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The Way Of The Gun | Christopher Mcquarrie (18) Where The Heart Is | Matt Williams (12) Suzhou River | Lou Ye (NC) Little Nicky | Steven Brill (15) Second Generation | Shane O'Sullivan (15)
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Christopher Mcquarrie, having written one of the most stylish and intricate thrillers of the Nineties in The Usual Suspects, has now stepped behind the camera for his full début in The Way of the Gun. It's a high-stakes kidnap movie that wears its violence and unpleasantness with a certain defiant pride. Ryan Phillippe and Benicio del Toro play a pair of poster-boy desperadoes who abduct a pregnant young woman (Juliette Lewis) on hearing that she's being paid a cool million to act as surrogate mother. The fun begins once it's discovered that the father-to-be is a money launderer for the mob and can't release any ransom payment that may be traced back to him. So two hired guns are sent after the kidnappers, by now on their way to Mexico, while the boss's veteran bagman (James Caan) lurks in the background waiting for a slip-up.

Christopher Mcquarrie, having written one of the most stylish and intricate thrillers of the Nineties in The Usual Suspects, has now stepped behind the camera for his full début in The Way of the Gun. It's a high-stakes kidnap movie that wears its violence and unpleasantness with a certain defiant pride. Ryan Phillippe and Benicio del Toro play a pair of poster-boy desperadoes who abduct a pregnant young woman (Juliette Lewis) on hearing that she's being paid a cool million to act as surrogate mother. The fun begins once it's discovered that the father-to-be is a money launderer for the mob and can't release any ransom payment that may be traced back to him. So two hired guns are sent after the kidnappers, by now on their way to Mexico, while the boss's veteran bagman (James Caan) lurks in the background waiting for a slip-up.

Anyone expecting the devious subtlety of Suspects will be hugely disappointed by this. It sets its stall out in the first minutes, when a woman is punched full in the face and a violent brawl ensues. McQuarrie tries to put a spin on the brutish machismo, by giving his cold-blooded killers a philosophical bent. "Karma's only justice without the satisfaction", says Phillippe, who has done something odd to his voice (his narration is tough-guy toneless, and sounds absurd). During a tense pow-wow with Caan at a lonely roadhouse, del Toro remarks, "These days they all want to be criminals rather than commit a crime", a reflection on posturing that might carry some weight if the film itself weren't so keen on glamourising professional thuggery.

It's barely possible to talk about a venture like The Way of the Gun without mentioning usual suspect Tarantino, but however different McQuarrie believes his film to be, up there on the screen the gunplay, the gut-shots, the grievous bodily harm are all reminders of Mr T's persistent influence. At times McQuarrie even outdoes him: a doctor with blood up to his elbows as he delivers a baby (poor Lewis) suddenly pulls a gun out of his medicine bag and shoots an assailant in the throat. The plot eventually topples into bloody farce, and by the time of the final shoot-up in a Mexican brothel, all one cares to note is its resemblance to the close of Peckinpah's The Getaway. Anyone with fond memories of Keyser Soze would be well-advised to dodge this one.

Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd and Stockard Channing all star in Where The Heart Is, and, astonishingly, it's still a trial to sit through. Portman plays Novalee Nation (ugh), a trailer-park tootsie who, pregnant and abandoned by her meathead boyfriend, secretly camps out in an Oklahoma Wal-Mart and in the fullness of time delivers her baby Americus (double ugh) right there on the shop-floor. She becomes a local celebrity, and a protective coterie of friends forms around her; there's a kindly mother figure (Channing) who takes her in, a kindly surrogate big sister (Judd), a kindly photographer (Keith David) who launches her on a new career, not forgetting the kindly librarian (James Frain) who's too shy to confess his love and... I think I'm going to throw up.

Adapted from a novel by Billie Letts, the script serves up a crisis every 15 minutes, as Novalee struggles heroically on as single mom and becomes (hey!) an award-winning photographer. Thank God for a brief, but blessed, cameo by Joan Cusack as a spiky music agent, providing the film with its one great moment.

A wannabe country singer introduces his audition piece, "I just finished writing this song". Cusack, checking her nails, imperially bored: "I got goosebumps already". I'd almost go back to hear that again. Almost.

Despite paying close attention, the double-identity gimmicks of Lou Ye's Suzhou River rather flummoxed me. A videographer wanders the streets of Shanghai spray-painting his pager number on street walls and thinking about the girlfriend, Meimei (Zhou Xun) who left him without warning. This links up with the story of a motorcycle courier (Jia Hongsheng) and his involvement with a girl called Moudan (also played by Zhou) who drowned herself in the Suzhou River. The rest of the plot passed all comprehension, but Ye's view of the city, seen under thick curtains of rain, is compellingly atmospheric.

More infantilist rubbish from Adam Sandler in Little Nicky, being a comedy about Satan's runty son ascending to earth, in order to save New York from the evil reign of his two older brothers. One of the latter is played by Rhys Ifans, just in case you needed any further convincing of the film's worthlessness: you can put this down with The Water Boy and Big Daddy on your must-never-see list. Why Sandler is regarded by most of the world as a comic master - not as what he is - a charmless and exasperating oaf) remains one of modern cinema's conundrums.

I'm not sure how Second Generation managed to secure a West End release, given that nothing about it - composition, story, acting, script - suggests the remotest acquaintance with film-making technique. It was "written and directed" by 31-year-old Shane O'Sullivan, who either has extraordinary gifts of persuasion or else knows where the bodies are buried.

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