Film: Also Showing

Swing Nick Mead (15) Forces of Nature Bronwen Hughes (12) Black Cat White Cat Emir Kusturica (15) I still Know What You Did Last Summer Danny Cannon (18)
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The Independent Culture
IF FILM and television are to be believed, Liverpool breeds only two kinds of male character - the criminal and the underdog. For the hero of his musical comedy, Swing, director Nick Mead has decided to roll the two into one. Martin (Hugo Weaver) emerges from a term in prison after robbing the building society where his girlfriend Joan worked. Make that ex-girlfriend: she's now married to the "busy" who put Martin away. Returning to his Liverpool council home he finds the same copper back on his case, likewise his parole officer, and as if that weren't enough he has Brookside bad lad Paul Usher for a brother.

But it's all OK, because Martin has - you'll never guess - a dream. While banged up he learnt to play the saxophone and now he's going to start his own swing band. Before you can say "Isn't this just a cheapo rip-off of The Full Monty and The Commitments?" he's got a whole orchestra together, fronted by Joan and anchored to the heavyweight presence of an Orange Brigade brass section led by Alexei Sayle. The whole thing is served up with a helping of sweet'n'sour Liverpudlian feistiness that some may find attractive. Personally, I could barely hear for the noise of my teeth grinding. Forget the Liverpool-panto cast list (even Nerys Hughes has been pressed into service), the pathetic cartoon plot, the grating inaccuracy of Hugo Weaver's Scouse accent and the script's lame attempts at wit - these are all mortifying enough. It's the hopefulness I can't bear.

There are one or two bright spots. Lisa Stansfield's screen debut is impressively confident, and the music itself packs a heady, exuberant charge. In this regard it's perhaps best not to ask how Martin's orchestra becomes so swiftly proficient in the big band sound, or how a black American jazzman (Clarence Clemens) came to be his cellmate in a British nick. Swing can be faulted on so many other counts it would be pointless to query the few bits of the film that actually work.

More romantic comedy in Forces of Nature, and even less to rejoice over than in Swing. Ben (Ben Affleck), about to leave New York for his wedding in Savannah, is offered the heartwarming advice by his grandpa that "Marriage is a prison", a subject which the rest of the movie dozily puts up for discussion. After a stray seagull grounds his flight out of NY, he hooks up with kooky-chick Sarah (Sandra Bullock) as they catch a midnight train (and bus, and automobile) to Georgia. So the question is posed: will Ben succumb to the intriguing, loose-limbed temptress or remain faithful to his fiancee?

To which your own question might be: who cares? As a cross-country caper this is so limp you can barely work up the energy to be insulted. It's modelled on Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and while Bullock and Affleck may have the edge looks-wise on Steve Martin and John Candy they have none of their chemistry - or their wit. Affleck gets by on unexceptional jock sturdiness, but Bullock is really struggling. Her rent-a-goofball act has been worn down in the five years since Speed. Bronwen Hughes, the director, tries to jolly things up with fancy slo-mo hailstorms and a hurricane that's pure Southern Gothic. She needn't have bothered.

Yugoslavian director Emir Kusturica, having forsworn film-making after the unfavourable reaction to his near-the-knuckle allegory, Under- ground, is back with Black Cat White Cat, a rumbustious folk comedy set along the banks of the Danube. It concerns a get-rich-quick scheme hatched by Romany dim-bulb Matko (Bajram Severdzan), who enlists the aid of a coke- snorting gangster named Dadan (Srdan Todorovic, in the film's most enjoyably debauched role) as partner. But Dadan double-crosses Matko, secretly creams off the profit and demands compensation in the form of a marital alliance with his sister. Set to the jaunty blare of a gypsy brass band, the film aims for a rollicking ludic tone as Matko shuttles frantically between wedding duties and minding a pair of corpses laid out in the attic. It's not nearly as much fun as it sounds. Kusturica prizes scattergun farce over subtlety, and the romantic slapstick of the film's latter stages bears an alarming kinship with Benny Hill. I'm all for a film-maker trying to divert the national consciousness from its present horrors, but it's hard to imagine Western audiences rolling in the aisles at this crude stuff.

Loudest groan of the week is reserved for I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, a shoddy re-run of the Scream-style teen-slasher I Know What You Did Last Summer. It's been a year since our heroine (Jennifer Love Hewitt) was traumatised by the murder of her friends by a hook-handed maniac in a fisherman's slicker. Now, desperate to forget, she goes on holiday to the Bahamas with three friends - and, of course, no sooner have they checked into their hotel than old Captain Bird's Eye shows up again looking for fresh blood. Brit director Danny Cannon works on the same principle as the schoolkid who sneaks up and bursts an empty crisp-packet behind you - boo! After half-a-dozen times the trick rather loses its effectiveness, though this doesn't seem to exercise Cannon. As long as he has enough blood to spurt around, considerations of plot and plausibility can go hang. Another sequel is planned, amazingly.