FILM / On the road: a hit and misfit affair: IP5 (15) - Director: Jean-Jacques Beneix (Fr); Ruby in Paradise (15) - Director: Victor Nunez (US); Benefit of the Doubt (18) - Director: Jonathan Heap (UK); CB4 (18) - Director: Tamra Davies (US)

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The Independent Culture
Rebels, dreamers, vagabonds and wandering visionaries: Jean- Jacques Beineix just can't get enough of them, bless his bohemian heart - think of the chic zen mastermind Gorodish in Diva or the doomed (read: petulant) outsider-heroine of Betty Blue. Beineix must have been in a state of bliss while shooting IP5 (15). Apart from packing more daft ideas into two hours than might once have seemed possible, the film also boasts the gaudiest trio of misfits he's ever managed to assemble in one movie.

There's Tony (Olivier Martinez) a graffiti-sprayer and petty criminal; his young sidekick Jockey (Sekkou Sall), a frail pre-pubescent rapper with doe eyes and long delicate fingers; and Leon (Yves Montand), a mysterious old crank - part shaman, part charlatan - who likes to hug trees but keeps a loaded Luger in his trousers. Artists all, you see.

Tony and Jockey have been bullied into driving a van-load of luminous garden gnomes across France (Beineix does have a sense of humour, though it's unreliable), but decide to ditch their load and go off in search of the nurse who has smitten Tony's heart. They steal the first of a sequence of cars, and discover Leon in the back seat. Leon, who is on the run from an asylum, proves capable of walking on water and magical healing; he's in search of his long- lost sweetheart, and persuades the youngsters to help him. Alas, there are tears before bedtime.

Does IP5 amount to anything more than an ageing hippy's indulgence, then? Curiously, it does, and that despite the fact that its script doesn't provide much imaginative flesh for these three lay figures, so that their eccentricities lack either real menace or real wit - Beineix's characters are not so much beautiful losers as cute losers. Yet the film is oddly engaging even when it is at its silliest.

One shot catches Montand bathing rapturously in a 'lustral' rain shower, framed against a dazzling halo of cosmic light, and though the effect is ludicrous, it's also unexpectedly touching - there's a hint of genuine spiritual ecstasy in the hocus-pocus. (This was Montand's last performance before his death; he may have sensed that, and certainly gives the part of Leon more than it really deserves.)

The film is full of other striking visual contrivances and finds - Beineix may well be the first director to have spotted the visual poetry of fields full of circular hay bales. Nor, for all his wilfulness, has he altogether abandoned the impulse to dazzle audiences that propelled Diva - at times, it's almost possible to believe he still wants to be an entertainer.

Ruby in Paradise (15) shares with IP5 the traditional aimlessness of a road movie, though it gets most of the actual motoring over and done with in its title sequence, which shows our heroine Ruby Lee Gissing (Ashley Judd) driving from Tennessee to a cheesy resort on the Florida coast. She lands a job in a trinket shop, loses it, then gets it back. The End. Oh, all right: she also has a couple of scrapes with unappealing men - a lecher, a snobbish hippy - scribbles existential apercus in her diary and spends a lot of time staring at things.

Victor Nunez's low-budget production arrives in the UK laden with prizes and booster tags such as 'masterpiece', which proves that there is still a thriving audience for the sort of movie in which out-of-season holiday resorts throb with unspecified meaning, in which the camera gloats over shelves of American verse and characters actually murmur 'It's now or never' to themselves when they have to make a decision. (Most of the dialogue has a jarringly inauthentic ring.) It's just as well that Ashley Judd does indeed have a telling screen presence; without her, Ruby in Paradise would simply wallow in its own sensitivity.

Benefit of the Doubt (18) is an unhappy title for a film that doesn't achieve a second of teasing ambiguity. Before you so much as glimpse Donald Sutherland's brooding features, you're certain that he's a wrong 'un: his voice is heard rasping ungrammatical platitudes about family values to his parole board, which means that his daughter (Amy Irving, sans the familiar curls), whose testimony put him in jail, should head for the Arizona hills straight away instead of pottering around until the final reel. At best, Jonathan Heap's debut is a plodder, for all of Sutherland's gleeful hamming. At worst, it tries to be parasitic on horrors it can't address.

Tamra Davis's CB4 (18) might well have been called This Is Spinal Rap, since it cheerfully plagiarises the methods of Rob Reiner's mockumentary and uses them to scour the sub-cultures of gangsta rap and hip-hop. The basic joke is promising (the film's co-writer is the music critic Nelson George). Members of the terrifying and fortunately fictitious rap act CB4, who rejoice in stage names like Stab Master Arson and write lyrics about raping cats, are actually meek, middle-class boys who have stolen their names and attitudes from some real gangsters who aren't happy about the theft.

Some of the parodies, pastiches and pasquinades that are spun around this storyline have real bite, especially the ones aimed at the fantasies engendered by posturing rap stars. Quite a few fizzle, though it's the kind of headlong comedy in which a new joke pops up with just about every new frame. Moreover, even the non-aficionado can hear the difference between the rap on offer in CB4 and the artsy kind composed by Beineix for IP5, which has all the authenticity of Taiwanese Country and Western.

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