FILM / Big in Benidorm: . . . and Sheila Johnston on the rest of the week's new releases, including the third tour of duty for the cops Beverly Hills and Robo

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The Independent Culture
Any film set in Benidorm and blaring Julio Iglesias on the soundtrack gets my vote. The director of Golden Balls (18), Bigas Luna (who previously made the much inferior Jamon Jamon), is seen here as a kind of junior Almodovar, but he clearly has his own agenda. Both specialise in sex farces (who doesn't in Spain these days?) but where Almodovar goes for strange subcultures and polymorphous perversity, Luna is keener on mainstream machismo.

The main character of Golden Balls is Benito, an opportunistic construction engineer whose grand ambition is to build the biggest tower in town. He beds a banker's daughter to this end, while maintaining diverse other assets on the side. Festooned with gold, a Rolex on either wrist, an aficionado of Iglesias, karaoke bars and Salvador Dali, he's an amusing but oddly likeable creation and Luna is clearly ambivalent about him (you start to wonder when you see that the end-credits list the weight of all the female protagonists - a true equal opportunities director would also put things like 'Benito, 10 inches'). But the film is well shot with a nicely downbeat ending, straight out of an American B-movie, with our hero down on his luck and going to seed in Florida.

The week's two sequels, Beverly Hills Cop III (15) and RoboCop 3 (15) still contain traces of the energy that once, long ago, turned the originals into hits, but both are gathering cobwebs. And, most damagingly, both have buffed off their rougher edges for the youth market. In the first, Eddie Murphy, attempting to revive his flagging career, gets serious and even sheds some tears; he seems uncommonly subdued, in fact, with a thin supply of wisecracks and barely a chance to indulge his gift for mimicry. He doesn't even get to honk his famous laugh very much. The director, John Landis, is a skilled practitioner of the action comedy, but, surprisingly, this could almost be a straight and ordinary cop movie.

The main attempt to inject novelty into the formula is to set the action in 'Wonderworld', a Disney-ish theme park presided over by the avuncular Uncle Dave. I kept hoping that this place of 'childhood innocence and fun' would conceal sinister and, above all, surreal goings- on in the manner of The Prisoner or The Avengers, but all the writer can come up with is a banal counterfeiting scam. And, contrary to hopes, Uncle Dave didn't turn out to be a drugs smuggler or child molester. Rather than sending up the ghastly theme park, the film comes over as a thinly disguised commercial.

The first RoboCop was directed by Paul Verhoeven and had that director's trademark spin, cynical and sadistic. Our hero was a tortured character with a severe identity crisis - a man trapped in a machine's bodywork and pondering the big question: 'Who am I?' There's the odd flash of all that here, and RoboCop 3 ostensibly offers the mixture as before: same apocalyptic urban wasteland setting, same conflict between RoboCop's humanity and his programming as killing machine, same spoof newsflashes and commercials sketching in a world out of control.

But RoboCop himself has subtly changed, and not just because he's played by a different actor (Robert Burke, taking over from Peter Weller). Verhoeven's nihilism is gone. RoboCop is still an authority figure to itinerant street kids, but a noticeably kinder, gentler, less complicated one. At the sentimental climax, the police force collectively turns in its badge rather than evict people from their homes. One of the main characters is a computer-savvy 10- year-old girl.

The story feels outdated - the bad guys are 'heartless capitalist scumbags' from Japan (very-late Eighties, this Nippophobia, although the film also tries for a PC balance by making the little girl a Eurasian). There's even a Japanese counterpart to RoboCop, a vicious kung fung android. This character is well designed (honours to Rob Bottin, one of America's leading special effects artists), but the scene in which RoboCop takes flight boasts the most insultingly shoddy matte work I've seen in years.

There's more future shock in the Japanese animated film Roujin Z (12), billed as 'from the director of the cult classic Akira'. But manga fans will be disappointed: Katsuhiro Otomo, the man in question, is responsible for the story and design here, but the direction is by another hand, and it shows. The animation is rudimentary; it makes Beavis and Butt-Head look good (the film's budget must be much below Akira's). And the English dubbing is grim.

But the film (about a fantastic but sinister machine designed to take care of elderly patients) throws an intriguing sidelight on modern Japan, and there are some diverting characters. I liked the irrepressible old-timers in the retirement home, hacking into the machine's computer console, getting drunk and cracking dirty jokes.

Christine Pascal's Le Petit Prince a dit (PG) is a meandering, rather dull film about a little girl whose terminal illness brings together her separated parents. Finally, the ICA is fielding the complete version of Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy, John Pilger and David Munro's blistering documentary about East Timor in the fall- out from the 1975 Indonesian invasion. Pilger and Munro will introduce tonight's 7pm screening.

(Photograph omitted)