Film: Also Showing

Two Girls and a Guy James Toback (15) Stepmom Chris columbus (12) Very Bad Things Peter Berg (18) A Man and a Woman Claude Lelouch (PG)

THIS WEEK'S big theme: monogamy. James Toback's Two Girls and A Guy, shot in 11 days, promises heavy artillery but ends up a light skirmish. Two women stand on the doorstep of a SoHo loft waiting for their boyfriends to return. Desultory chat leads to confession, which in turn leads to discovery: they are waiting for one and the same man, an actor named Blake Allen. The feistier of the two, Lou (Natasha Gregson Wagner), breaks into his apartment and buzzes in Carla (Heather Graham); together they discuss him and wonder how long he's been duping them.

By the time the guy shows up, you're braced for something dreadful. The film certainly delivers on this: he's played by Robert Downey Jr. Once Blake has recovered from the shock of seeing his duplicity exploded, he spends the next hour trying to weasel his way out of trouble. The women don't hold back. As Lou tells him: "You are a lying, mugging, misogynistic, unemployable, short, loft inheriting, piece-of-shit fraud." Blake: "I'm short now, too, huh?"

While Toback tosses out the occasionally smart line, the film as a whole feels underwritten and meandering: there's plenty of rage here, but it's boxed into something resembling an actors' workshop. Downey has been let off the leash for this one, and practically tears himself in half as the egregious two-timer. His best efforts, however, can't rescue a scenario starved of oxygen and, come to think of it, plausibility.

Stepmom is Chris Columbus's latest homily, following Mrs Doubtfire and Nine Months, on the travails of parenting. This one's a three-way tussle between Jackie, a divorcee mom (Susan Sarandon), her ex-husband (Ed Harris), and his new girlfriend, Isabel (Julia Roberts), who's been having trouble bonding with Jackie and her two kids. You have to feel for Jackie, who must endure the galling realisation that her ex's squeeze is kind and beautiful and good-humoured; she also happens to be an absurdly glamorous photographer - the sort who breezes late into a shoot, calls out "That's a wrap" after 10 minutes and stands back to receive the plaudits - which gives you some idea about this film's grip on credibility.

Easy to understand why Roberts has a producer credit here, but Sarandon too? She's playing a tiresome whinger who's turned her children into spoilt brats. Then the penny drops: Jackie has cancer, and spends the second half of the movie bravely stifling tears, growing spectre-thin and handing out bite-size slices of Cracker Barrel wisdom. That it's mostly set in the fabulous opulence of Jackie's enormous clapboard mansion is par for the course. As Meet Joe Black recently demonstrated, Hollywood prefers the dying to maintain impeccable taste in home furnishings. Chris Columbus directs as if he's handling a moral diagram: Stepmom is so full of understanding it made me want to throw up.

Peter Berg, a first-time director, opens a thick vein of black humour in Very Bad Things, the story of a bachelor party that gets grotesquely out of hand. A bridegroom, Kyle (Jon Favreau), and four middle-class jock friends check into a Las Vegas hotel, and proceed to whoop it up on booze and cocaine (Christian Slater, as one of the party, must be thanking his stars - he now gets paid for doing all the stuff he's been convicted for). The mood of piggish debauchery suddenly goes very sober when their romp ends with a call-girl dead on the bathroom floor; a security guard who discovers the body is then beaten to death. Having dismembered the corpses and buried them in the desert, the five friends head back home for Kyle's wedding.

The film then sits tight and waits for the first one to crack, though by this point you may find it difficult to care. Aiming for the giddy gruesomeness of Shallow Grave, Berg piles one sadistic thrill on top of another without noticing how flat and charmless the whole enterprise feels. His basic ploy is to show five men yelling hysterically into each other's face, and hope that we'll find it funny. The cast do themselves no favours - Daniel Stern, required to do most of the freaking out, has fallen a long way since his wonderful turn in Diner. Cameron Diaz, a natural with light comedy, is stuck with an appalling role as the whiny, wedding- obsessed fiancee. Hard to know what on earth persuaded her: it surely wasn't the puerile, mirthless script.

Claude Lelouch's A Man and A Woman looks diminished since its release in 1966. Irony has kicked out innocence, and modern audiences will probably snigger at what now seem the corny staples of romantic French movies: a wide beach, a dashing fellow in a sports car, a train station swathed in mist. Advertising, if not cinema, colonised these images long ago. Yet how to resist a pairing as photogenic as Anouk Aimee and Jean-Louis Trintignant? She plays the widow, haunted and gravely beautiful; he is the racing driver smitten by her. (His ratty handsomeness recalls something of Bogart). As I sighed at this flimsy confection, I couldn't take my eyes off either of them.

AQ

All films on release from Friday

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello

Oliviers 2014Actor beat Jude Law and Tom Hiddleston to take the award
Arts & Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for this roles in Sherlock and Star Trek
TV

Arts & Entertainment
theatreAll hail the temporary venue that has shaken things up at the National Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
musicShe is candid, comic and coming our way
Arts & Entertainment
booksHer new novel is about people seeking where they belong
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit