Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Sacha Gervasi, 85 mins, 12A<br></br>Cadillac Records, Darnell Martin, 109 mins, 15<br></br>Che &ndash; Part Two, Steven Soderbergh, 127 mins, 15

Spinal Tap are so over. Anvil are funnier &#8211; and real
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The makers of This Is Spinal Tap might be tempted to sue for plagiarism when they first see Anvil! The Story of Anvil. Both films are comedies about a superannuated heavy metal band.

Both of them feature Stonehenge, a trip to Japan, and a calamitous tour organised by a band member’s peroxide girlfriend. Anvil’s drummer, Robb Reiner, even shares his name with Spinal Tap’s director, an extra “b” notwithstanding. All that’s saving the new film’s director from a lawsuit is that Anvil! The Story of Anvil isn’t a mockumentary. It’s a documentary about a real band, hard to believe as that might sometimes be.

In the early 1980s, Anvil were tipped as one of heavy rock’s next big things. According to testimonials from Motörhead’s Lemmy and Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, they could have been the Canadian answer to Bon Jovi or Def Leppard if they’d had luck on their side. They didn’t have luck on their side. When we meet Anvil’s two founder members, Reiner and Steve “Lips” Kudlow, they’ve reached their fifties. Kudlow, the band’s singer-guitarist, is working as a van driver for a catering firm in Toronto, poignantly redolent of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler as he steers his van around the wintry city, dreaming of his big-haired 1980s heyday. Sustained by a bittersweet cocktail of disappointment that he’s never been a star, and slobbery optimism that it may yet happen, he and Reiner are still putting out albums, and still playing shows in front of smaller and smaller audiences – although, mercifully, Kudlow no longer sports the bondage harness he wore on stage 25 years ago.

The documentary charts their progress – or lack of – as they make their 13th album, and slog through a European tour of missed trains and empty clubs. Why aren’t they performing to bigger crowds, asks one bystander. “I can answer that in one word ... two words ... three words,” says Reiner. “We haven’t got good management.” Sacha Gervasi has shaped the group’s misadventures into a side-splitting, heartwarming, head-banging ode to dogged persistence and brotherly friendship, studded with as many incidents and as much humour as any fictional film. Not only is it more touching than This Is Spinal Tap, it might even be funnier, too.

It’s strange that a film about a bunch of nonentities should be so much more gripping than Cadillac Records, which is about a pantheon of musical demigods. Despite the title, its subject is actually Chess Records, the seminal Chicago label that specialised in blues and rock’n’roll in the 1950s and 1960s. Adrien Brody plays Leonard Chess, the son of Polish immigrants, who sets up shop in a black neighbourhood, and quickly signs Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Howlin’ Wolf (Eamonn Walker), Chuck Berry (Mos Def) and Etta James (Beyoncé Knowles). It’s a legendary line-up, but Cadillac Records doesn’t delve any deeper into the musicians’ psyches than the liner notes of a Best of Chess CD.

Rather than letting any of them stay in the spotlight, the film keeps skipping from one character to the next. We get lots of scenes of Brody standing with a cigarette in his mouth, watching his latest protégé through the glass in the recording studio, and then the protégé in question is brought down by sex, drugs and/or alcohol. Each time, there’s only the most trite explanation for their downfall before we move on to someone else. Considering that Knowles is Cadillac Records’ executive producer, it could be that the soundtrack album came first and the movie was an afterthought.

As different as it is, Steven Soderbergh’s Che – Part Two has similar shortcomings. It focuses solely on the nitty-gritty of Guevara’s final guerrilla campaign in Bolivia in 1967, as his supplies, recruits and options ebb away, but it keeps his doubts and motives hidden behind his increasingly shaggy beard.

Also showing: 22/02/2009

Confessions of a Shopaholic (104 mins, PG)

Also known as Ugly Betty Wears Prada in the City. Isla Fisher plays yet another of Carrie Bradshaw’s voiceover-spouting, laptop-tapping, Manhattan-taking offspring. She’s a winsome comedian, but she’s selling us second-hand goods.

Push (111 mins, 1A)

Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning star as two superhuman fugitives who rush around Hong Kong, crossing swords with Djimon Hounsou’s government agents. You’ll need super powers to work out what’s going on.

20th Century Boys (142 mins, 15)

The Big Chill meets Heroes in this Japanese blockbuster, as middle-aged ex-schoolmates see the apocalyptic tales they dreamt up as kids coming true. It’s a cracking idea, but deserves a bigger budget and better directing. NB