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 and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
books
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
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.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'