FILM / Deja vu in a recurring nightmare

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VADIM JEAN, the young British director of last year's Leon the Pig Farmer, has changed course dramatically with his new film. Beyond Bedlam (18) is a psychological thriller-cum- horror flick, subtitled 'Welcome to your worst nightmare'.

The nightmare begins early in the first reel, when we are introduced to Stephanie Lyell (Elizabeth Hurley). She's in her mid-twenties, goes to work in high-heeled ankle-boots, sleeps in a cream satin slip and happens to be a brilliant neurologist. (Perhaps she went to college with Nicole Kidman, the sultry brain-surgeon in Days of Thunder.) She's also super- tough: confident with a gun; able to support herself by the fingernails from a high ledge; and intent on testing a new mind-bending drug on herself.

Stephanie's other guinea- pig is Marc Gilmour (Keith Allen), a notorious serial killer on loan from Broadmoor. Actually, he's on loan from The Silence of the Lambs: his nickname is Bones because he 'bones people alive'; in one scene he appears to be slavering over a fresh, dripping scalp. Like cousin Hannibal, Gilmour is imprisoned in a high-tech underground cell, but his brilliant, sick mind is tickled by the idea of co-operating with young flesh. Even the acting tics are borrowed: when Stephanie sashays into his cell for the first time, Gilmour has a good deep sniff (although, unlike Hannibal, he doesn't name her perfume). If actors could sue for plagiarism, Anthony Hopkins would be an even richer man.

Meanwhile, some disturbing side-effects, and another borrowed film, are emerging. The side-effects are - I think this is right - that Stephanie and

Gilmour's dreams are coming true: Stephanie is haunted by a childhood trauma; Gilmour dreams about - surprise] - sex and gore. The film is Flatliners, another self-consciously gothic movie - blue filters, smoke, intrusive music, lots of shadow - about doctors and auto-neurological experimentation.

Luckily, Detective Inspector Terry Hamilton (Craig Fairbrass) is on the case. Terry helped nail Gilmour in the mid- Eighties, and he appears to be stuck there: obsessed with the killer and still living in a warehouse duplex with a lot of black and chrome furniture and a prominently displayed Philippe Starck lemon-squeezer. When he discovers Gilmour has been sneaked out of Broadmoor, he is not happy. As Terry puts it: ' 'E's a fuckin' psycho.' Or as he says later: ' 'E's a murdering 'eadcase.' These are not great lines, but Terry manages to kill even the few good ones. This copper isn't just thick, he's sub- human. To compensate, he is built like a Chippendale, which helps during the final showdown with Gilmour, the most splatteringly brutal fight scene I've seen for years - which may explain why the British Board of Film Classification has refused the film a video release.

Second films are always

difficult - after sex, lies and videotape, Steven Soderbergh flopped with Kafka - but Vadim Jean has made a spectacularly bad job of it. 'This is a fuckin' nightmare,' intones Terry halfway through. Don't worry, Terry, it's over now.

Some people don't get it right first time. Michael Taav's Painted Heart (15) is about a painter and decorator (Will Patton) who is in love with his wife's boss (Robert Pastorelli) who in turn appears to be leading a double life. Unfortunately, Taav has watched too many David Lynch movies to be able to say anything new about the dark underbelly of small-town American life. The wife (Bebe Neuwirth, last seen as Lilith, the bad-tempered psychiatrist, in Cheers) bakes a significant cherry pie straight out of Twin Peaks; lipstick replaces blue

velvet as the sexual fetish. Unlike Lynch, however, Taav appears to think all small-town people are simpletons: the men pause between syllables to give themselves time to think.

Takeshi Kitano is a 44-year- old stand-up comic, television personality, writer, actor and film-maker, whose films about Japanese gangsters have been compared to the work of Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino and John Woo. Sounds exhausting. But Sonatine (no cert), his fourth film (written, directed, edited by and starring Kitano) is about as impassive as action films come. Gang warfare breaks out in Okinawa, and the yakuza maim, kill and die with no apparent feeling, no comfort offered to dying comrades, no grief for lost ones, no ambulances and no police. The survivors regroup at a beach house and rediscover their boyish humanity - playing frisbee, digging holes in the sand and enacting puppet shows. It's a neat reversal of Lord of the Flies but, with no virtuoso shoot- outs, and no human interest, my attention soon wandered.

Back in the USSR (15) may be the silliest title of the year: the film has nothing to do with the well-known Beatles song and none of the characters is 'back' there - the hero is a naive American tourist, the others are cynical Muskovites. Do not be put off, however, because the film itself, directed by Deran Sarafian, is a small delight.

Archer Sloan (underrated brat-packer Frank Whaley) wants to spend the last night of his holiday meeting some 'real Russians'. He therefore follows a pretty girl, Lena (Natalya Negoda), to a thrash-metal gig and becomes embroiled in the theft of an icon, involving the Mafia, black marketeers, gangsters and various corrupt officials.

The plot is fiendishly complicated. Archer sums it up neatly at the end: 'I've been to hell. I was nearly killed six times in three days.' But the pleasure of Back in the USSR is in the performances. Whaley is brave, horny, earnest, uncertain and prone to panic - and his bruises show up after fights. When Lena, a moody little tease, removes his jeans to measure them, he doesn't snog her but asks her, dazzled, what's going on. Later he asks, uncoolly, 'Is it necessary to smoke in here?' Lena would be a tiresome coquette in a French film, but here she feels invigorating. Best of all is her sometime boyfriend Georgi (Ravil Issyanov) - in love with the glamour of gangsters and liable to burst into song when under pressure. These three young actors steal the film. And they steal the icon - from rival villains Roman Polanski and Brian Blessed, who proves he can overact with a Russian accent as well as an English one.

'Sonatine' is showing at the ICA, 071-930 3647, 3pm (today only), 5pm, 7pm, 9pm. Other cinema details: Review, page 74.

Quentin Curtis returns next week.