Films: Also Showing

HALLOWEEN H20 Steve Miner (18) SMALL SOLDIERS Joe Dante (PG) AIR BUD Charles Martin Smith (PG) THE GOVERNESS Sandra Goldbacher (15) THE DISAPPEARANCE OF FINBAR Sue Clayton (15)
Click to follow
IT WASN'T so long ago that you knew where you were with a horror movie: creaking doors; a porch-swing trembling in the midnight breeze; a reflection glimpsed in a carving knife. Few film-makers draw on such traditional ingredients any more, and those who do feel obliged to spruce them up with a modern, or rather post-Modern, garnish. These days you're more likely to have your nerves jangled by the ferocious onslaught of in-jokes than a madman on the loose.

Halloween H20, which has nothing whatsoever to do with water, is a good example both of what used to be fresh about the horror genre, and what has quickly gone stale. It picks up the story of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), 20 years after the events depicted in John Carpenter's original Halloween. Back then, Laurie wore knee-socks and screamed a lot as her deranged brother, Michael, came after her with a knife. Now she's a school ma'am rather than a schoolgirl, though her tonsils are given ample opportunity for exercise when Michael pops up in her life again and starts doing those embarrassing things that siblings do - terrorising her son, stabbing her boyfriend: you know the deal.

The shocks are effectively executed by the director, Steve Miner, though it's when the picture departs from the old conventions that it proves least effective. Like most people, I enjoy my horror served with a smile, but when it comes with a rambunctious guffaw, the chilling effect is somewhat diminished. Personally, I think the whole genre is poised to disappear up its own stab-wound.

There are some inventive moments in the new children's adventure, Small Soldiers, though the picture as a whole feels flatly derivative, most of it coming on like a Toy Story for the moderately disturbed. It begins with the launch of a new range of action figures, each capable of autonomous speech and movement thanks to the insertion of a microchip borrowed from the US military. The name of one of the figures should give you a clue as to what is about to happen - Major Chip Hazard. Yes, the toys go on the rampage, which provides the seasoned director, Joe Dante, with a chance to reprise the glories of his best film, Gremlins. Walking, talking action men are rammed into the waste disposal and emerge with their legs mangled; meanwhile, a teenage girl is attacked by her collection of dolls after they have been sinisterly re-programmed. The film tries to promote the value of learning and experience over mindless violence, though its argument is weakened by all the best bits involving wanton destruction, or toys being hacked up.

It really pains me to recommend a movie about a basketball-playing dog, but Air Bud is great fun: a daft tale invested with just the right degree of spirit and humour. A young boy whose father has recently died moves to a new town and befriends Buddy, a golden retriever with the soul of a Harlem Globetrotter. Buddy can do spectacular things in his little vest and trainers on the basketball court, and when it comes to those post- game interviews with Garth Crooks on Grandstand, he'll hardly be any less articulate than David Beckham, will he? There's nothing very surprising about Air Bud, except perhaps that it gets just about everything right.

In The Governess, Minnie Driver plays a young, Jewish girl in 19th-century London who leaves home after the death of her father to become governess to a family on the Isle of Skye. There, she becomes involved with lusty old Tom Wilkinson, who is busy inventing photography and growing sideburns. The affair which develops between them is intended to be a thing of tentative passion, but there's so little depth to the screenplay that the film degenerates into a parade of chilly ideas sorely in need of defrosting. The one saving grace is the marvellous Driver, whose moments of pain and abandon are the only time the picture stirs.

The Disappearance of Finbar is an Irish-Swedish co-production intended to evoke the laconic humour of Aki Kaurismaki. Just what the world was crying out for. Finbar Flynn (Jonathan Rhys Meyers in his third role of the week after Velvet Goldmine and The Governess) is an Irish layabout who vanishes mysteriously one day, only to call his best friend Danny (Luke Griffin) three years later from Stockholm. Danny departs for Sweden to find his chum, and en route encounters a series of drunken eccentrics that even Jim Jarmusch would have rejected on the grounds of an excess of wackiness.

All films are on release from tomorrow

Ryan Gilbey