FILM / Hanging on a second

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The Independent Culture
Dave, a cheery comedy about how the President's exact double took up permanent residence in the White House, was released in the United States last May, and has taken a while to arrive here. Perhaps it was the scenario: the unseating of a dour, bespectacled incumbent by a younger and subtly more personable pretender (both played by Kevin Kline) - Dave's hair has to be greyed up and slicked down before the illusion is perfect. In 1992 that scenario must have looked fantastical (Dave was written before the last American Presidential election), but fantasy was overtaken by actuality.

Or perhaps it was that, afterwards, the shine wore off Clinton a little too fast: Dave, which shows its new broom sweeping in refreshing changes, wants to be sunny about the possibility of this in an age of political cynicism - Capra for the post-Watergate generation. Dave can make a difference - but the film has to invent an implausibly stern and upright Vice President (Ben Kingsley) to stitch its happy ending into place.

Whatever, the spin doctors have been busily repositioning the picture as a romantic comedy. There's a new poster with the First Couple in the foreground, and the director, Ivan Reitman, likes to talk about it as a Return of Martin Guerre - the story of a woman who falls in love with an impostor masquerading as her husband.

How Dave fools the First Lady (Sigourney Weaver) is one of the film's great imponderables - a scene where she surprises him in the shower suggests that he's an anatomically correct copy of the real thing, down to the last crucial detail, if in better working order.

The romance might secure the women's vote, but it's the most formulaic aspect of the story. Still the film has great performances, in particular from Kline, an elegant physical actor who makes much comic mileage out of the different body language (bumbling and excited versus stiff and unsmiling) of his two characters. Weaver is a smart and dignified First Lady and Oliver Stone sends himself up humorously (he's the one 'paranoid' observer whom Dave can't take in) among a raft of US politicians and media personalities playing themselves.

Films don't normally offer much for women in the role-model department, but this is a bumper week, what with Weaver and, in the other releases, two models- turned-actresses performing boggling feats of wit, physical accomplishment and derring-do. In La Fille de l'air, Beatrice Dalle plays the wife of a criminal imprisoned for life, who learns to pilot a helicopter and spirits him off in an audacious rooftop airlift. This is not bad at all as female fantasies go (although it is, as it happens, based on a true story) and Maroun Bagdadi, who also directed the hostage drama Hors la Vie, brings a deal of spirit to it.

Like the earlier film, it starts off by lulling you into a sense of security, then shatters it in a flurry of threatening confusion as cops break in, sofas are slit open and a world falls apart. Bagdadi has a habit of shooting in tight close-up, focussing on the revealing detail; his film has a fast, fluid, documentary-like energy.

Dalle is not exactly convincing as a woman described in the French press as 'insignificant . . . neither sexy nor confident' (at one point, she admires a photo of Brigitte Bardot, and you know you're meant to think: 'Why, she's the new Bebe'). And Bagdadi seems to have no interest in what makes his characters tick. You would never know that, in real life, her character's brother (Hippolyte Giradot) is also in prison because he shot a man defending her honour, nor that, in real life - at least according to French pundits - these criminals were the children of '68 - armchair intellectuals (both men studied philosophy in prison) kicking their heels with boredom and disappointment after the failed revolution.

Perhaps that fuzziness is the fault of a foreign (Lebanese) director who didn't grasp the niceties of the story. Or perhaps he's ill at ease when dealing with interior emotions; certainly there's no sense of the amour fou driving Dalle to liberate her (on-screen) rather dull lover.

In The Real McCoy model- turned-actress Kim Basinger is an ace bank-robber, who never carries a gun - she's able to foil the most sophisticated alarm system and to crack the safest vault, all the while in designer casuals and perfect hair. Basinger isn't bad, but this is a perfunctory film (the credits list no less than seven producers, usually the sign of a murky broth) with lazy, deja vu plotting and dull characters that actors like Val Kilmer (as Basinger's dumb sidekick) and Terence Stamp (as a baddie with the worst accent in Dixie) barely bother to inhabit.