All In Good Time, Nigel Cole, 93 mins (12A)
How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Adrian Grunberg, 96 mins (15)
Jeff, Who Lives At Home, Jay and Mark Duplass, 83 mins (15)

If you're heading down Mexico way, Mel, make sure you've got a return ticket

The question that's usually prompted by the British film industry's more feeble offerings is, "How did this get funded?" But All In Good Time must have seemed a safe bet. It's directed by Nigel Cole, who made Calendar Girls, and it's scripted by Ayub Khan-Din, who wrote East Is East, so the producers must have assumed it would be ... well, a colourful, crowd-pleasing comedy drama. They wouldn't have expected a film as boring and hollow as this one.

Still, the premise was always going to cause problems. The film's hero and heroine are Anglo-Indian newlyweds, Reece Ritchie and Amara Karan, who move in with Ritchie's parents, Meera Syal and Harish Patel. They've been saving themselves for marriage, but a cancelled honeymoon, and Ritchie's self-consciousness about being just a plasterboard wall away from his mum and dad, mean that days and then weeks pass without their nuptials being consummated. All of this is handled with as little bawdiness as possible – disappointingly, you might say – but given the subject matter, it's still not a movie you can take the whole family to.

It's also an extremely thin idea from which to hang an entire film. Khan-Din and Cole could have bulked it up by developing Ritchie and Karan's personalities, or by surrounding them with a fascinating supporting cast, but every character is two-dimensional, at most, and the dialogue is as flat as a chapati, even though Khan-Din adapted the screenplay from his own hit play, Rafta Rafta. As a result, All In Good Time moves so slowly that the title starts to seem ironic.

In comparison, Mel Gibson's new film How I Spent My Summer Vacation, seems like a triumph – and it didn't even get a cinema release in the US. Gibson stars as a career criminal who ends up in a Mexican jail that could be mistaken for a shanty town. It's a terrific setting for a thriller, but the film doesn't quite live up to it. The cartoonish action jars with the real-life squalor and suffering, and it's a teensy bit jingoistic to have an American outsmarting the Mexicans at every turn. Set against that, though, is an unusually cynical anti-hero, and such richness of plot and detail that it could almost have been adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel. Summer Vacation feels less like a vehicle for a billionaire superstar than a tough, pugnacious little indie flick that's punching above its weight.

Gibson has undoubtedly starred in worse films than this, although one of them – M Night Shyamalan's Signs – is a touchstone for the titular hero of Jeff, Who Lives At Home. Played by Jason Segel, he's a gentle, 30-year-old slacker who smokes pot on his mother's couch all day, which could be why he interprets Signs as a testament to the universe's power to reveal his hidden destiny. When he's supposed to be out buying wood-glue for his long-suffering mother (Susan Sarandon), he drifts off instead on an odyssey around suburban Louisiana, bumping into his disapproving brother, Ed Helms, and his frustrated sister-in-law, Judy Greer.

Considering that its leading men have starred in such big, raucous comedies as The Hangover and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Jeff ... is an appealingly low-key and laidback charmer that focuses on the everyday dissatisfactions of ordinary people. Some of the cutesy quirkiness is off-putting, mind you. From now on, xylophones should be banned from the soundtrack of every film which isn't a biopic of Patrick Moore.

 

Next week

Nicholas Barber prepares to bow down before The Dictator, starring Sacha Baron Cohen

Also showing (13/05/2012)

Faust (134 mins, 15)

Alexander Sokurov (Russian Ark) conjures up a mesmeric atmosphere for his surreal Goethe adaptation. But any viewers hoping for comprehensible narrative will soon lose patience, or consciousness.

 

Beloved (135 mins, 15)

Christophe Honoré's episodic musical spans four decades – and it feels like it. Ludivine Sagnier plays the heroine in her younger years; Catherine Deneuve takes over for her older ones.

 

Café de Flore (115 mins, 15)

The second of this week's films to feature both 1960s Paris and contemporary Montreal, Café de Flore has two strong storylines, but it resorts to trite mysticism to link them.

 

Charlie Casanova (94 mins, 18)

Unwatchably incompetent Irish film about a homicidal businessman. Nicholas Barber

Critic’s choice

A man, his beard and the Great Outdoors. Two Years at Sea is the portrait of hermit Jake Williams, and a stunning handmade reverie from British artist/documentarian Ben Rivers. Goodbye First Love sees the return of the French prodigy Mia Hansen-Love (Father of my Children). Here, she offers an autobiographical drama about sex, love, coming of age ... and architecture.

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