CINEMA / No monsters and not half dark enough: A recurring image that seems a portent of a terrible evil that the film doesn't deliver on

'I WISH I had a talisman to give you, or a silver bullet, or a stake to drive through the monster's heart,' says a confidante of the tortured hero of The Dark Half (18). 'But it's not that simple.' If only it was. George A Romero's strangely tentative adaptation of Stephen King's novel takes one of the oldest horror plots in the book - it's essentially the Jekyll and Hyde story, the idea of a dual personality - and dilutes its traditional potent brew with a dose of ideas.

Timothy Hutton plays Thaddeus Beaumont (known to his intimates as Thad, which is confusing as it sounds at first as if his wife is calling him 'Dad'), a writer of literary fiction. With another, more lucrative hat on, he also writes gory horror novels under the name of George Stark. While Thad yearns for literary laurels, George provides the greenbacks that feed the family. Thad is working on the succes d'estime that will finally put his dark half in the shade (everybody in the film blithely tells him that he's bound to win a Pulitzer). Putting away ghoulish things, he pensions George off. George takes revenge by murdering Thad's associates. Denied an outlet in fiction, he turns to blood-letting in life.

Perhaps diffident about retreading ground already stalked by Mr Hyde, the film changes the time-honoured format. Although Hutton plays both Thad (floppy-haired and preppy-ish) and George (a greasy quiffed Elvis impersonator), it's not revealed until near the end who George really is. Is he Thad transformed, or his id made flesh - or someone else altogether trying to frame him? This metaphysical tease loses the film more than it gains. Half the fun of the Jekyll and Hyde movies was in the transformation scenes, watching the smooth, gentlemanly face stretch and crack into a beastly maw. By sustaining its ambiguity, The Dark Half forgoes such thrills. And our ignorance of what's really going on saps the drama. There must be something wrong with a horror flick in which the main source of tension is whether the monster is real or a metaphor.

For Timothy Hutton it's something of a comeback, after his career was sidelined by

marriage to Debra Winger (a full-time job). He's the best thing in the film. From his debut in Ordinary People, where his clean-cut features were racked with anxiety and guilt, he has always been strongest at conveying contradiction. Age has now added a loucheness to the cherubic good looks. Sitting at his desk with a film of sweat on his brow and a slight twitch as he bends to his work, he gives a sense of the man within aching to get out. When he writes as George, his pen moves with a furious compulsion. You're left wondering what monster Hutton might have unleashed had the film let him.

What's most shocking about The Dark Half is just how unshocking it is. Where is the lurid terror of De Palma's Carrie, or the arch yet horrifying brutality of Misery, or The Shining's lethal scaremongery? All three of these films realised that the route to success in adapting King is the way over the top. They make The Dark Half's pallid pretensions to being a psychological thriller seem all the more misguided.

The most unsavoury sight we see is early on, when a doctor examines the mysterious growth at the side of the young Thad's brain, prodding the scarlet gunge with his tweezers. At the same time a huge flock of sparrows swarms outside the hospital, invading the pure air like a swilling, dark toxin. The image recurs, but it always seems a portent of a terrible evil that the film doesn't deliver on. Strange though it is to criticise Romero for restraint, the film isn't dark enough by half.

Lieutenant Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) returns to the farcical fray in Naked Gun 331 3 - The Final Insult (12). Of course, the number by the title is a joke, but it may be on the film-makers, as the series is wearing as thin as those it sends up. The mix is as before: plentiful parodies (The Untouchables, Jurassic Park, Richard Gere, Rodney King, et al); Nielsen's gravel-voiced inanity; and just enough plot to hold it all together. Fleetingly it's very funny - especially a Seventies flashback which finds Drebin in a coral necklace and a safari shirt with lapels the width of the Hudson. But, even at 83 minutes, the gags drag.

'This is a true story,' the narrator of A Home of Our Own (PG) tells us - and it's so unremarkable it may well be. It's another placid, not uncharming film about a fatherless family uprooted to the Midwest (the idea of this new genre seems to be that there's something for all the dysfunctional family). Kathy Bates, on folksy auto-pilot, plays the mother. Edward Furlong, who is turning out to be the poor adolescent's Leonardo DiCaprio, is her eldest boy. The film dribbles through the drab conventions of the genre: the mother's fierce independence ('Thank you very much, Father, but we Laceys don't accept charity'); the boy's calf love; the family squabbles and soppy reconciliations. Being very poor, they're also, of course, proud. Refusing assistance, they build their own house. In vain, we wait for something momentous to happen. And the climax of the film? It's the construction of an indoor loo.

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