Film: Also Showing

Gang Related (15) Jim Kouf n Eve's Bayou (15) Kasi Lemmons n Firelight (15) William Nicholson
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
THINGS WE Are Bored With, Part One: drive-by shootings, drug deals gone gruesomely wrong, jive-talkin' homeboys whose idea of being articulate is not to let their profanity count exceed double figures in any one sentence. It is a pleasant surprise, therefore, to find that the new thriller Gang Related not only gives this tired formula a few welcome twists, but also has its tongue lodged in its cheek, a tone that is not generally encountered in this genre.

Most of us have occasionally wondered what possible function James Belushi could serve in the world, but he is a delight here as a cop for whom ethics and morality are a blasted nuisance; if the milk of human kindness ever flowed inside him, it has long since curdled. Questioned about whether or not he had the right to be in a witness's apartment during her absence, he falters for a moment - he genuinely does not understand what he has done wrong. Then it hits him. "Oh right, that law thing." The bad penny drops.

It would be unwise for you to arrive at Gang Related being too familiar with its plot - what pleasures it offers are largely derived from the assorted bends, U-turns and blind alleys taken by the film's writer-director, Jim Kouf. But as Belushi and his partner (played by the late Tupac Shakur) struggle to frame a vagrant (Dennis Quaid) for a murder they have committed, the film gathers real comic momentum and escalates into an underworld farce. Kouf cannot maintain the pace, and the picture fizzles out in its final act, but now and then it glistens with the tantalising, oily sheen of pure trash.

Things We Are Bored With, Part Two: films which begin with a sage female voice intoning the words "I was 10 years old when I killed my father/dentist/guinea- pig", and then flash back to trace the narrator's fall from innocence. Eve's Bayou, which falls into this category, is not exactly a bad movie. The first-time writer-director, Kasi Lemmons, creates a convincing portrait of the tensions in a Fifties Louisiana community, where lust is laced with danger. "You mind you don't hurt yourself with that," a man dancing with his oversexed wife is warned. And Samuel L Jackson is excellent as a shifty doctor who simultaneously charms and sullies every woman he touches. The picture is about his daughter - the film's narrator - discovering who he is. She hears a patient suggestively requesting "something to cure the pain" and slowly realises that aspirin is not on the menu.

It is not the fault of Lemmons that her Louisiana locations are somewhat devalued by over-familiarity, though she does not really add any new ingredients to the gumbo. Revelations tend to occur only during thunderstorms; voodoo prevails. In its favour, much of the characterisation is undeniably acute. But at its worst, the film tastes like reheated Fried Green Tomatoes.

Things We Are Bored With, Part Three: miserable, emaciated 19th-century women being sold off to repressed landowners and having complicated corsets painstakingly laced and unlaced. In the period drama Firelight, Sophie Marceau is the Swiss governess who bears a child for a wealthy aristocrat (Stephen Dillane), then devotes the rest of her life to finding the child and bonding with her.

I think I would have chewed my own arms off with boredom if it had not been for the director William Nicholson's compelling ineptitude. I had to stay awake in order to see what he would botch next. Would he learn about using establishing shots, or directing his actors rather than letting them dawdle in doorways? Would he ease up with the fire symbolism, or stop poor Stephen Dillane from having to repeat the line "The fire gives more light than you might expect" in increasingly portentous tones? Not a chance. Firelight struggles to be enigmatic, but you could not conceive of a less alluring and ambiguous work; Nicholson squeezes the mystique out of every idea, every image. All the picture has to recommend it is Marceau, who could pout for France, that fine nation of pouters.

Ryan Gilbey