also showing; It's a wonderful life, on the face of it

MR HOLLAND'S OPUS Stephen Herek (PG) WHITE SQUALL Ridley Scott (12) EXECUTIVE DECISION Stuart Baird (15)

The sentimental new films Mr Holland's Opus and White Squall show little people doing big things and coming out glowing like Hallowe'en pumpkins. This is cinema as laxative, designed to chase the cynicism out of your system and convince you of mankind's utter splendidness. In fact, they have the opposite effect. You leave the cinema itching to wring the neck of the nearest bob-a- jobbing boy scout.

Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) is a budding composer who drifts into teaching music appreciation because his own musical career has stalled. His teaching methods are mercenary at first; he gives his classes short shrift, and only shows enthusiasm when he's making for his car at the end of the day. Patrick Sheane Duncan's screenplay is structured as a learning curve, but Dreyfuss bravely plays against the script's crass sense of motion. The few glimpses of honesty in Mr Holland's Opus are all his - the struggle between vanity and guilt when a student invites him to desert his humdrum life; or the impotent anger he hurls at his deaf son (Joseph Anderson), the one soul that he finds it impossible to breathe music into.

After a painful argument, Dreyfuss turns his back on the child, who is tinkering under the bonnet of a car. What Dreyfuss doesn't see is the lad resting his face on a screwdriver that's pressed against the revving engine - he is feeling its vibrations. By denying the father that instant of sight, in which the son is ingeniously absorbing sound the way a musician might, the director Stephen Herek colludes with Dreyfuss in undermining the script's sense of its hero's unblighted goodness. (He's so holy at times, there should be stained glass in his octagonal spectacles.) But before you know it, Dreyfuss is singing "Beautiful Boy" to his son, and you're praying for someone to drive knitting needles into your ears.

Despite the screenplay's hymns to the glory of music, the soundtrack is awfully staid. Mr Holland passionately endorses John Coltrane, but Herek can't even find room on the soundtrack for a toot of sax. That's typical. The movie gives the illusion of encouraging spontaneity, but when an opportunity for topical commentary arises in the last reel, it bolts, ending on a bum note.

The film climaxes with a hoe-down when there should have been a show- down. Herek and Duncan invoke Capra here, but they're frightened to tease out what's implicit in their film - that it may not be such a wonderful life after all.

Ridley Scott's White Squall, with Jeff Bridges as the presiding patriarch, is laced with Robert Bly; think Iron Jeff and you're there. That still doesn't take into account the picture's fervent homoeroticism. You could carve through the testosterone with a bowie knife - the parade of well- oiled, immaculately-toned teenage torsos jostling together on the high seas makes the film resemble Bruce Weber with a Freeman's catalogue gloss.

Bridges plays Chris "Skipper" Sheldon, the captain of the Albatross, a brigantine which serves as a mobile academy to a crew of lads eager to make the transition from adolescence to maturity with as much sweat and tears as possible. But it's not all bond, bond, bond. Just when you've settled into the film's ebbing rhythms, disaster strikes in the form of a freak storm in which six of the crew are killed (including the fey kid who you know has it coming from the moment he wets himself). Scott has a sharp eye for spectacle, and for the little buds of emotion which can thrive in the midst of chaos: the long, helpless look Bridges exchanges with a doomed crew-member, who's about to be sealed in an ocean grave, comes back to haunt you long after you've forgotten the rest of this shapeless tosh.

After all that triumph of the spirit nonsense, you'd have thought that a spot of mindless brutality would have gone down a treat. No such luck. Executive Decision is as unwieldy as its title. It's a plodding thriller that wants to be a classic disaster movie but is torn between the 1970s (Airport) and the 1990s model (Die Hard). In the role of the hero, Kurt Russell is, rather agreeably, a bit of a jessie. And at least Steven Seagal gets bumped off in the first half-hour - the sort of thing that can really make your week.

n All films on general release from tomorrow

RYAN GILBEY

Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week