Film: Laughing all the way to the grave

Dreams with the Fishes Finn Taylor (18) n Savior Peter Antonijevic (15) n The Last Time I Committed Suicide Stephen Kay (15) n Point Blank John Boorman (15)

HERE'S A recipe for disaster. Take an uptight suicidal loser preparing to throw himself off a bridge. Add a junkie with a month to live and a headful of hedonistic fantasies that he's determined to realise on his way to the grave. Give them a few weeks on the road together, stir in a sprinkling of zany supporting characters and leave to simmer until the inevitable tearful farewell. Serve with sick-bag at the ready.

Perhaps it's the realisation that Dream with the Fishes could so easily have been a nightmare that makes its success seem refreshing and deserved. A movie about two young men learning to live in the shadow of death has no right being witty, effervescent and adventurous, but Dream with the Fishes is all of these things. Rather than taking his cue from tearjerkers like Hawks, the writer-director Finn Taylor combines the salty irreverence of The Last Detail with the woozy non-sequiturs of Drugstore Cowboy to create a work that seems not so much scripted as daydreamed. The picture is shot in frazzled, bleached-out colours; the whole film seems hallucinatory, not least during a glorious acid-trip sequence in which a straight-arrow cop unwittingly imbibes a multiple dose of microdots and has a Mexican stand-off with a rack of doughnuts.

The film consistently smothers sentimentality before it has a chance to flourish, and the cast are instrumental in this. As the terminally ill Nick, Brad Hunt is aggressively vivacious, and the glee with which he plunges into his fantasies, whether it's nude bowling or nude bank robbery, is very winning. In the role of the potential straight-man Terry, David Arquette mines the rich comic possibilities contained in his mixture of naivety and indignation. When it's time to get serious, Taylor knows how to temper the drama with absurdity. Yes, we get the "Funeral March", though it's plucked out on an electric guitar. And when the death-bed is finally wheeled on, the script concentrates on those pressing matters that might distract you on the cusp of extinction - not the meaning of life, but the names of the Seven Dwarves.

There are also plenty of unexpected giggles in Savior, though given that the film is set in war-torn Bosnia, we should assume that they are mostly unintentional. In a bizarre pre-credits sequence, Dennis Quaid loses his wife (Nastassja Kinski) and son in a Paris bomb blast, then avenges their death by gunning down a row of Muslims at prayer. The next thing you know, Quaid is a hired gun for the Serbs, shaking his head at various atrocities. When he sighs "This war sucks," you'd better cherish the line - it's the film's first and only shot at characterisation or political commentary.

Savior is produced by Oliver Stone, and bears all the worst trademarks of Stone's own films. The horror of war is measured only in the extremity of torture, with mutilated victims served up for our delectation like macabre entrees at a cannibals' banquet. I might feel guilty for laughing at something with so grave a subject matter were the whole film not soulless and calculating. It wants your tears, but deserves only your jeers.

Doesn't Keanu Reeves look like Tony Slattery these days? The thought struck me while watching him trying not to bump into furniture in his supporting role in The Last Time I Committed Suicide. Heaven knows there wasn't much else to think about during this mannered and vacuous dip into the life of the Beat poet Neal Cassady, played by Thomas Jane. The film just assembles the same old Beat Generation cliches: blue smoke, white vests and black coffee, maaan.

John Boorman's Point Blank, re-released this week, first appeared in 1967, the same year as Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai. Both pictures were ahead of their time, and seem ahead of our time too, in their use of violence as an expression of character rather than to generate excitement.

In Boorman's brooding Point Blank, Lee Marvin is Walker, the heavy who stomps around LA looking for the partner who gunned him down. But it's a stark, gloomy quest which can only compound Walker's feelings of impotence and alienation; as he stalks parking lots and corridors, his clicking footsteps ring out like a metronome counting down the seconds to death. Boorman's dexterous manipulation of the fractured narrative ensures that you can never secure a sure footing - the film's surface is as treacherous as a fun-house floor. How mighty and troubling it still seems.

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