Film: Also showing: Like driving with the brakes on

PRIMAL FEAR Gregory Hoblit (18) UNE FEMME FRANCAISE Regis Wargnier (18) SPY HARD Rick Friedberg (PG) ANGUS Patrick Read Johnson (12) MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND Brian Henson (U)

To be duped by the masquerade at the root of Primal Fear, you'd have to be as stupid as the movie's preening persuasive hero, Martin Vail (Richard Gere). And that's pretty damn stupid by any standard. Vail is a man who serves himself above all others - he excels at his job as a Cochranesque lawyer but his courtship with celebrity has turned everything into a PR stunt. He appears on magazine covers and struts around the courtroom as though he's trying to get the jury off, not his client. (Whenever the stern judge, played by Alfred Woodard, upbraids him, it's fruity and funny, like a teacher chiding a boy for mooning.) Facing an ex-lover (Laura Linney), who's pitted against him in court, only adds a dash more pleasure to his business. And being an exhibitionist, he's energised by the assumption that the murder case he's taken on, free of charge, will prove to be his downfall. It becomes a dare, and he's pleased that so many people doubt his judgement - he knows that it will give the inevitable victory that extra kick.

Not that you'd glean much of this scintillating fusion of sexual and professional prowess from Gere's performance. He hasn't been so listless since King David, and at least in that film you were distracted from his acting by the fact that he was wearing a big nappy. Screenwriters Steve Shagan and Anne Biderman are generally inept at sustaining tension, but their sense of characterisation is impeccable, and you're disappointed that Gere works so hard against the complexities they've given him - he's all suggestion and no substance. The supporting cast, conversely, deserve a far better film: there are three excellent women (Woodard, Linney and Frances McDormand) who show Gere up for the ghost that he is; and the neatly edgy Edward Norton whose turn as the suspected and possibly schizophrenic killer is so bold it belongs on a carnival float.

Primal Fear is a film about performance, but it's not wild or ostentatious the way you feel it ought to be; it's like the volume and colour have been turned down, when in fact a picture that is this full of contrived shocks and psychological hogwash needs the sort of mischief that Brian De Palma could bring (and a stronger twist to hinge on than the lame punchline we get here). The movie's biggest flaw is politeness - even the central murder and its various motives and implications have only a muted impact. This superficial thriller remains, like Gere, forever stuck in first.

Daniel Auteuil is one of the most fearless and startling actors working in cinema today, and as such he could probably have made even Primal Fear watchable if he just had a walk-on part in it. So it's a measure of how rotten Une Femme Francaise is that, despite his sporadic appearances, it has all the allure of a masochistic study of one woman's pathological promiscuity. Which is exactly what it is. As the doomed couple whose relationship slips from infidelity to brutality, Auteuil and Emmanuelle Beart invest far too much passion into a script which deserved a firm "non" when it first flopped on to the doormat. How bad does it get? Try the scene where Beart breaks down while watching a female acrobat being flung from man to man in a trapeze show which is intended to mirror her own lovelife. At least that's laughable. The rest of the movie finds the director, Regis Wargnier, pursuing pain and hurt with an obsessiveness that borders on voyeurism. His characters are walking wounds; his film is septic.

A director has to be impossibly brainless to botch that old slapstick favourite, the walking into a door routine. It's about the only thing that Rick Friedberg gets right in his abominable spoof thriller, Spy Hard. It's yet another example of Leslie Nielsen exploiting his previous connections with the near genius Zucker brothers (creators of Airplane and The Naked Gun) in order to give a phoney validity to a derivative hack job. Of course the Zuckers have had nothing to do with such baloney; each of the jokes contained in this tardy James Bond send-up would be booed out of any playground. And when are film-makers going to learn that replicating a scene from a movie (such as the Pulp Fiction dance sequence) is not the same as lampooning it? For a supposedly zany comedy, this is no laughing matter.

The kids have got it sweet this week by comparison. Certainly a schlepp to see Angus or Muppet Treasure Island would be preferable to enduring any of the week's other releases. Angus is the sweet-natured if slightly muddled tale of an overweight underdog learning to cope with other people's prejudices. Although the scenes with George C Scott as Angus's benevolent grandfather make the film plod, it's more fun than it sounds. This is mostly due to Charlie Talbert in the lead; his sensitivity and comic timing are well beyond his years.

As with their 1992 outing, Muppet Christmas Carol, the new Muppet comedy is warm, wacky and packed with dippy jokes that would put most adult comedies to shame. The flesh and blood performers are a treat too - Jennifer Saunders, Tim Curry (as Long John Silver) and Billy Connolly, who gets a riotous protracted deathbed scene. The Muppets are still gaining momentum, which is odd as the audience that Muppet Treasure Island is aimed at could only know the characters from their elders' reminiscences. They've become an iconic presence which absence cannot erode, like God or Bea Arthur.

All films are on release from tomorrow

RYAN GILBEY

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there