FILM / Come back and see me some time: Sheila Johnston on the return of the femme fatale in John Dahl's The Last Seduction, plus the rest of the new releases.

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The Independent Culture
For no particular reason (misogyny is, after all, never really out of fashion), film noir has fallen into desuetude. There is the odd exception: Kathleen Turner in Body Heat, a smashing role which her subsequent career has failed to replicate; Lena Olin, spectacular in the otherwise ephemeral Romeo Is Bleeding. But, mostly, the femme fatale - sexy, witty, ruthless, intelligent - has coarsened into the harridan from hell. It's not enough for Jennifer Jason Leigh (Single White Female) and Glenn Close (Fatal Attraction) to be dangerous; they have to run amok with lethal weapons and crazed eyes. They're unhinged and finally powerless. And they immediately lose control (Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct is about as good as it gets). Whatever happened to the sleek, irresistible

sirens of yesteryear?

As the wife who cheats her husband (Bill Pullman) out of a sackload of loot, Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction is as fatale as one could want. She's drop-dead gorgeous, in the literal sense. She's crushingly funny. And, instead of whipping out ice-picks, her most deadly aggression is the mind-rape. She plays men for suckers. A life insurance sales executive, her idea of canvassing business is to cold-call women with cheating husbands and pitch them murder. It's a slightly one-note role but Fiorentino, slinking through virtually through every frame, has the nerve to carry it off.

The director, John Dahl, who made a minor but impressive mark with Kill Me Again and Red Rock West, has carved a small speciality out of modern noir. This is not as simple as it sounds: modern noir has a hard time taking itself seriously. But The Last Seduction is neither parody nor pastiche: it's witty but not campy, visually confident without drowning in shadows, strange camera angles and venetian blinds. The plotting is patchy; at 110 minutes, there is time for implausibilities and longueurs to surface. Its true pleasures are as a character piece and, in a summer almost empty of heavy-hitters, this small, skilful genre piece is one of the most enjoyable movies around.

Set in a little town somewhere in the vast emptiness of the Argentine pampas, We Don't Want to Talk about It is the story of a charming, cultured girl who happens to be a dwarf, her neurotic mother and a mysterious, dashing stranger (Marcello Mastroianni) who falls hopelessly in love with the child. It works well as a satire on provincial hypocrisy: Luisina Brando is splendid as the mother, feverish, overdressed, turning rivals to stone with her glassy stare. And there's a great farcical sequence in which the local mayor dies at a wedding and is packed in ice to prevent the stench from disrupting the festivities.

It's less successful as a romance; the film doesn't achieve the total suspension of disbelief needed to stop us snorting at the cracker-barrel pop-psychology ('do not be afraid to be who you are') or beginning to eye Mastroianni, in lust with a child-bride over 40 years his junior, as a dirty old man. Maria Luisa Bemberg's direction is workmanlike, pedestrian. One outstanding sequence-shot prowls through a circus in the cold blue night of dawn, the clowns and artists turning to greet the camera as it glides past - even the animals fix us with a ghostly eye. It's a supple, lyrical scene which conjures the shade of Fellini and the magical movie that this might have been.

Childhood, it was observed during the Jamie Bulger case, is the sleep of reason which, in Hollywood, means the licence to act up at one's will. In the two Home Alone films Macauley Culkin was a nasty little sadist, but because he was also a diminutive, eight-year-old wimp, he could carry it off. Culkin's antics took a sinister turn in The Good Son, refused certification here in the post-Bulgar panic. And now the strain really shows in Getting Even with Dad, another uneasy paean to child power after last week's North.

Appearing on his dad's doorstep as the latter is about to execute a heist, Culkin is a fount of good sense, a regular stream of homilies about the dangers of smoking, the need to water one's house plants and change one's toothbrush regularly, And he thwarts his father's two dim sidekicks. There are loud echoes of Home Alone as these stooges keep tumbling into hot water, although Culkin's never directly responsible, as he was in the earlier films: their misery issues from their own stupidity. But Culkin as a model child is a bore - his scenes are consistently stolen by Ted Danson as his sleazy, good-for-nothing old man.

Culkin can no longer trade on his innocent-but-mischievous image. Here, wearing slicked back, brilliantined hair, he's toughing up, flexing his muscles for puberty: the script even has a cack- handed go at finding him a love interest (although he patently lacks the emotional range to carry the soppy bits). The picture's puny American box-office suggests he needs to dirty up his act again.

Gunmen, finally, is a straight-to-video offering that, inexplicably, is being showcased by the National Film Theatre. Christopher Lambert and Mario van Peebles race each other for hidden loot, bonding furiously in the process.

(Photograph omitted)

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