Film: Also Showing

What Dreams May Come Vincent Ward (15) The Mighty Peter Chelsom (PG) The Apple Samira Makhmalbaf (PG)
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The Independent Culture
LOADED WITH state-of-the-art special effects, Vincent Ward's What Dreams May Come looks like the most expensive therapy session ever put together. Robin Williams, at his most ingratiating, plays a paediatrician whose family is dogged by death. First the family Labrador has to be put down; then his two children are killed in an off-screen accident; then he buys the big one in a freeway car crash and fetches up in an afterlife based on the impressionist landscapes painted by his wife (Annabella Sciorra). Driven insane by bereavement, she has committed suicide and been consigned to hell, so Williams, with the help of celestial tour guides Cuba Gooding Jr and Max Von Sydow, journeys downwards a la Orpheus to rescue her.

If any of the above has the whiff of dung, you're definitely in the right neighbourhood. While the production design has a breathtaking depth of colour (complete with art history references to Monet and Caspar David Friedrich) the film sets the alarm bells ringing from the moment Williams and Sciorra meet on a Swiss lake and declare themselves soulmates. Once death moves in, it's cue for a two-hour sob-feast in which earnest New Age waffle is exchanged with such reverence you'd think it had been penned by Aristotle.

In fact, this is the work of Ron Bass, whose fondness for sentimental verbiage (he also wrote Waiting to Exhale) made me wonder whether he hadn't missed his vocation in life as a Hallmark Card staff writer. "Thought is real, physical is the illusion," somebody remarks. I wish that were true, then I could simply have "thought" I'd seen What Dreams May Come, and skipped the "physical" experience of its butt-numbing boredom.

More mystical whimsy in Peter Chelsom's The Mighty, a tale of two boys who don't fit in. Max (Elden Henson) is a teenage giant and a slow learner; Kevin (Kieran Culkin) is a pint-sized intellectual with a degenerative disease. After their friendship is cemented by a shared regard for the legend of King Arthur, Max decides they'd work better in tandem and carries Kevin on his shoulders. Together they wow the basketball team, face off the school bullies and deal with the unwelcome return to the neighbourhood of Max's jailbird father. With an A-list cast in minor roles - Sharon Stone, Gena Rowlands, Harry Dean Stanton, Gillian Anderson - the film has its moments, but it does rather beg for our tears when a more softly- softly approach is required. You detect the Blackpool-born director straining in offbeat directions which the American schmaltz of The Mighty simply can't accommodate.

The Apple is a peculiar first feature by Samira Makhmalbaf, 17-year-old daughter of Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the Iranian film-maker. It recounts the true story, using the real family involved, of two innocent 12-year-old sisters who have been hidden from the world since birth. After neighbours complain to the authorities, a social worker (they have them in Tehran too) turns up at their home and forces their ancient, needy father to let them out. His reason for keeping them locked up: "My daughters are like flowers. They mustn't be exposed to the sun or they would soon fade." Dads, eh? The film's gentle humour comes to the fore once the girls are let loose to play hopscotch and munch apples, though concentration is vital for the film's leisurely pace to work. Once you've overcome somnolence, Makhmalbaf's inquiry into family life casts a weird spell.


All films are on release from Boxing Day