Film: Also Showing

The Land Girls (12) David Leland n He Got Game (15) Spike Lee n Hands (pg) Artur Aristakisyan n Species II (18) Peter Medak
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The Independent Culture
FEISTY WOMEN clutching one-way tickets to self-discovery are David Leland's speciality. This writer and occasional director creates strong female characters who are not defined by the men around them - his best screenplays include Wish You Were Here and Mona Lisa. Although his new film, The Land Girls, does not rank with those works, it is a creditable attempt at rejuvenating well-tilled turf.

"Land girls" were the volunteers who took on the farm work left by men dispatched to fight in the Second World War. Leland's picture focuses on three of them - the highly sexed Prue (Anna Friel), the prim Ag (Rachel Weisz) and Stella, who is pining for her officer fiance. As played by Catherine McCormack, an actress with the icy poise of a young Charlotte Rampling, Stella is the most ambiguous and intriguing of the group. Good as Friel and Weisz are, the script is less interested in exploring them and you get the measure of their characters in the first few scenes. Which is not to say that they are not delightful: I liked Prue's seduction technique, which involves jumping into bed with a man and chirping, "Get 'em off, then"; while Weisz waltzes away with the film's fizziest scene when Ag decides to unburden herself of her cumbersome virginity. But it is McCormack's rootless, slightly haunted performance which makes the film more than just a wartime shaggy dog story.

Leland has also had the good sense to cast the excellent Steven Mackintosh in the pivotal role of Joe, the bewildered young farmer who becomes the focus of the trio's desires. Mackintosh has virtually monopolised the British acting industry - in the past year alone, he has given amorphous and versatile performances in House of America, Different for Girls and Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. There is not much for him to do in The Land Girls but look variously furtive and wounded, but, like everyone involved, he brings a dash of wit to an enterprise which might otherwise have had no reason to exist.

PICTURE THE scene. You are serving a prison sentence for murder. A deal is put to you. Your spell inside will be significantly curtailed if you get your son - who happens to be America's brightest young star on the basketball court - to sign with the governor's Alma Mater. You have just seven days of freedom in which to find your boy and persuade him. One problem: he has vowed never to forgive you for killing his mother.

As you will have gathered, Spike Lee's new drama He Got Game does not take place in this solar system, let alone on this planet. It is a muddled, ungainly collision of social commentary, shameless melodrama and sportswear commercial, garnished with Lee's customary woozy camerawork, garish filters and ambitious crane shots, and a painfully inappropriate Aaron Copland score.

Most infuriating are the sparks of brilliance which prove that Lee is not experiencing premature senility, whatever the evidence to the contrary. He coaxes a richly tragic performance from Denzel Washington as the desperate father whose eyes are almost as sad as his Afro, and the view of the sports industry as a bacchanalian pleasure dome of waterbeds and comely young women is splendidly appalling, echoing the crack den sequence from Jungle Fever. Even so, this is a real hotch-potch of a movie, in which it is not unusual to find 30 seconds of inspiration flanked by 20 minutes of whimsical self-indulgence.

HANDS IS a deadening semi-documentary that is simple and unsparing in its methods. As images of downtrodden and forgotten citizens - amputees, beggars, the young, the elderly - are played out before us in a grainy collage, a man narrates a message to his unborn child, who may be in the process of being aborted even as he speaks. The thrust of it seems to be that such a fate is preferable to living in modern times. The film is moderately persuasive in this argument, though that should not necessarily be taken as a recommendation.

The science fiction horror movie, Species II, rests on a perfect synthesis of sex and violence - the alien breed which travels from Mars to Earth in the bodies of astronauts announces its presence during copulation.

So there you are; everything is going swimmingly when suddenly your partner sprouts tentacles which bore into your flesh, and the next thing you know, you are giving birth to his mutant offspring. Imagine the mess. Like its predecessor, Species II offers cornball dialogue, grisly effects and gratuitous nudity, and can be enjoyed with or without copious amounts of drugs and alcohol.

All films on release from tomorrow

Ryan Gilbey