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

photography
Arts and Entertainment
Adolf Hitler's 1914 watercolour 'Altes Rathaus' and the original invoice from 1916

art
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
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.

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible