Film: Also Showing

Le diner de cons Francis Veber (15) n last night Don mckellar (15) n virtual sexuality nick hurran (15) n belly hype williams (18) n wintersleepers tom tykwer (15)
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The Independent Culture
BASED ON his stage play, Francis Veber's Le Diner de Cons promises fine misanthropic fun. Parisian book publisher Pierre (Thierry Lhermitte) fancies himself a connoisseur of stupidity: every week he and his friends hold a dinner to which they invite an unsuspecting "idiot" whose hobby - boomerang collecting, matchstick architecture - is privately held up to ridicule. The publisher thinks he has landed a prize con in his latest invitee, Francois (Jacques Villeret), who shows up for pre-dinner drinks at his apartment. But, having ricked his back, Pierre is stranded in the idiot's company for a whole evening, during which his life slides into calamitous farce.

Veber enthusiastically milks the spectacle of a man hoist with his own petard, and from Thierry Lhermitte (brilliant as Philippe Noiret's partner in Le Cop) he draws an expert performance of controlled exasperation. Villeret, with his pudgy, eager clown's face, is also well cast in the role of Nemesis, though the farce can't quite work up sufficient speed to ensure a steady flow of laughs.

What's more, Francois's refusal to leave Pierre's apartment means that we never get to see what ought to be the comic centrepiece: the dinner itself. The prospect of elegant social cruelty - the kind the French do very well (see Ridicule) - is tantalisingly offered and then withheld. There are lovely touches, and the ending is a real doozy, but it never really catches fire.

In Don McKellar's feature debut Last Night the end of the world is nigh - six hours away, to be precise. Anarchy has been loosed on the streets, yet a weird sense of dislocation prevails. As the clock ticks down to zero, a group of loosely related characters prepare themselves for the long goodbye.

Patrick (McKellar) abandons the ordeal of a family dinner in favour of solitude, but runs into Sandra (Sandra Oh) who needs a lift across town to be with her husband. Craig (Callum Keith Rennie) meanwhile has taken the cheering recourse of methodically living out his sexual fantasies, which include bedding his former teacher (Genevieve Bujold). And a gas company engineer (David Cronenberg) spends a diligent afternoon telephoning customers to advise them of imminent cancellations.

McKellar wisely avoids both the traditional panic of apocalypse movies and the maundering piety of a Deep Impact, aiming instead for a kind of giddy stoicism. It's a fair attitude to strike, though the grimly realistic presentation - rioting and random acts of violence - tends to neutralise the arch humour of the script.

The film examines the way people can make odd, unexpected connections in times of emotional stress, an idea which might have been just as effective without the eschatological doom to raise the stakes.

The gender-swap comedy Virtual Sexuality is the latest British attempt to win over a teen market that's hitherto been colonised by Hollywood. Seventeen-year-old Justine (Laura Fraser) is eager to have her cherry popped but can't settle on Mr Right; noodling around on a computer makeover machine she accidentally morphs into being her own dream bloke, Jake (Rupert Penry-Jones), splitting herself in two, and causing no end of hormonal high jinks.

While accepting that I'm not the target audience for this movie, I'm not sure that many self-respecting teenagers will go a bundle on it either. For one thing, it tries too hard: the crowd-pleasing jokes about willies are all very well but you don't want them, as it were, forced down your throat. (There is, unbelievably, a character called Knobhead). For another, its approximation to teen stereotypes feels dreadfully mannered, particularly in the case of school stud Alex (Kieran O'Brien) - imagine a youthful version of the Fast Show lothario, Swiss Tony, and you're still not halfway to the awfulness of the caricature.

For yet another, it's called Virtual Sexuality, a title which fairly screams "Do Not Touch This Dog". It might be too late to talk of a plus side, but it does feature two extremely likeable performances, one by the ebullient Fraser, the other by Luke de Lacey as the careworn geek who's yet to twig his own Prince Charming potential.

Having directed videos for Sean "Puffy" Combs, LL Cool J and Tupac, among others, Hype Williams extends his gangsta rap preoccupations into feature length with Belly, a murky and meretricious trawl through New York's violent drug wars. Rap stars Nas and DMX (not their real names, I gather) play lead roles, though neither seems prepared to develop anything resembling a character. For once I was grateful for a voiceover, otherwise I would have struggled to pick out any words beyond "bitch", "nigga" or "shit". Once the Jamaican drug kingpin started talking I couldn't even make out that much. (Subtitles are belatedly provided).

Finally satisfied with his quota of brutish slayings and face-offs, all filmed with MTV-style modishness, Williams then makes a dash for the high ground of moral redemption: one of the brothers, having murdered his way to the top, decides he now wants to seek out his roots in Africa.

Shameless, isn't in it?

Wintersleepers is a German psychodrama revolving around a photographer whose short-term memory loss hides the key to a tragic car accident. Director Tom Tykwer handles the uneasy quartet of characters with cool detachment, and locates an ominous chill in the wintry Alpine landscape.

Ulrich Matthes, sunken-cheeked and hollow-eyed, holds the centre as the amnesiac photographer, while Marie-Lou Sellem as his girlfriend recalls the wary sexiness of the young Judy Davis. AQ