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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman as Doctor Who and Clara behind the scenes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cheery but half-baked canine caper: 'Pudsey the dog: The movie'

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor