Cinema: Getting older the Paul Newman way

Twilight (15) Rush Hour (15) Year of the Horse (15) Babe: Pig in the City (U) Dancing at Lughnasa (PG) It's a Wonderful Life (U)

Just when it seemed that his valedictory starring role was going to be made on a jar of pasta sauce, Paul Newman is back in Twilight, Robert Benton's modest but engrossing thriller. A nasty gunshot wound has forced Newman out of the private investigation business, but that's just the start of the casualties: Gene Hackman, as a friend and former client, is capitulating to terminal cancer, and James Garner, an old colleague, relieves himself wherever his bladder takes its fancy. No wonder this intelligent zimmer-noir brings out the best in Susan Sarandon as Hackman's wife - the fiftysomething looks like jailbait in the arms of her creaky leading man. Why, though, asks Newman, does a trail of dead bodies seem to lead to the disappearance 20 years before of Sarandon's first husband? This is answered convincingly enough, but the film is most notable for its leisurely, subtle investigation of loyalty, desire and, in particular, age - the only characters under 40, played by Liev Schreiber and Reese Witherspoon, are refreshingly thick.

Rush Hour, with the inimitable Jackie Chan, has already been a huge hit in the US. And, as the closing-credit out-takes demonstrate, it couldn't happen to a nicer martial-arts genius. When the Chinese consul's daughter is kidnapped in Los Angeles, the FBI try in vain to sideline Chan, a Hong Kong police officer, by teaming him up with maverick LAPD cop Chris Tucker (Eddie Murphy without the reticent streak). "Every once in a while we have to show the public we can blow shit up," says Tucker's boss; but, as ever, Chan's exquisite stunt-work more than compensates for the bangs.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse have been getting louder (and better) for 30 years, and in Year Of The Horse, Jim Jarmusch has the grainy footage - from the Seventies and Eighties - to prove it. Actually, the indy auteur's preference for 8mm and 16mm film ensured that the exuberant 1996 tour performances he recorded are grainier still, lending the entire project a seductive, bootleg feel. The interviews are revealing too. The ratio of Spinal Tap howlers to bona fide insights is mercifully low.

Just when you thought you could look a bacon sandwich in the eye, Babe, the triumphant sheep-pig from George Miller's 1995 charming bucolic fantasy, trots back on the big screen. But barely has the porker savoured his victory than he inadvertently lands the farm in financial hock, and himself and Mrs Hoggett in the mean streets of Metropolis. We happen across some entertainingly off-beat animatronic companions (too many, if truth be told), but the Gothic surrealism of the set-design seems to have infected Miller's script, the low point of which is Mickey Rooney's cameo as a clown.

There's an air of deja vu to Pat O'Connor's torpid adaptation of Brian Friel's stage play, Dancing At Lughnasa. Meryl Streep turns in a virtuoso performance as Kate, the repressed big sis, struggling to withstand the pressures of the modern world in pre-war rural Ireland and bullying her four sisters, including, of all people, a chain-smoking Kathy Burke. The Irish Tourist Board visuals and La Streep's thesp antics you'll have seen countless times before, though. And then it hits you. Housebound? Constantly tugging on a Woodbine? Bickering? It's Waynetta O'Slob: "Piss off, Meryl - I am smoking a fag!"

A new print of It's A Wonderful Life is out this week, and if Capra's classic is good for nothing else, it warns of the unspeakable fate awaiting wives widowed by their despairing husbands: a job at the local library. You did right by her, Jimmy.

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