Down tempo

Speed 2: Cruise Control Jan de Bont (PG) The Cloud-Capped Star Ritwik Ghatak (NC) Heat and Dust James Ivory (15)
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The Independent Culture
When is a sequel not a sequel? When it's Speed 2: Cruise Control, a film that trades on fond memories of the breathless Speed but whose resemblance to its predecessor is purely cosmetic. The director Jan de Bont has returned, having inflated his salary but downgraded his talents on Twister. And so too has Sandra Bullock, who reprises her role as Annie, though she's not allowed to be quite so plucky this time out. She gets to wield a chainsaw, but then she nearly puts someone's eye out with it. The film also has a running gag about her inability to pass her driving test. Be grateful the screenwriters didn't know any mother-in-law jokes.

Since Keanu Reeves chose to jump ship, the part of hero-with-crew-cut is filled by Jason Patric, who plays Annie's boyfriend Alex. In his early roles, Patric was widely compared to Warren Beatty, and it's true that he resembles that actor, only without the ambiguity, the probing eyes, the charisma or the sex appeal. Warren Beatty without the Warren Beatty- ness.

Alex is a cop, but at the start of the film he hasn't told Annie, because her last boyfriend (Keanu Reeves's character) had the same job, and it proved too stressful for her. She finds out - witnessing your boyfriend in high-speed pursuit of a felon is always a dead give-away - but he promises to make it up to her with a holiday.

In Speed, a bus galumphing through rush-hour traffic was wired to explode if it dropped below 50mph. In Speed 2, the runaway vehicle of choice is a cruise liner destined for the Caribbean. Doesn't quite have the same ring, does it? An enormous luxury liner loaded with swimming pools, shopping malls and casinos doesn't really lend itself to any speed of travel but a slow, leisurely crawl. No matter how many frantic, circling overhead shots de Bont crams in, desperately trying to convey extreme velocity, the ship still appears to have all the momentum of a butter-knife pressing through fudge. It's a design fault in the film. The cruise liner cruises. That's what it does. That's why people pay lots of money to go on it; to cruise.

You can see the points where the screenwriters have tried to jazz up this flawed scenario. The liner's smooth passage is jeopardised by John Geiger (Willem Dafoe), a computer boffin with a bank of lap-tops, a working knowledge of explosives and a grudge. He's one of that new breed of movie villains - the bad guy with a genuine beef, like Dennis Hopper in Speed or Ed Harris in The Rock. Geiger's problem is that he designed the computer system for a fleet of liners, then got copper poisoning and the sack. Obviously the Citizen's Advice Bureau couldn't suggest any course of action, unless it was their idea for him to hijack the ship, in which case a public enquiry is surely in order.

Somewhere along the way, Geiger seems to have got distracted, because he ends up stealing a case of jewellery which is on-board. He also changes the ship's course, so that it will eventually hit land and keep on going. Just in case we missed the point that he's the villain, we also see him pinning leeches to his body like liquorice brooches. And just in case we didn't hear him explaining his dastardly terrorist plans to his leeches, he gets to run through them for the benefit of everyone he comes into contact with. He's one of those people who discusses his illnesses with complete strangers at bus-stops. That's handy for getting those unwieldy plot-points across, and it provides a neat explanation as to why he works alone. If you were going to be a henchman to some criminal mastermind, you wouldn't choose one who went on about his bad back all day.

It gets worse for our beleaguered holiday-makers. Not only has a psychotic criminal set them on a collision course, but the ship's band has turned out to be UB40. Of all the rotten luck! Understandably reluctant to spend their last few hours on earth together listening to "Red Red Wine", Annie and Alex set out to foil Geiger's plans.

Their efforts produce no sequences of even moderate excitement, just a succession of pale imitations of Speed's memorable moments. A suspended lifeboat full of people who have to be hauled back on board before their tiny vessel plummets into the ocean recalls the earlier film's opening episode in a booby-trapped lift. Even the three-part structure is a transparent attempt at recapturing the unstoppable momentum of Speed. But a good sequel should do something more than keep reminding us how much we enjoyed the original. If it doesn't, then it's in danger of becoming an expensive endorsement of the film it's trying to improve upon.

The week's other releases are both revivals prompted by the 50th anniversary of Indian Independence. The National Film Theatre has already begun its celebration of Indian cinema, and Ritwik Ghatak's The Cloud-Capped Star forms part of that season. Made in 1960, the film focuses on a refugee family living on the edge of Calcutta in the late 1950s. It's a familiar story of passions and ambitions being curtailed and compromised with the family's eldest daughter Nita (Supriya Choudhury) sacrificing her education, and her boyfriend, to make ends meet. If it sounds like the stuff of soap opera, you couldn't mistake it for EastEnders - Ghatak's love for his characters, his crisp visual compositions, and his assured grasp of editing techniques (just what you'd expect from a man who idealised Eisenstein) make this an enduring and compassionate work.

Heat and Dust has stood up remarkably well too, and 15 years after its original release it now looks like one of Merchant Ivory's more perceptive and less fussy investigations into manners and etiquette. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala adapted the screenplay from her own novel, and effortlessly moves between two parallel stories as Anne (Julie Christie) traces the story of a scandal provoked by her great-aunt Olivia (Greta Scacchi) in India some 60 years earlier. The story is built around some telling contrasts between the eras, but Ivory resists the temptation to hammer them home and, for the most part, allows us to detect the passing ironies at our own pace. And Scacchi has never been better than as the elegantly pinched Raj wife whose desires prove incompatible with convention, her hungry, searching eyes betraying her discreetly pursed lips

`Speed 2: Cruise Control' goes on release tomorrow; `The Cloud-Capped Star' is in rep at the National Film Theatre, London SE1 (0171-928 3232) from tomorrow; `Heat and Dust' is at the Curzon Mayfair, London W1 (0171- 369 1720) from tomorrow

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