Director: Stephen Sommers (US)
Josh and SAM (12)
Director: Billy Weber (US)
Rookie of the Year (PG)
Director: Daniel Stern (US)
Look Who's Talking Now (12)
Director: Tom Ropelewski (US)
A Business Affair (15)
Director: Charlotte Brandstrom (US)
The Premonition (18)
Director: Rumle Hammerich (US)
Back to earth with a bump: after pigging out on the cream of world cinema, we return to a line-up of fast-food MacMovies. The least worst is probably The Adventures of Huck Finn, but its success must be credited to the source material: it is an able, if pedestrian rendering of Mark Twain's classic, plastered with irritating, virtually wall-to-wall music and some unexpectedly dull cinematography from Janusz Kaminski, the Oscar-winning DP of Schindler's List.
Elijah Wood, one of Hollywood's more bearable child actors (thank goodness the budget probably didn't stretch to Macauley Culkin) plays the quizzical, free-spirited Huck, who hops on a raft down the Mississippi to escape a brutal father and hooks up with an escaped slave, Courtney B Vance. The film wears its modern, enlightened political conscience a little ostentatiously ('Just 'cos an idea's popular, like slavery, don't make it right'), but has quite a bit of fun along the way: a highlight is the arrival of two scam artists, Robbie Coltrane and Jason Robards, the latter sporting a deliriously (and intentionally) phoney English accent to rival Dick van Dyke's landmark performance in Mary Poppins.
'Enough of the slop,' declares Huck roundly at one of the movie's more maudlin interludes: he's a pragmatist who won't make a psychodrama out of a crisis. For him, life and its problems are refreshingly simple. That's not the case in the contemporary kids' tales trotted out this week for the half-term market; they reflect an America of narcissism, child shrinks and dysfunctional families. In Josh and SAM the 12-year-old Josh is pole-axed by his parents' divorce and mother's remarriage - plus he's worried he might be gay.
He escapes into fantasy, telling his younger brother, Sam, that his name is an acronym (Stategically Altered Mutant) and he's a fine-tuned government killing machine. The little lie spins into a vast and tangled web as the two brothers set out on the road and tumble into a stream of odd, incongruous encounters. This is a small, surprisingly likeable film, but one which will have difficulty finding an audience.
Rookie of the Year is the movie which the actor Daniel Stern (Joe Pesci's sidekick in the Home Alone movies) has chosen for his debut as a director. In it a kid's broken arm heals into a 100mph thunderbolt, earning him a place as star pitcher in a major league baseball team. The rest delivers the expected mix of schmaltz (our hero resolves his feeling about his absent dad) and slapstick, with a manic, breathtakingly misjudged performance from Stern himself, as a coach who's one game short of a pennant.
The big puzzle of Look Who's Talking Now] is how Mikey, the hip baby voiced by Bruce Willis in the original Look Who's Talking, lost all his smarts when he learned to talk: now he's just an ordinary boring six-year-old wondering whether or not to believe in Santa Claus. This time the voice-over wisecracks are entrusted to the family dog, a mangy mutt vocalised by Danny DeVito, who gives the film a small and very welcome shot of wised-up sleaze, as well as a '12' certificate. The others are present in the flesh only: John Travolta fans should hang fire for his real performance in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.
For grown-ups, A Business Affair, a 'love story for the Nineties', finds Carole Bouquet's aspiring writer torn between her famous, self-centred novelist husband (Jonathan Pryce) and his rapacious American publisher (Christopher Walken). It is intended as a sophisticated romantic comedy, but the script's infelicities are of Golden Turkey calibre and its nave take on literary London will have jaws hitting the floor. The best thing is Walken, whose character is described variously and splendidly as 'the Brooklyn book bandit turned literary Lothario' and 'the Nijinsky of cunnilingus'; he appears to have, very sensibly, resolved not to take matters too seriously, and surfs through his role with amusing, ironic detachment.
The Premonition is a Danish psychothriller - or is it Swedish? Whatever the case, the film is morbid, dark and Scandinavian. During the longest night of the Nordic winter, a high-school student's nightmares seem set to come true, although the murderer may not be the man in her dreams. It's standard horror-flick fare, filmed in stately, slow- moving manner, as though A Nightmare on Elm Street were directed by a (very) junior Bergman. A curiosity.