FILM / Riding high on a pratfall

LEAVING the board takes on a new, more acrobatic meaning in The Hudsucker Proxy (PG), when Waring Hudsucker, chairman of Hudsucker Industries (motto: 'The Future is Now') resigns. A look that contains both ecstasy and regret, but which is a little too far gone for either, plays on his jowly face as he listens to another profitable year's results read out to his directors. When it is time for him to go, he doesn't make a song and dance about it. More of a soft-shoe shuffle: he steps on to the boardroom table and comes as close to a jig as his stately bulk and the table's polish will allow. Then he bows out - of the window. The last we see of him are his pin-stripe trousers, billowing and flapping like flailing wings, as he travels the 44 floors down to the pavement. Back at the top, the eulogies are immediate and apt. 'Every step he took, he took up,' someone recalls. 'Except, of course, this last one.'

Welcome to the world of the Coen brothers. Not so much a world, in fact, as a parallel universe, made up of scenes from Hollywood classics, smart lines and brilliant set-pieces, such as the one above - all seemingly auditioning for reality. This time the bosses come out of Frank Capra, the hero (Tim Robbins's Norville Barnes) is from Preston Sturges, and the furnishings are art deco. Barnes is the postroom boy from a small town, who in Hollywood Dream fashion, is made chairman of the board in succession to Hudsucker (it's all a scheme of the Machiavellian Paul Newman to deflate the company's share price). By an inventive twist, Norville's idiocy proves to be just what's needed and the company rides high. The press becomes interested, and then we're into a new film, full of fast-talking, hard-bitten hacks - Howard Hawks's His Girl Friday, to be precise.

The Coens have complained that critics were partly responsible for the film's failure in America, by overstressing its film-buffery. But you don't have to be familiar with any of the directors mentioned above to be disappointed. If you were watching your first film you would realise Tim Robbins is miscast. The giant gangling frame and menacing brow don't belong to a little man battling against the system. Robbins is game, pratfalling energetically, but when he first answers the telephone, in his bowling-alley- sized office with a limply unfunny attempt at hoarse panic, you can't help wondering what

comic mayhem Tom Hanks would have made of it. Maybe in the future some computer will be able to swap Hanks's Sherman McCoy in The Bonfire of the Vanities, a role made for Robbins but too harsh for Hanks, with Robbins's Norville Barnes and solve two miscasting errors at a stroke.

Jennifer Jason Leigh plays the journalist who poses as a secretary to get the gen on Norville. Her performance is extraordinary - highly accomplished, yet dead. It's a minutely observed impersonation of Katharine Hepburn, with the same shriek of sophistication, chattering 10 to the dozen, and the same sulky pout. But beyond the mannerisms it is hard to make out a character, as if the act of imitation had drained all her interpretive energy. You keep expecting this harridan to come to life with a burst of comic business, to reveal the fiery passions behind the frosty facade, but throughout she remains strangely joyless.

The same could be said of the film as a whole. Whereas Capra backed his underdogs with manic - if misguided - fervour, the Coens are icily distanced. They are better at the mechanics of film-making than the human side. There is a wonderful visual gag early on when Norville, yet to rise to power, is struggling to place letters in their correct pigeon-holes. An old retainer joins him and starts to throw the letters into their holes, at lightning speed, like a human sorting machine. Maybe the reason the joke works so well is that it is entirely mechanical. When they are working with characters the Coens can become too imprecise for the gags to stick. Their best jokes are visual or verbal, where they require only craft, not insight.

This is the brothers' fifth film and their parodic style is beginning to seem something of a dead end. Their films are all about the illusion of content - like phantom pregnancies. They might benefit from writing for other directors. It would force them to think through the ideas they too often toss away. As it is, The Hudsucker Proxy will make for a pleasurable but frustrating night out. It is not all down after Hudsucker's jump. But nothing in the film is as exhilarating as his leaving of it.

What is the greatest explosion in movie history? There will be votes for the car going up in flames in Antonioni's Zabriskie Point, or, more recently, for the Guildford pub bomb, devastatingly sudden and loud, in In the Name of the Father. But I would choose the car bomb that kills Michael Corleone's Sicilian first wife in The Godfather. It is the moment that moulded Michael, blasting away his innocence, and so poignantly built up to, with a cameo of the couple's perfect love. By contrast the explosions in Blown Away (15) are just loud bangs. A whole division of Jeff Bridges' colleagues in the Boston bomb- disposal squad are killed before they are characterised. We need to know what's at stake to feel the force of a blast.

For all that, and one or two plot confusions, Blown Away is a reasonably lively thriller, cynically willing to ratchet up the suspense by the crudest means (usually suggesting a place has been rigged to explode and then getting Bridges' family to walk around it). Tommy Lee Jones plays an Irish terrorist, escaped from prison, now intent on a personal duel with Bridges - there are echoes of the vengeance theme in Cape Fear and the duets of death in In the Line of Fire. Bridges is as dependable as ever as the cool family man (his father, Lloyd, plays his father-figure), joking even when the bombs are ticking - bonhomie under pressure. Tommy Lee Jones is no more plausible an Irishman than James Mason was in Odd Man Out and overindulges his improvisation, with too much maniac ranting. His bombs look as if they'd been designed by Heath Robinson. But nothing in the film is very plausible.

We spend so much time berating films for irresponsibility that it's easy to forget just how dull responsible films can be. Take When a Man Loves a Woman (15), which arrives garlanded with testimonials from organisations that treat alcoholism. Meg Ryan plays a woman who slips into addiction; Andy Garcia is her husband, who has problems dealing with her once she has dried out. The film is intelligent and sincere, but also schematic - you can sense the points being ticked off. As movies about alcoholism go, this one is too sober. There's little sense of the allure of drink, of how, as Ray Milland puts it in The Lost Weekend, 'it tosses the sandbags away'.

Still, Ryan is good, slightly raddled, and feisty and excitable, with an obvious wild streak. Andy Garcia is less convincing as her anguished husband (it's not the anguish that's the problem, he just doesn't seem like a husband). He also has a lot of scenes with the regulation cute kids. The film gets more sentimental as it goes on, beyond rescue even by a delicate score by Zbigniew Preisner (Kieslowski's composer). By the end, you may need a stiff drink.

The Slingshot (15) is a comedy about a 12-year-old boy growing up in 1920s Stockholm, which will delight fans of the similar My Life As a Dog. It's full of coy, adolescent humour (like the boy looking up a girl's skirt with a torch). More diverting than sidesplitting.

Bosna] (no cert), now at London's ICA, is a French documentary about Bosnia, its history and horrific present. There are scenes and accounts of appalling carnage and brutality, and a commentary from Bernard-Henri Levy, penned in a concentrated acid that will burn away all indifference.

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham
Downton review

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
arts + entsFor a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
booksNew book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past