Cinema: Shakur's last stand

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Gang Related 15

Firelight 15

Eve's Bayou 15

Majorettes in Space 18

Dandy Dust no cert

"Blow my brains out!" pleads Tupac Shakur during one of the final scenes of Gang Related. "I deserve to fucking die!" Only a few days after the movie wrapped, the 25-year-old actor and rapper was killed in a drive- by shooting. The plot of his final film is no less grim. It concerns two corrupt cops, Rodriguez and Divinci (Shakur and James Belushi), who have a neat and nasty scam going on: they fleece drug dealers, kill them, and then investigate the murders themselves. One night - of course - it all goes wrong, and they bump off a gangster whom they later discover was an undercover cop.

Given this cortege of funereal ironies, you might expect Jim Kouf's thriller to be as vicious and hard-boiled as they come. It's not. Instead, the film develops into an rather gentle comedy about professional incompetence. There's plenty of killing, intimidation and blue-shirted tough-talking, but as Rodriguez and Divinci's cock-ups become increasingly ludicrous, I was reminded irresistibly of Will Hay's Ask a Policeman.

For what turned out to be the first and last time in their careers, Belushi and Shakur make an attractive comic pairing. Shakur flicks his long lashes and smiles a placid Stan Laurel smile; Belushi calls on his reserves of sweat-soaked seediness as he beavers about in a series of tasteless Hawaiian shirts. Early in the film, there's a bright, farcical sequence in which the two cops, desperately seeking someone to frame for the murder they have committed, haul in a variety of local ne'er-do-wells. One by one, each reveals a cast-iron alibi - one was in jail, one was in intensive care, one was robbing a bank. All the cops can do is bluster and flap and flounder.

One of Jim Kouf's more amusing touches - I assume it was intentional - is to have the pair discuss their corrupt schemes in places where they would clearly be overheard. They yell about falsifying evidence as they are walking out of the courthouse. They urge Belushi's girlfriend (Lela Rochon) to condemn an innocent man - as the three of them are standing in the police station. And the tide of creaky coincidence that fills up the second half of the film (amnesiac heirs return from the dead, that sort of thing) adds to the fun. Gang Related certainly has a winning humour - though whether Kouf knew what he wanted to win with it is another matter altogether.

A similar uncertainty afflicts Firelight, a patchy but generally agreeable Victorian costume weepie directed by screenwriter William Nicholson, who previously wrote Shadowlands for Richard Attenborough. Sophie Marceau and Stephen Dillane do the Jane Eyre-and-Rochester routine - though the plot actually owes more to Mrs Henry Wood's East Lynne. I'll say no more than that, as the narrative depends strongly on an engaging series of melodramatic twists.

Surprisingly, the ropiest element of Nicholson's film is the script, which requires Marceau and Dillane to wax lyrical with dialogue that is wince-inducingly corny. Marceau is twice put through the agony of airing her character's meaningless theory that "Firelight is a magical time, when time stands still, and there are no rules."(One of the cardinal precepts of film-making is that if your script revolves around an empty metaphor, you shouldn't put it in the title.) At least these flights of fancy are justified by the period setting. She'd have got nowhere trying to make romantic capital out of what happens when radiators get switched on at night.

Kasi Lemmons's Eve's Bayou has been touted as an original reflection on the nature of time and memory - but there's little in it that I don't recall having heard somewhere else before. It opens with its most unremarkable observation. "Memory is a selection of images. Some are elusive, others printed indelibly on the brain." But a couple of distinguishing features might help Eve's Bayou to stay in my memory: it has a classy, all-black cast (led by Samuel L Jackson and Lynn Whitfield) and it contains a complex pair of performances from Jurnee Smollett and Meagan Good, playing the sisters of the central family. The absence of white faces is still unusual enough to make the film worth noting.

But otherwise, it's standard-issue sentimentality in a Deep South setting. The year is 1962 - a momentous one for African-Americans - but surprisingly, the movie has no social dimension whatsoever. Like Gone With the Wind, it has big parties, infidelity, picket fences and a strong sense of location. But it has no interest in hisory beyond the personal. And it contains far too much knee-jerk lachrymosity and tinkling on the piano to stake any serious claim to originality.

There's plenty to startle and delight in the BFI's eclectic compilation of recent shorts, Majorettes in Space: Five Gay Tales from France. David Fourier directs the title movie, a touching little meditation on sex and death modelled after a public information film. But the highlights of the programme are two works by Francois Ozon, director of the eagerly anticipated features Regarde la Mer and Sitcom. It's worth sitting through the weaker entries just to see Ozon's A Summer Dress, the small but perfectly formed story of a young gay man who experiences an unexpected heterosexual encounter when spending summer by the sea with his boyfriend. Beautifully shot in bold, sunny colours, it has an irresistibly easy sensuality.

It took five and a half years for the transgendered director, star, producer and editor Hans Scheirl to complete the avant garde sci-fi epic Dandy Dust (no cert), and in all that time, s/he doesn't appear to have strayed out of the garage. The Austrian director's cv boasts works such as Flaming Ears, The Abbotess and the Flying Bone and Frogs F*** Fast. (But I'm sure you knew that already.) In this surreal set-bound jamboree, cardboard spaceships zip about on strings, papier mache heads get decapitated, a weird family smear themselves in the blood of a needle-skewered Tiny Tears, and Hans Scheirl leaps around shouting things like "Damn! The killer badgers! They're after my lily-white skin!" Imagine if Andy Warhol had been asked to direct Button Moon and you'll get the idea.

Most of my colleagues walked out after the first half hour, and so missed the appearance of Spiderc***boy, a time-travelling Cockney arachnid who emerges from the hero/ine's vagina. But maybe they didn't miss it that much.

Comments