n The Doom Generation (18) Gregg Araki n Character (15) Mike van Diem
n Kissing a Fool (15) Doug Ellin n Pepe le Moko (nc) Julien Duvivier
THE POSTER copy for Lethal Weapon 4 says it all. "The action you expect, the faces you love," it trumpets presumptuously. In other words, you've seen it all before and you're still going to come back for more, aren't you? The continuing success of this series of light-hearted thrillers is a testament to the number of people for whom cinema is a comfort blanket - a breezy stroll along familiar streets rather than an almighty leap into the great unknown.
To its credit, Lethal Weapon 4 does strive to bring a fresh tang to a stale recipe. Although Detectives Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Murtaugh (Danny Glover) are struggling to crack a counterfeiting industry run by Triads, a more pressing concern is the battle against old age. When action heroes contemplate hanging up their holsters, they are sometimes driven to make interesting career choices - it's no coincidence that Gibson took on his most challenging roles last year in Ransom and Conspiracy Theory. Lethal Weapon 4 doesn't offer him the same diverse opportunities as those films, but there are enough references to Riggs's age to create some interesting synchronicity between the actor and the role.
With an eye on the younger members of its audience, the picture also finds room for the sparky young actor Chris Rock, who is distinguished among this ingratiating cast by his ability to earn your laughter without pleading for it. Otherwise, the movie is all gratuitous destructions, raging fireballs and male bonding. One memorable set-piece remains, though, featuring Gibson doing 80mph on an upturned coffee table, and one with no tax or MOT at that.
From men with sitting-room furniture to Men with Guns, the conscientious and dreary new movie from John Sayles, who is going to have to do something very drastic to convince me that he isn't the most over-rated film-maker in America. In an unspecified Latin American country, a doctor (Federico Luppi) decides to investigate the fates of the students whom he trained as doctors.
However, his investigations reveal that each of them has met a grisly end at the hands of a brutal military regime. Unperturbed, the doctor presses on through ever poorer villages, collecting companions and testimonies which create an image of a country in crisis. Sayles is commendably adventurous in his choice of subject matter, but consistently fails to animate or dramatise any of his ideas. As films go, Men with Guns would make great radio.
Gregg Araki's The Doom Generation was made in 1995, before his last film Nowhere, but the ramshackle style and pop-culture preoccupations are the same. The America inhabited by the film's trio of bisexual psychopaths is on the brink of apocalypse: all-night convenience stores serve luminous junk-food and bear signs reading "Shoplifters will be executed"; the dismembered and decapitated flaunt their injuries and start speaking in tongues long after they should have stopped twitching.
The stoned humour which thrives in the air of depravity is best exemplified by the actress Rose McGowan - even as she is tramping ankle-deep through carnage, her lipstick remains unsmudged, her bob unruffled. But even a fan would have to concede that all this debauchery wears thin some way before the end.
The Dutch drama Character, winner of this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, follows the efforts of a young lawyer (Fedja van Huet) to escape the cruel control of his bailiff father. Told in flashback, the story evolves into a mystery hinging on the old man's enigmatic protestation that he was trying to help rather than hinder his son. The picture is too long, but I liked the playfully brooding tone which transforms it into a Gothic cartoon for grown-ups; indeed, the physiognomical peculiarities of its supporting cast would make Jeunet and Caro drool.
On to Kissing a Fool, a comedy starring the disturbingly uncharismatic David Schwimmer from Friends. He plays an egotistical sportscaster who feels claustrophobic at the prospect of marriage, and decides to test the loyalty of his bride-to-be (Mili Avital) by using his best friend (Jason Lee) as bait. Yes, it's another film about male fear of commitment - and yet another with nothing original to say on the matter. The only reprieve comes from Jason Lee, though it's a measure of how tired the movie feels that even he is just repeating his Agitated Best Pal routine from Chasing Amy.
A deserved re-release this week for Pepe le Moko, Julien Duvivier's 1936 thriller in which many themes which would later congeal to form film noir surface in an unusual context. The setting is the unforgiving labyrinth of the Algiers Casbah; Jean Gabin is the romantic criminal yearning for love whilst being hounded by the police. When his resolve starts to crack and splinter, you glimpse a vulnerability that is exquisitely moving. What begins as a battle of wits ends with a man grabbing at a future that will always be just out of reach. Ouch, in a word.
All films on release from tomorrow.