Film: Also Showing

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South park: bigger, longer & uncut trey parker (15) n Life ted demme (15) n never been kissed raja gosnell (12) n darkness falls gerry lively (15)

AS A stranger to the cult cartoon I didn't know what to expect of South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. A maniacal, potty-mouthed musical about censorship, paranoia, war and the homosexual relationship between Saddam Hussein and Satan, wouldn't have been my first guess, but you swiftly acclimatise. It goes like this: saucer-faced third-graders Stan, Cartman, Kyle and Kenny see the movie Asses of Fire starring the energetically profane Canadian comedy duo Terrance and Philip, and next day are outraging their teacher with filthy quotes from the film. Kyle's mother launches an anti-Canada campaign ("It's not the first troublesome thing to come out of Canada - look at Bryan Adams") and next the country is at war with the US.

Driven by an invigorating urge to affront and provoke, South Park co- producers and creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have inevitably caused a few tremors Stateside, not only amidst the American ratings board but also inside Paramount, the studio which has released the movie.

Over here its non-stop barrage of toilet jokes, rude words and wired pop-culture piss-takes is unlikely to foment anything like the same panic: the mile-high lunacy, funny voices included, resembles nothing so much as an updated, slightly sophomoric Monty Python. On a hit-to-miss ratio the jokes aren't great (the best and nastiest of them is a steal from Neil LaBute's In the Company of Men) and even at 80 minutes it goes on too long, but the songs, which parody Broadway and Disney, are terrific. "Up There", a breezy number performed by Satan himself, is an honest-to-God highlight.

In life Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence play a pair of stooges who run foul of a club boss in Thirties Harlem. To save their necks they take on a bootlegging run down South, only to land themselves in bigger trouble when a corrupt sheriff pins a murder charge on them. Sent down for life in a Mississippi plantation jail, they spend the rest of the film growing old and grouchy while the years slip by in a whirl of History Channel footage.

Despite the marquee pairing of Murphy and Lawrence, Life has ambitions to be a comedy drama, specifically a comedy drama called The Shawshank Redemption. The similarities are obvious: innocent men convicted of murder, the voice-over narration, the anguished grind of years, the longing for escape. Yet this hasn't anything like the same pathos, either in its depiction of the cruelties of prison life or in the enduring friendship between Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. When one of the inmates is shot dead while trying to escape, for instance, it's hard to feel a great sense of loss - we barely got to know him when alive. While Murphy is mercifully more restrained than usual, he still projects too much self-love to be truly endearing. The comic riffing between him and Lawrence is dragged out to little purpose, and the settling of old scores that's meant to be the dramatic centre, is just a fizzle. Life isn't good, I'm afraid, though it does score over Shawshank in one department: Rick Baker's make- up, aging the two leads from young men to octogenarians, is the most eerily convincing I've ever seen.

Never Been Kissed does very little to distinguish itself from the umpteen other high-school comedies we've seen this year, and feels particularly underwhelming after last week's Rushmore. Drew Barrymore stars as shy twentysomething cub reporter Josie Geller, who poses as a teenager to write an expose of high-school mores. Haunted by memories of her own schooldays, when she was tormented as the class frump, Josie sets about trying to get in with the in-crowd - and fails all over again. Then her popular jock brother (David Arquette) intervenes, and suddenly her stock goes through the roof; meantime the film dimly pursues the theme of imposture via the class set book As You Like It and the mutual attraction between Josie and her dishy English teacher (Michael Vartan). On the plus side, Barrymore does a skilful turn as the frog princess, her moonface registering every nuance of neediness and gratitude; and she's brave to make herself so dowdy. David Arquette is also likeable, even if his supposed king of cool is really the same old doofus. On the debit side, the film-makers overlook a basic human implausibility, namely who would voluntarily go back to school? Also the moral - be true to yourself, love the difference in others - feels pretty dishonest in a film as conformist and ingratiating as this.

Sneaked out in a shamefaced kind of way, Darkness Falls is a British thriller from the same team who brought you The Brylcreem Boys, probably the worst (and certainly the worst-reviewed) film of the year. Sherilyn Fenn and Tim Dutton play a married couple whose opulent home is invaded by Ray Winstone, sweating more than Nixon and seeking retribution for his wife's recent car accident.

It seems Dutton has been playing away, but what do you expect of a man who orders his wife to wear a dress that's "tight across your tits"?

Things are confused by a pounds 10m pay-off and a roving hitman, though the plot is of little moment beside Oliver Tobias's hilariously unconvincing snarl and Sherilyn Fenn's exclamation of marital disgust: "You let my loins wither!" Didn't she mean "lines"?