Film: Also Showing
Secret Defense (PG) Jacques Rivette n Cube (15) Vincenzo Natali n Deep Rising (15) Stephen Sommer n Woo (15) Daisy Mayer
Thursday 24 September 1998
Rivette has the hungry eye of a voyeur combined with the sad heart of a wounded romantic; it's a potent mix. Under his gaze, the most innocuous act - a woman kicking her heels on a railway platform, or trying on a pair of sunglasses - creaks with foreboding. Through adherence to his own rigid formalist rules, Rivette very subtly makes you squirm for 90 minutes. One problem: in Secret Defense, there are still another 80 to go.
It may be that the friction between the film's two halves is entirely intentional. In the first part, the scientist Sylvie (Sandrine Bonnaire) receives some shocking news from her brother: he knows who pushed their father to his death from a train five years ago. The proof is virtually incontrovertible; Sylvie's gun is loaded. But will she squeeze the trigger?
For that initial stretch, Rivette's grasp never falters. His manipulation of mise-en-scene to convey the turmoil of his taciturn heroine is masterful. The film has been shot in muffled colours and sterile textures that can be rudely punctuated by a sensual detail - a secretary's red leather gloves, or a warmly erotic painting mounted in a drab office. And there is a haunting timelessness about the film which arises from the story's collision of past and present - from the way intimate data from Sylvie's childhood surfaces to underline the precariousness of her carefully controlled life.
But Rivette demonstrates a very real inadequacy whenever he has to convey information through dialogue - even if the film did not lose its focus once it switched from Sylvie's exclusive perspective, the awkwardness of the long exposition scenes which follow would have killed any remaining tension. The action of Secret Defense hinges on symmetry and tragic inevitability in a way which recalls the agonising depiction of recurring fate in Rivette's finest work, Celine and Julie Go Boating. These echoes, however, only detract from the film's power, fostering the suspicion that Rivette may just be remaking his early films with ever-diminishing success.
Cube is another movie which could have benefited from some judicious editing. This Canadian science-fiction oddity about a group of strangers trapped inside a giant, rotating, booby-trapped prison, labours its ideas and soon becomes condescending. The production design achieves sinister effects from frugal means, as do parts of the screenplay, which promotes what may be the only truly frightening idea left in this age of comforting conspiracy theories - that there is no conspiracy; that torture and misery are dished out arbitrarily. But the menace is not sustained and the film is ultimately reminiscent of a study aid for maths and philosophy students.
As thrillers set aboard luxury cruise liners go, Deep Rising is more fun than Speed 2 or Titanic. But then what isn't? The wonderful Treat Williams and a band of mercenaries hijack the ship in question only to find that the party has already been gatecrashed by a more slimy and ill-tempered species.
The film's B-movie credentials are assured by an abundance of bad dialogue and a scene in which a woman is sucked down a toilet and spewed out as a geyser of blood. And it's nice to see our own Jason Flemyng swearing gratuitously and firing automatic weapons at toothy sea serpents. It is not the sort of thing a British actor gets to do every day of the week.
Technically, I can't give a definitive appraisal of the alleged comedy Woo since I fled the cinema crying tears of blood about an hour in. But I can tell you what I saw. Jada Pinkett Smith as a sultry temptress in whose presence men lose all integrity, with devastatingly unfunny results. A painfully embarrassing sex scene in which a woman impersonates a chicken. And a host of African-American comedians destroying their careers before they have even begun. John Singleton, who made Boyz N the Hood, was executive producer, which may elevate this whole sorry mess into the realms of tragedy.
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