In Sydney Pollack's romantic melodrama, Random Hearts, Harrison Ford plays a Washington DC cop, Dutch, who loses his wife in an aircrash. On the same flight was the husband of Kay Chandler (Kristin Scott Thomas), a Republican congresswoman. After some investigation the policeman discovers that their late spouses had been having an affair with one another. He pursues the matter, trying to piece together the history of this betrayal, but Kay wants to bury it on account of her teenage daughter and her forthcoming election campaign.
The goal of the film is to get Ford and Scott Thomas together in a desperate clinch of bereavement, one of those unlikely unions that you'd like to believe in, but can't. Ford, sporting an incongruous diamond ear-stud, is so grim-faced and lugubrious no one would want to spend more than 10 minutes in his company; Scott Thomas's glittering cobalt eyes and perfect hair suggest that romance would be the last thing to derail her election prospects. When they eventually do get it on, there's nowhere left for the picture to go - a sub-plot involving his latest Internal Affairs hot potato doesn't grip at all.
Pollack has put together a movie as tasteful and discreetly expensive as the stars' casual wear, and once the pace slows to a crawl it proves to be no more involving than a flick through the Ralph Lauren Winter Catalogue.
The movie I most enjoyed this week was A Walk on the Moon, a modest but poignant romantic comedy about letting go. It's the summer of '69, the Apollo mission nears the moon, and the times they are most definitely a-changin', but for Jewish housewife and mother Pearl (Diane Lane), life is neither a cabaret nor a bowl of cherries - just a decent, stolid husband (Liev Schreiber) who repairs televisions, a sexually curious teenage daughter (Anna Paquin) and another summer holiday in a dreary Catskills resort. Lonely and dissatisfied, she falls prey to the charms of a hippie salesman (Viggo Mortensen), who whisks her off for afternoons of skinny-dipping and an impromptu trip to Woodstock where she lets more than her hair down.
Yes, I know, it all sounds terribly over-familiar and corny, but it soars above the common ruck by dint of mood and nuance. First-time director Tony Goldwyn invests proceedings with a lovely wistful tone, and even when the material feels at its most hackneyed, the movie keeps you on its side with nicely observed details and some beautifully judged performances. Diane Lane underplays the frustrated thirtysomething mother who's done too much too young, while Schreiber as the cuckolded husband conveys uncomprehending distress to a T. "Was it groovy?" he asks Lane on hearing of her sojourn in Woodstock.
A Walk on the Moon may not have anything original to say about the sexual revolution, yet it never goes quite the way you predict, and just for those little differences, I felt like hugging it.
EDtv, a satire on American celebrity and real-life television, might have packed a more telling punch if The Truman Show hadn't done it better (and earlier). Unlike Jim Carrey's hapless dupe, 31-year-old video store clerk Ed Pekurny (Matthew McConaughey) has willingly put his life on 24- hour television after the True TV network, desperate for ratings, offers him a contract.
One might wonder how on earth a minute-by-minute broadcast of an ordinary Joe's life could be interesting, yet swiftly and obligingly Ed's life becomes rather like a soap opera. Family skeletons start dancing out of the closet. He falls in love with the woman (Jenna Elfman) who formerly went out with his blowhard brother (Woody Harrelson, his usual self-regarding jerk); the latter then writes a revenge memoir called My Brother Pissed on Me. His real father turns up out of the blue, played by Dennis Hopper - a shock for any son. And America can't get enough of it.
Ed's best friend eventually nutshells the moral - "Where there's no privacy, there's no dignity" - which would be more persuasive if director Ron Howard wasn't so forgiving of everybody.
Indeed, he seems rather to admire the professionalism and dedication of the camera crews following Ed around, and throws the network's creative genius (Ellen DeGeneres) a belated halo for having a change of heart.
EDtv touches on a truly creepy idea - the licensed invasion of privacy - but wishful thinking and a reluctance to get "heavy" on the part of the film-makers pretty much disarm the satiric intent.
Written and directed by Khyentse Norbu, The Cup has the distinction of being the first ever feature-length movie in the Tibetan language. Set during the World Cup of 1998, it concerns the efforts of a football-mad young monk to secure a television and satellite dish so that his fellows in their remote Tibetan monastery can watch the France-Brazil final. Greater love hath no man. Jamyang Lodro as the resourceful novice has a great impudent face, in stark and touching contrast with that of the venerable Abbot (Lama Chonjor), whose wisdom determines the film's splendid and uplifting conclusion.
Brokedown Palace aims to be a hard-hitting tale of American innocence defiled by a tyrannical Third-World regime, updating a cult movie for the MTV generation - a kind of Midnight Espresso. Kate Beckinsale and Claire Danes play best friends arrested on drugs charges and handed a 33-year sentence in a Thai jail. Has sleazeball lawyer Bill Pullman sufficient guile to rescue them? In truth, I didn't really care. The incarcerated girls look suspiciously well-fed and clear-skinned, the authorities are cartoon versions of Eastern duplicity, and David Arata's screenplay contents itself with perfunctory soundbites: "That's all freedom is - an illusion." Yeah, right, whatever.
It pains me to put the boot into a directorial debut, but Kay Mellor's Fanny and Elvis is crass, boring and hysterical. Kerry Fox plays a romantic novelist who's heard her biological clock ticking down to zero and is frantic for a sperm donor, while Ray Winstone and David Morrissey play her rivals for the privilege.
That actors of their calibre felt obliged to put themselves through this humiliating experience speaks sad volumes about our film industry.