Alfie (15)<br/>Alien vs Predator (15)<br/>Coffee and Cigarettes (15)<br/>Five Children and It (U)<br/>The Princess Diaries 2 (U)<br/>Chaos (18)

What's it all about? Well, there's this alien princess buried in ice, right...
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Nearly four decades after Cilla Black shrieked, "What's it all about?", a remake of Alfie (15) has come along, and it's one that keeps conscientiously to the outline of the original. Alfie is still a lothario who works as a limo driver in his spare time, and he has very nearly the same flings with the same women, interspersed with the same philosophical worries.

Nearly four decades after Cilla Black shrieked, "What's it all about?", a remake of Alfie (15) has come along, and it's one that keeps conscientiously to the outline of the original. Alfie is still a lothario who works as a limo driver in his spare time, and he has very nearly the same flings with the same women, interspersed with the same philosophical worries.

The difference is that the new film looks much more glamorous than the down-at-heel Michael Caine version. Alfie's hunting ground is now New York, not London, and Manhattan's sunlit skyscrapers have rarely looked so dazzling. All of his conquests - Marisa Tomei, Susan Sarandon and Sienna Miller among them - are just as gorgeous, although not as gorgeous as Alfie himself: Caine's rough diamond has been replaced by Jude Law's polished one.

His killer smile tempered by an air of tousle-haired boyishness and feminine affability, Law's Alfie could seduce Ann Widdecombe.

But the 1966 film's topical, issue-based narrative doesn't fit in this lustrous 21st-century setting: bathed in the light that reflects off the Big Apple's buildings and Law's teeth, the story's darkness disappears. After Sex and the City, Alfie's love life seems positively monastic; and after Nick Hornby, his anxieties about commitment and adulthood seem trivial. So what's it all about? In 2004, it's not about anything much at all.

If Alfie is unnecessary, at least it's not Alien vs Predator (15), a criminally dumb action movie that travesties both sci-fi franchises. Having laboured hard to concoct the most nonsensical way he could of squashing the iconic monsters into one film, the writer-director, Paul W S Anderson, sends his human heroes off to investigate a prehistoric pyramid, buried deep beneath the Antarctic ice. There they get themselves caught up in an intergalactic pheasant shoot: apparently the Predators (pictured) pop down to Earth once every 100 years, and breed some Aliens for sport.

With the ludicrous back story out of the way - conveniently inscribed on the pyramid walls - the film rushes past with no pauses for atmosphere or characterisation, so you forget the humans as soon as they're killed, if not before. As for the tussle between the beasties, it's nothing but a WWF scrap.

Alien vs Predator is far less rewarding than Alfred Molina vs Steve Coogan, Tom Waits vs Iggy Pop, and Cate Blanchett vs Cate Blanchett's cousin (also played by Cate Blanchett). These slyly observed face-offs make up three out of the 11 vignettes in Jim Jarmusch's portmanteau, Coffee and Cigarettes (15) - unfortunately they're the only three with any substance. The film glues together a bunch of Jarmusch's black-and-white shorts, each of which features two or three people chatting with a ciggie in one hand and a cup of java in the other. Most are so trifling that you'll need a strong coffee to stay awake.

Five Children and It (U) is an amiable adaptation of E Nesbit's novel. The Five Children are brothers and sisters who go to stay in their uncle's old mansion. The "It" is a spiny goblin (voiced with dotty insouciance - and a French accent - by Eddie Izzard) that grants them one wish a day. The film is aimed at Harry Potter fans, hence the casting of Kenneth Branagh and Zoë Wanamaker, but only the very youngest viewers won't spot that the acting, plotting and CGI are as creaky as the mansion itself.

The Princess Diaries 2 (U) is the unbearable sequel to a film about a San Francisco gal (Anne Hathaway) who discovers that she's heir to the throne of Genovia, a European realm where the houses seem to be made of gingerbread and everyone speaks English. The first film had a decent fairytale premise, whereas all the follow-up has is some contrived machinations about the princess having to marry within 30 days or cede her crown to a villainous viscount (John Rhys-Davies).

Not that the plot detains anyone for long. Most of this endless film is a parade of cute animals, people falling over, and a pick'n'mix of kooky supporting characters. It's all underpinned by the message that being rich is great and that countries are best governed by hereditary monarchs.

Made by Hideo Nakata, the director of Ring and Dark Water, Chaos (18) is a Hitchcockian kidnap thriller. Nakata delivers the requisite twists and turns, but the characters are as distinctive as lab rats in a maze.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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