The trials of growing up aside, it will come as no surprise to find that Wayne's World 2 (PG) is not very different from the original. Babes, baseball caps and backstage passes are all present and correct, enlivened by a welter of in-jokes and nifty parodies (including Jurassic Park, The Graduate and a glorious Village People routine). If it's not quite as funny as it thinks it is, that might be because it's much too knowing - an odd word, admittedly, for a film in which Aerosmith are
the main musical attraction. Wayne's World never touches the same peaks of inspired nuttiness as those other teenage dudes of misrule, Bill and Ted. Wayne and Garth somehow ask for the laughs, whereas Bill and Ted just go their own sweet way, truly, madly, dumbly. Party on? I fear a third World would be more than I could stand.
Talking of junk, you are duly warned about a medieval Gallic helping of it in Les Visiteurs (15). This film trails quite a reputation - the greatest box-office success in French movie history, no less - though the funereal stillness that reigned during the press screening suggests it won't be duplicating that triumph here. It's your basic time-travel spoof: a 12th-century knight (Jean Reno) and his servant (Christian Clavier) are magicked via a fouled-up spell to present-day France, where the social order - quel surprise] - has undergone some change since the Middle Ages. The domestic order has also been transformed, leading the bewildered visiteurs into a thumpingly unfunny round of sight gags involving toilet bowls, phones, mail vans, electric lights . . . Comparisons with both Monty Python and Blackadder have been hopefully bandied around, a PR strategy that deserves some kind of prize for wishful thinking. Much has been made of the film's subtle comedy of class distinctions and its medieval language, both of them sadly resistant to translation. My rusty O-level French was pretty hard-pressed to cope with the modern language, let alone the archaic stuff, but I still know une dinde when I see one.
Not many laughs either in Enfield, Arizona, where most of Bodies, Rest and Motion (15) is set; the people round these parts haven't the energy to tell jokes, still less remember the punchlines. We are in Slacker territory, where a listless menage a trois is in full slump. Nick (Tim Roth), TV salesman and chain-smoker, has decided to up sticks and head for a new life in Montana with his girlfriend, Beth (Bridget Fonda). Their best friend Carol (Phoebe Cates) would prefer them to hang around. The audience doesn't much care either way. Enter nouveau-hippie house painter Sid (Eric Stoltz), who gets spoony over Beth while Nick lights out for the great wide open (cue shameless travel-brochure shots of toasted landscapes, blistering sunsets, etc), leaving a stolen TV as a going-away present. The atmosphere of ennui undergoes a brief tremor, a new relationship emerges from the encounter, and very little is resolved. On the plus side, there's some good acting - particularly by Fonda, who has the makings of a Keatonesque comedienne (Diane not Buster). On the debit, Michael Steinberg seems to be directing under heavy sedation, his case helped in no way by dialogue that scrapes the bottom of the cracker-barrel. At times the pace gets so somnolent it could give a whole new slant to the term 'sleeper movie'.
The convulsions of Chinese history in the 20th century have recently been detailed in the extravagant theatricality of Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine. Those who thought that film's brushwork a touch too florid may find more to admire in The Blue Kite (nc), a quieter film, and the more powerful for it. Tian Zhuangzhuang's account of life under Mao becomes an intimate panorama, as the life of a single Peking family is whipped and buffeted by the winds of upheaval. The director works his spell through subtle developments of mood and character. Central to his story is Shijuan (Lu Liping) - stoically enduring life with three successive husbands - and her son Tietou, oblivious at first to the political tensions around him but finally compelled to face the music. From the communal kitchens of the Great Leap Forward to the stupefying barbarities of the Cultural Revolution, The Blue Kite traces an arc of suffering with clear-eyed compassion and a directness that moved the Chinese authorities to confiscate the director's exit visa. Plus ca change.
Finally, a new print of an Old Master. The Conformist (18) is an astonishing work, not least because Bertolucci was only 27 when he made it. Set in the 1930s, this portrait of an Italian aristocrat, Clerici (Jean- Louis Trintignant), examines the dreadful bargain a man can make for the illusion of a 'normal life'. Forced to prove his mettle to the Fascists, he turns assassin, only to find himself paralysed by indecision when he needs to act. Trintignant is superb in this unsympathetic role, his angular, weasel-like face and sunken eyes reminiscent of Bogart. But Clerici is no heroic loser. Bertolucci goes some way towards suggesting the root of his protagonist's insecurity - a murderous encounter with a homosexual at the age of 13 - though the film's psychology is less impressive than the bravura confidence of its visual style. The camera roves through the marmoreal desolation of asylums, eerily lit dance-halls and echoing railway stations, finishing memorably on the edge of a snowbound forest, where a double assassination is drawn out to agonising, operatic length. Following this, Bertolucci went notorious (Last Tango in Paris), epic (1900, The Last Emperor) and primitive (The Sheltering Sky), but nothing he has done since this 1970 film has compared in terms of dramatic force or imaginative flair.
Cinema details: Review, page 90. Quentin Curtis returns next week.