FILM / Two dames who dine on suckers: Innocent Blood John Landis (US); Old Lady who Walked in the Sea (18) Laurent Heynemann (Fr)

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The Independent Culture
Who says there are no good parts for women in the movies these days? This week there are no less than two. The films themselves are negligible, and one of the characters turns out to be a sex-crazed homicidal vampire, the other a sex-crazed, 70-year-old jewel thief but, under the circumstances, we're scarcely in a position to quibble. And anyway, both the actresses in question roar through the roles with a relish that makes their ramshackle vehicles almost worth a look.

After An American Werewolf in New York, A Parisian Vampire in Pittsburgh: having frittered away his reputation in such dubious diversions as Oscar, Spies Like Us and Three Amigos, John Landis returns to the genre of comedy-horror that made his name. Anne Parillaud, the rangy, long-legged secret agent in Nikita, rejected an offer to star in the American remake (the result, The Assassin, fields Brigitte Fonda, opens next week and amply vindicates her decision). The vampire who feeds on Innocent Blood is what caught her eye.

At first she seems much like any other single white female, living in a bedsit, eating badly on convenience foods, feeling lonesome and low. 'It was time to treat myself,' she muses. 'And I thought, what about Italian?' Her takeaway of choice is a mafioso meatball, eaten al dente. Being on the whole a benevolent vampire, she only dines on bad guys. One of these hoods (Robert Loggia) develops a taste for sucking his own victims dry - it's pretty much what he was doing all along - and Parillaud must join forces with a young policeman in order to lay him to rest.

The film starts well. Strange, seductive, gamine and aggressive, Parillaud's persona is perfectly tailored to her role; she wraps all the cops on her trail round her little finger with the most effortlessly disarming of smiles. The special effects are imaginatively used; her eyes flash red at dinnertime; in the clasp of passions they glow gently through a changing rainbow of colours. The Sinatra soundtrack - which reflects the Mob's decidedly orthodox taste in easy listening - inspires some sly double entendres (I've Got You Under My Skin / That Old Black Magic) as Parillaud prepares to tuck in.

The action courses through a dark, wintry, empty city but, while in American Werewolf Landis wittily riffed on such stock London locations as Piccadilly Circus, the Pittsburgh of Innocent Blood remains a bland, anonymous place; some critics seem to have gone away thinking the film was set in New York. And Parillaud fades away from the scene for long tracts - what starts out as a wicked sex comedy turns into mundane, silly slapstick. For a while, it looked promising, though.

Jeanne Moreau is the only reason for watching The Old Lady Who Walked in the Sea, which has no other redeeming features, but she's a good one. In an alarming orange wig and vertiginous heels, she totters arthritically along exotic shorelines (Guadeloupe; the Cote d'Azur) in search of jewels to heist, suckers to play and toy-boys to idle with; her spectacular sulking moue may date from long before lip implants were ever imagined, her sexual rapaciousness and physical frailness may stray into the far reaches of grotesquerie, but this 70-year-old conwoman extraordinaire (Moreau plays a little older than her actual age), is not about to go out to grass. She makes the crazed beldames you find in late Fellini look like shrinking violets.

'Despair is not my cup of tea,' she said in a recent interview. 'I won't take on suicidal, resentful, menopausal, desperate or alchoholic women . . . I hope I offer people a glimpse of how life can be.' Her choice of roles has often been audacious, with few concessions to vanity - she's all wrinkles and wattles in a charming cameo as the indignant little nun ('Hell's too good for you]') in Vincent Ward's Map of the Human Heart which, by the way, features Parillaud as the female lead. But, while you fear for, say, Catherine Deneuve's glacial beauty 10 years hence, Moreau's still stunning in old age. And she exudes sexiness, even in her most apparently glamourless incarnation.

The film itself has aged with rather less grace; to be exact, it was made recently but seems of ancient vintage, like one of those jet-setting crime capers of the early Sixties. Moreau executes a couple of desultory scams with the pony-tailed beach bum she has chosen as her 'dauphin' du jour (Luc Thullier, very ineffectual). In slack moments, she and her former lover (Michel Serrault, the shrilling drag queen in La Cage aux Folles) trade baroque insults - 'Lank old mare ready for the slaughterhouse'; 'Rotting old ramrod'; 'Pus-filled raven' - all enounced with flawless vowels and olde-worlde courtesy. Adapted from a novel, the dialogue has a straitjacketed, literary feel and Moreau and Serrault skip through it with brilliant agility. The film itself just limps along.