It may be notorious for the moment its hormonal teenage hero vented his frustrations on a pastry, but American Pie also had a heart, a sheaf of tightly scripted storylines, and more exquisitely timed comic set-pieces than the combined works of Judd Apatow and the Farrelly brothers. Better still, it had a sense of purpose. The four protagonists all pledged to lose their virginities by the time they left school – and movie plots don't get more urgent than that.
It's this men-on-a-mission momentum that's missing from the film's third sequel, American Pie: Reunion, which reassembles the cast after a nine-year break. Seeing them all as thirtysomethings is still intriguing, though. Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan are now a married couple with a toddler instead of a sex life. Seann William Scott's Stifler is the same sociopathic party animal he always was. Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Mena Suvari, and all the others you can barely remember have their own minor issues, too. But having re-introduced the characters, the film doesn't do anything with them except gather them for a school reunion. And even that premise is fumbled: it's the 13th anniversary of their graduation, not the 10th.
The first of the films not to be written by the series' creator, Adam Herz, this fourth slice of American Pie is nonetheless filled to the crust with affection for his characters – an affection it assumes that its audience will share. It relies on our being so happy to hang out with the gang again, listening to them talk about how old they feel, that we won't mind the script being only mildly funny. Like most class reunions, this one is better in anticipation than in the event.
Jason Statham has never made any claim to versatility, but when it comes to kicking his way through a roomful of bad guys while growling one-liners and keeping a straight face, Statham does it better than anyone since Arnie, Bruce and Sly. He's also an idol to follically challenged men everywhere. (Not that that's relevant to me.) It's just a pity that his films are rarely worthy of his presence in them, as you'll know if you've suffered through the Transporter trilogy, Death Race, Killer Elite or The Mechanic. Thank goodness, then, for Safe, a hard-boiled New York crime thriller which is just as efficient, unpretentious, and wryly aware of its own silliness as Statham himself.
Far more sophisticated in its storytelling than any of the Transporter films, Safe starts by nipping around the globe, and back and forth in time, until we're up to speed on its characters. It may not make much sense, but the plot is packed with enough twists and revelations to keep things moving until the next well-staged shoot-out or fight scene. We meet a young maths genius (Catherine Chan) who is used as a human databank by unsavoury criminals. When she memorises a vital safe combination, she becomes a target for Russian mobsters, Chinese mobsters and corrupt policemen, who seem to be competing to see who can kill the most innocent New Yorkers. Luckily for her, Statham may not be the washed-up cage fighter he first appears to be. He may, in fact, be ... a Jason Statham character. Let battle commence.
In the arresting opening sequence of Monsieur Lazhar, a boy glimpses the hanging body of his schoolteacher through a chink in the classroom door, a scene typical of the grace and subtlety with which Philippe Falardeau's French-Canadian drama handles weighty matters. After the suicide, a new teacher arrives: a gentlemanly Algerian refugee (Mohamed Fellag) with a tragedy of his own to come to terms with. He's a descendant of many inspirational teachers in film, but unlike Robin Williams, Julia Roberts and the rest, he's more interested in doing a decent job than in changing lives. The film as a whole is just as modest, dealing intelligently with such hot topics as immigration, education, bereavement and corporal punishment, but remaining charming and amusing all the way to the home bell. Oscar-nominated in this year's Best Foreign Language category, it's one of few movies to be set in a school that don't keep trying to teach us something.
Greta Gerwig leads the fragrant, Firbank-quoting maidens in Damsels in Distress, a witty, eccentric comeback from long-lost Metropolitan and Barcelona director Whit Stillman. The French screen's tough guy par excellence was Jean Gabin. A retrospective at BFI Souththbank features Marcel Carné's 1938 classic Le Quai des Brumes, with the mesmerisingly bereted Michèle Morgan.
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