Dolphin saves world

FLIPPER Alan Shapiro (PG) BRIT BOYS Ross Crookshank / Duncan Roy (nc) LA REGLE DU JEU Jean Renoir (PG) BLOOD SIMPLE Joel Coen (18)

There's only so much you can do, in terms of plot, with the boy- meets-sea-mammal film. There are the obvious, practical restrictions, of course - no sky-diving or international espionage, for instance. You take one disgruntled adolescent, a misfit who finds that the dolphin (or, in the Free Willy films, killer whale) offers unconditional love, as opposed to the adults in his life who are going about doing messy things like arguing and getting divorced. The dolphin brings stability, and a flipper to cry on.

You have to put the lad's new chum through his paces before the action proper can begin - a bit of goofing around, salvaging pennies from the ocean floor, splashing any pompous grown-ups in the vicinity. Then things must take a turn for the worse. Again, the dolphin movie doesn't offer much room for manoeuvre in this department - you're more or less limited to a harpoon or a spillage of some sort, before a happy ending plays out against the fire of a burning sunset.

The new film Flipper, which revisits the 1960s television series with surprisingly few adjustments, adheres to all these rules. That predictability doesn't suffocate your enjoyment, because the picture maintains a jolly, unfaltering pace, and there are some little surprises in the playing: from the young actor Elijah Wood, as the vaguely rebellious teenager forced to stay at his uncle's coastal shack while his parents separate; and from Paul Hogan, looking like a cross between Popeye and Spencer Tracy, all cigar-chomping and grizzled sensitivity. There's an incongruous cameo from Isaac Hayes, too, as a benign lawman, but he upsets the balance: when he steps on to the jetty, purring his lines like a gigantic flirtatious kitten, it's like sex just hit town.

The bonding between Hogan and Wood is given a lot of space, and it's nicely underplayed. They clash when Wood loses his Red Hot Chili Peppers tickets, but Hogan is a whiz: he buys him some more. Then the pair of them are all wrapped up in finding out who's dumping toxic waste in the ocean, and Hogan turns to his nephew and says: "Looks like we're gonna miss that concert." Wood throws a confused look. "What concert?" he asks. The boy has finally learnt to live without second-rate white funk-rock; he'll be just fine.

The rest of the week's releases comprise short films and revivals. In the former category is Brit Boys, a programme pairing two gay shorts. Ross Crookshank's On Earth As It Is In Heaven draws some banal connections between sex and religion, and is rather painfully po-faced. Despite this, the actors have an overstated balletic physicality (in and out of bed) suggesting silent movie performers, and betraying Crookshank's background with Ballet Rambert. Duncan Roy's Jackson: My Life, Your Fault is a more conventional work, acutely communicating the agony of clinging to a relationship that's dissolving beneath your fingernails. Both directors have a keen visual style which their narrative skills need to catch up with.

Finally, a chance to revisit two past glories: from 1939, Renoir's La Regle du Jeu, a crisply executed portrait of the romantic imbroglios in a country household; and the Coen Brothers' 1984 debut, Blood Simple, a sly noir thriller foreshadowing this year's Fargo. It has its tongue in its cheek, but ice in its veins.

n All films on release from Friday


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