know straight off what you're going to get: bored housewives and dull husbands. Imelda Staunton and Rik Mayall ably fill those roles as Lorna and Ian respectively, and it's up to Robert Lindsay as Jamie, arriving on the doorstep unannounced one afternoon, to stir things up a bit. Jamie used to be in love with Lorna - 20 years ago. Now he turns up in a Rolls-Royce, claiming to need a spot of cash because he's left his wallet at home. A simplistic but poignant shift in power occurs as Ian watches the man who represents Lorna's youth walk in and lift the weight of the past two decades from her shoulders.
But not for long. Jamie brings trouble with him. There are Russian hit- men and a vengeful ex-wife on his tail, and neither party is going to stop until he's dead. He also brings with him a shrill upper-class twit named Georgina (Natalie Walker), whom you pray that the assassins might also consider bumping off in a two-for-one deal.
Before Remember Me? has finished, there has been mass destruction of property, a smattering of gun-fire, and a frying-pan used in a threatening manner by visiting relative Brenda Blethyn. What there hasn't been are many laughs. In his scenario, the writer Michael Frayn has created a plump bubble of middle-class malaise that is ripe for puncturing, but he seems to take no pleasure in wielding the pin. It's a nice touch that the contract killers are waiting for Jamie outside. In the drab suburban street, in their conspicuous car, with their conspicuous beards and dark shades, they're just the sort of criminals that might exist in the stunted imaginations of Ian or Lorna.
But they only make you wish that Frayn had pushed the situation further, and made the comedy darker. At some points, he seems torn between celebrating these hopeless souls and tormenting them. A writer who subjects his characters to so much pain, and then throws in a final cruel punchline to booby-trap what little optimism they have left, cannot be said to harbour much affection for his creations.
And yet Frayn is capable of crafting such intriguing, equivocal characters that it seems perverse of him to end the film on that singularly discordant, misanthropic note. At its best, his writing can capture the flavour of a character in one line: the daughter whose response to accusations of laziness whines, "But it's my year off!"; or Ian's exasperated reaction to the news that there are men outside waiting to kill Jamie, "Well, let them in, then."
The director Nick Hurran restricts his own artistic flourishes to composing shots crammed with reflections in kitchen windows, car windscreens, whatever comes to hand - you get the impression that the whole thing is taking place in a hall of mirrors, which is a rather banal way of commenting on the characters' fractured personalities. The cast are sometimes over- emphatic in their line readings, too, and only Rik Mayall really transcends the material. Who would have thought that a man who has made a career out of swearing and subjecting his body to excessive forms of abuse should turn out to be so effective in a role that requires nothing more shocking than the raising of a quizzical eyebrow and the wearing of a cardigan?
Farce rears its head again in a marginally more understated manner in the Spanish comedy The Butterfly Effect. Fernando Colomo's quirky, perceptive film investigates the romantic imbroglios in a Battersea flat where the young student Luis (Coque Malla) has been left with his aunt Olivia (Maria Barranco). Naturally, the boy is all set to fall in love with her, and while the ensuing relationship is touchingly portrayed, the various pairings that litter the periphery sometimes feel too self-consciously wacky to persuade you to surrender a charitable smile.
But The Butterfly Effect has more ambition than your average farce - it's structured as six segments, each introduced by a different character, so that the film has the feel of a relay race, with the story being passed on between perspectives. The theme of chaos (from which the picture takes its title) is rather laboriously explored. But the outsider's view of London is lyrical and bewitching. And Solomo has a keen eye and ear for unusual comic possibilities, as proved by the scene where Olivia's Trekkie neighbour, Oswald (James Fleet), tries to go where no man has gone before and explain the Enterprise's policy for racial equality to Luis's bemused mother, his enthusiasm colliding with the insurmountable language barrier.
Finally, The Lady and the Tramp gets wheeled out again this week, presumably for the benefit of all those tykes who find themselves excluded from The Lost World by its "not recommended for children of a sensitive nature" warning. This little charmer from 1955 has better songs and refreshingly fewer of those incestuous, self-reflexive gags that have made recent Disney epics like Aladdin and The Hunchback of Notre Dame feel like nothing more than multimillion-dollar in-jokes
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